50+ Essential Subreddits for Horror Writers

Most folks today are at least aware of Reddit. “The front page of the Internet” is both an endless source of information, and a notorious time-waster. You can find whole communities dedicated to even the tiniest of niches, and it turns out that horror writers are no exception.

When we previously posted a list of 10 great online resources for horror writers, Reddit was originally at the top of that list. However, I found that it wasn’t enough to drop a link to the home page of the website; there are many, many nooks and crannies to search through. Some subreddits only have 4 subscribers, or haven’t posted anything new in months. Those places aren’t particularly helpful to those of us working on our latest story, so I’ve rounded up 63 subreddits that have a fair following and an active community.

Whether you’re looking for boogeyman inspiration or a good conversation on the common themes in Stephen King’s works, these horror havens are a great way to enhance the quality of your Reddit newsfeed.

 

*Note: Always check the sidebar in each subreddit for their posting guidelines, especially in the Places to Post Your Stories section. If you get banned for violating the rules, no one will see your literary masterpiece!*

Lit & Authors
r/StephenKing
r/Lovecraft
r/CliveBarker
r/HorrorLit

Art & Inspiration
r/ImaginaryHorrors
r/ImaginaryCarnage
r/ImaginaryDemons
r/ImaginaryBehemoths
r/ImaginaryBeasts
r/ImaginaryMonsters
r/ImaginaryWerewolves
r/ImaginaryLeviathans
r/creepy
r/UnresolvedMysteries
r/oldschoolcreepy
r/serialkillers
r/skulls
r/paranormal
r/CemeteryPorn
r/unnerving
r/EvilBuildings
r/TheDepthsBelow

Cinematic Horror
r/Horror
r/ClassicHorror
r/Horror_Filmmakers
r/UMCU (Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe)
Places To Post Your Stories
r/NoSleep
r/TheChills
r/TrueScaryStories
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Horror_Stories
r/Creepypasta
r/UrbanMyths
r/ScaredShitless
r/ShortHorror
r/ShortScaryStories
r/TheNightmareFactory
r/WelcomeToHell
r/DarkTales
r/OneParagraph
r/FlashFiction
Specific Monsters
r/Skinwalkers
r/Vampires
r/Werewolves
r/Demons
r/OuijaBoards
r/Ghosts
r/Zombies
r/Cthulhu

On Writing
r/Writing
r/WritingHub
r/Screenwriting
r/ShutupAndWrite
r/KeepWriting
r/WriterResearch
r/ShortStoriesCritique
r/LibraryOfShadows
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Fanfiction
r/HighSchoolWriters
r/WritingPrompts
r/Worldbuilding
r/SelfPublish

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.

Is That An Alien in Your Pocket, or Are You just Having a Psychotic Break?

We moved into our house. I didn’t know I had a dream home until I moved into this one. It’s in an incredibly populated neighborhood, and yet, there is wildlife. Coyotes in the neighbor’s yard, chipmunks up the wazoo and more bunnies than could possibly be safe. Though, you know my prepper obsession and I bet those little hoppers would be good eatin’ during the zombie apocalypse.

Bunnies, chipmunks and squirrels – fine. But there are snakes. Little snakes and big snakes. Black snakes and snakes the color of the grass.

My cousin-in-law (who just so happens to live only five doors down from our new little bungalow) is from New Orleans and her parents live in a suburb of the city. Her father woke up to get a drink in the middle of the night, put his bare foot on the floor to get out of bed, and STEPPED ON A SNAKE. He stepped on a freaking snake. I’ll give you a moment to run around the room waving your hands in the air screaming “NOOOOO!!” like me.

A snake. On the floor. In the bedroom. In the dead of night.

The older I get the more aware I am of my own weaknesses. I know that I could survive worse, but I don’t know who I would become after stepping on a snake in the dark. From that point forward I might have to wear my knee-high Sorels twenty-four hours a day. I might have to build a house on stilts, everything inside whitewashed so that nothing could go unnoticed. People might get sick of me warning them about this horrible thing that could happen to them in the middle of the night. I might wear a headlamp at all times and carry a walking stick to test the ground before I took a step.

Please don’t think me flippant. I am aware of the hellish things we do to one another. Sometimes it’s easier to worry about the little things. Things that are really neither here nor there and will probably never even happen. I can’t consider the real terrors around us if there is any chance of making it through the day. Lord, help me I can’t even look at the news, Twitter, or Facebook lately because when I do, I can’t stop crying. The real monsters in our world have awaked more monsters and there seems no end in sight.

Bedtime floor snakes are improbable. Ghosts are an intriguing distraction. And Aliens? Well, that shit’s fucked up.

From: fbeacon1973@verizon.net

To: ghostsintheburbs@gmail.com

Dear Liz,

I work at Town Hall across from the main branch of the library. I’ve walked past your “ghost stories wanted” flier for months now and have finally mustered up the courage to contact you. Though my tale does not contain ghostly apparitions, I do believe that it falls into the paranormal realm. I have been visited by extraterrestrials since I was a little girl and have been taken several times. I assure you that I am not mentally ill and that my experiences are real. I feel compelled to tell you my story so that you may document these occurrences. Would you consider meeting me in the library? I spend most every weekday lunch in the periodical room. I do hope you’ll consider meeting with me.

Sincerely, Frankie Beacon

Well, I thought after reading the email, Why not?

Truth be told, I’ve never been all that interested in aliens. I’ve heard plenty of sighting stories on paranormal podcasts and seen them reenacted on the History Channel, so I know a little bit about the topic. But these tales always felt a little too vague for me. Like, I saw lights in the sky then I lost the time for a few minutes and now I think I have a chip in my earlobe. Worse are the psychic healers who claimed to contact their “sky friends” for career or nutritional advice.

I have to admit that I feel the same way about tales of Bigfoot encounters. Witness stories always boil down to, “We heard loud noises, then something threw rocks at us, then we were scared and we left the woods.”

Don’t get me wrong, if I found myself gazing up at a U.F.O. or getting hit by a Bigfoot-thrown rock I would definitely lose the time and run away too. But that kind of scary story just isn’t my cup of tea. In spite of all that, something about this woman’s email intrigued me, and I love visiting the library, so I emailed her back to set a lunch date.


The Wellesley Free Library’s periodical room is a window lined happy place. There you can find both current and back issues of all your favorite magazines and newspapers and even borrow those magazines and newspapers for free. Or you can enjoy the atmosphere and catch up on celebrity gossip, devour the chilling drama that is our current political experience, or find recipes and outfit ideas as you sip coffee (I’ve said it before, and you know I’ll say it again, you can enjoy hot beverages *and food* in the library).

It was a bright summer morning when I entered the periodical room. With my Linden Street sandwich in hand I scanned the room’s tables for a woman who might look like she had been abducted by aliens and I walked right past Frankie. She stood and gave a small wave and motioned me over to her table.

Whereas I had been looking for a nervous nail-biter, makeup free with sensible shoes and the pale glow a town office job might grant, Frankie was the polar opposite. She had straight, light brown, shoulder length hair with a nice little swoosh of bangs. I’ve always wanted bangs, and they’ve been an immediate mistake every damn time I’ve tried them out.

Frankie wore a long-sleeved navy blue and white striped St. James shirt with coral capris. A thick stack of gold bangles encircled one thin wrist, and she wore gold boat shoes on her feet. If her email address gave away her birth year, then she was about forty-three years old, though I would have pegged her around thirty-five. Her face was more striking than pretty, and it had a light tan, as though she’d spent the weekend on island.

I walked back towards her and we shook hands. I noticed her wedding rings immediately. On each side of a massive diamond solitaire sat two eternity bands set with beautifully bulky diamonds. We took seats across from one another at a table, unwrapped our lunches (a Starbuck’s latte and a Honey Special on a wrap for me, and a veggie packed homemade salad with grilled chicken and a water bottle for her) and we made some small talk about our excellent library before I took out my digital recorder.

“Ok,” I said, with a smile. “So what’s all this about aliens?”

Frankie considered me for a moment and glanced around. In the room with us were one older gentleman sitting in a leather chair in the corner, and a couple of college-aged girls at a nearby table, with headphones in their ears and heads bent down over laptops.

I realized Frankie was getting cold feet. All of a sudden I had an overwhelming urge to know this completely normal-looking woman’s tale of alien abduction.

“Look,” I said, attempting to keep her from bolting. “I’ve had three women tell me that they conjured the ghost of their dead friend and used her spirit to grant wishes like a genie. I know a guy who obsessively uses the Ouija board and talks to dead people. There’s a woman here in town that is looking for an exorcist to cast a demon out of her daughter. Trust me, whatever your story is, it takes a lot to freak me out.”

Frankie smiled at me and shook her head as if to clear it. She placed her two, perfectly manicured hands flat on the wooden table and said, “It’s not just about the aliens, it’s complicated.”

“My two older kids are in school until three o’clock and I have a babysitter for the little one until two-thirty. I’ve got time,” I assured her.

Frankie nodded her head then began, “There are a lot of ways to control people,” she motioned to her aluminum water bottle. “Take water, for example, who the hell knows what they are pumping into it. I collect rainwater and purify it, it’s all that I drink.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, but I wished I hadn’t brought along my Starbucks latte.

She noticed my hand grip the caffeinated treat a little tighter then said, “Look, they’ve convinced you to spend a fortune on that drink. It’s just a little indulgence, right? But how do you feel when you go without it? They’re floating all these fancy terms like “sugar addiction” and “caffeine addiction” to distract you from what they are really getting you hooked on. Sugar addiction my ass. Do you have any idea what’s really in that drink?” She demanded.

“Well, it’s just soy milk,” I began dumbly.

“Don’t even get me started on the soy,” Frankie pushed herself back from the table, her gold bracelets jingling. She gathered herself and continued, “Look, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s not any of our faults, but they,” Frankie pointed at the ceiling, making me look up and wonder what problem she had with the reference area on the floor above us. “They taught the government everything they know.”

“Frankie,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance by unwrapping my sandwich. The last thing I felt like doing was speaking to a hardcore conspiracy theorist. “I’m not following.”

“Sorry,” she said again, pushing her perfectly sweeping bangs back from an incredibly wrinkle-free forehead. “It’s just that I am relieved to have someone to talk to about this. Not many people want to hear it.”

“Well, I’m grateful that you want to share this with me,” I said, not feeling at all grateful. “In your email you mentioned that you first encountered aliens in your twenties.”

“Well, yes, the first time I actually spoke to an alien I was about twenty-three, but I’ve been visited since I was a girl. They’ve always been here, watching me. The house I grew up in is over by the Wellesley Country Club. I still live in that neighborhood. When I was little I spent most afternoons sneaking around the golf course, playing by the tree line. That was where I first became aware of them.”

“How did you know they were there?” I asked.

“I noticed the whistling first,” Frankie said. “Soft whistles, three at a time, just barely audible. I first heard it when I was playing around the golf course. But then it followed me home. If the whistling occurred and I happened to be with someone else, only I could hear it.”

“That’s strange,” I said simply.

“It’s one of the ways that they communicate with each other. They can speak our language, but they are so much more evolved than we are.”

“Then what?” I asked, taking a bite of my sandwich.

Frankie sat back in her seat and stared at me, her icy blues maintaining eye contact for far too long. My internal stranger danger alarm went off as shrill as my two-year-old’s time out clock, but I tried to hold her gaze as I chewed my apparently alien-influenced food.

“I’m getting a seriously skeptical vibe from you right now,” she said quietly.

“No, I’m sorry if I am putting off that ‘vibe,’” I replied, putting down my coffee. “Look, I’ve never met anyone who has actually encountered an alien. Basically, Signs is my only real point of reference.”

“There have been hundreds of documented cases from around the world – of both sightings and abductions. The effectiveness of their cover up is insane. You talk about it and automatically you’re labeled a nutjob,” Frankie paused. “Have you heard of Barney and Betty Hill?” she asked.

“The names are familiar,” I said, wracking my brain.

“Theirs is the most famous, the most documented case of alien abduction,” Frankie began. “It happened in New Hampshire, south of Lancaster. They were driving home from a vacation at Niagara Falls when Betty thought she saw a shooting star, but then she realized it was moving upwards. They pulled into a rest area to walk their dog and watched as the object moved closer and closer to them. As it grew near, they could see that it had all these multi-colored lights.

“They were sufficiently freaked out, got back in the car and attempted to drive away, but the sky object in front of them got closer and closer until it hovered in the air directly in front of and above their car. Barney stopped the vehicle, and, rather incredibly, got out and used his binoculars to get a better look at the thing. He regretted it immediately. He panicked, got back in the car telling his wife they were about to be captured and turned around to drive away. Then the Hills lost the time,” Frankie said, her eyebrows raised as she sat back in her seat.

I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath and leaning far forward. I took a breath, and asked, “Is that it?”

“I wish that was it,” Frankie said with a loud, barking laugh that startled me. “Oh no, there was more, a lot more. They got home that night around dawn, totally freaked out. Their clothing was torn and there were weird markings on the car trunk, and these markings? They drove their compass bananas.”

“What about the dog?” I asked.

“The dog?” She asked, genuinely perplexed.

“Yeah, their dog, was it ok?”

“God, I don’t know,” Frankie said in utter annoyance. “But another problem was that Barney had a strong feeling that he’d been diddled with, though he couldn’t find any evidence.”

“Diddled with?” I asked, wondering if that was some sort of alien term, and still wondering about the dog.

“You know,” Frankie said, gesturing to her crotch. “Diddled with.”

“Oh,” I said, suppressing a giggle.

“The Hills actually reported the incident to a nearby Air Force base. Then, about ten days after the event, Betty began to remember,” Frankie whispered, causing me to lean forward again. “You can go online and listen to the accounts that Betty and Barney gave under hypnosis. Apparently, the aliens walked the couple around the spaceship and spoke with them before they got started on the medical examinations. The recording of Betty’s panicked voice, begging one of the aliens not to stick a needle in her naval cuts through you like a knife.”

“No way,” I said, disgusted.

“Scientists, researchers, a ton of government officials – they all took this couple seriously. Enough to spend a lot of time and money documenting what happened to them.”

“Who were these poor people? I mean, why them?” I asked, thinking this sounded a lot more like an urban legend than a “well documented” alien abduction case.

“The Hills were very well-known in their community. Betty was a social worker and Barney worked for the Post Office. They were active Unitarians, belonged to the NAACP and he sat on the local board of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. These were normal people, with no reason to call that sort of attention upon themselves,” Frankie explained.

I still felt doubtful and nodded my head. Actually, it wasn’t so much doubt as it was the feeling that she was peppering me with details to sell me on this story. I’m married to a real estate broker. Trust me, I know when someone is trying to sell me on something.

“It wasn’t just that,” Frankie continued, eyebrows raised. “The aliens told the Hills that they were from the zeta reticuli system.”

“Pretend I don’t know what that means,” I replied, annoyance surfacing.

“It’s a binary star system in the southern constellation of Reticulum,” Frankie said slowly, her own annoyance coming through. “But that’s not what matters, what matters is that we didn’t discover the zeta reticuli until 1969. The Hills were taken in 1961.”

“Ok,” I admitted. “That’s weird, and a little creepy.”

“Look, I’m not even doing their story justice, Google it when you get home. It will make for unsettling reading.”

“I already find it very unsettling.”

“You mean if it’s real, “ Frankie replied, sitting back and folding her arms over her chest.

I was beginning to feel like I was in some sort of debate and it was not at all enjoyable. What the hell had I been thinking meeting with this woman? I knew from my podcasts that these alien people always got their panties in a bunch if you didn’t immediately freak out when they told you aliens were real.

“Well,” I stalled, not wanting to offend her, but also wanting out of the conversation.

“If the Hill’s story was the only case, then I would be skeptical too,” Frankie pressed on. “If I hadn’t seen these things with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it either. But whether you want to believe it or not, aliens exist and they have a plan in place. No, not only is it in place, it’s in motion,” her bracelets jingled again as she pointed a finger at the tabletop.

Her salad sat untouched in front of her, and frankly, that irritated me. I wanted to enjoy my lunch and instead I felt like I was scarfing down my sandwich in front of an angry college professor. Besides that, if she really had a story I wanted details and not some generalized rant, so I asked, “You said that aliens have been visiting you almost your entire life. What happened besides those whistles you heard?”

Frankie took a long sip of her rainwater (which forced me to suppress a gag) and began, “I heard the whistling and other noises in the woods around the golf course. You know how when you walk down a forest path you hear things skittering away from you, chipmunks and squirrels and such? Well, I would hear the skittering, only it wasn’t going away from me, it was coming towards me, but I never actually saw anything or anyone.

“It felt like I was being watched constantly. One night I woke up around two in the morning. I had that feeling of being watched, and for some reason, something made me look over at my window. That was the first time I saw one of them,” she paused, dramatically.

I just stared at her and took a sip of my delicious, addictive latte, unwilling to keep dragging the story out of her.

“It was an alien, though I didn’t know it at the time. We stared at each other for almost a full minute and then he turned away from the window.”

“What did he look like?” I asked, imagining a green being with big black eyes set in a ball-shaped head. I wondered for a moment how I might react to such a thing and decided it would be with rage, not fear. I haven’t the time for that shit.

“He looked like,” she again took a long freaking pause before continuing, “He looked like a muscle head. You know the type? Like a bouncer at a college bar. He had jet black hair and looked almost human, but his forehead and eyes were larger than they should have been.”

“How do you know this wasn’t just some weirdo Peeping Tom?” I asked.

“My bedroom was in the attic,” Frankie explained.

“Oh,” I said, dumbly.

“Yeah, it was pretty scary. I desperately wanted to believe it was a dream, but then it happened again the next night, only there were two of them silently looking in on me. I actually threw one of my stuffed animals at the window and screamed for them to get out of there. They just slowly turned away from the window and disappeared into the darkness.

“The third night I was ready for them. I had my dad’s camcorder and my Polaroid camera. I tried to look like I was sleeping and then the second I had that feeling of being watched I jumped up and screamed, ‘I’ve got you creeps!’

“But it was just the one with the dark hair again. He gave this awful smile, he didn’t have any teeth,” Frankie shudders, remembering. “Then he turned away like he had the other times.”

“Did you tell your parents that there were men looking in your window at night?” I asked.

“No, I knew they wouldn’t believe me,” Frankie said, sensibly. “That’s why I tried to get them on film.”

“Did you record them?” I asked.

“No, they can’t be recorded,” she explained, shaking her head. “When I reviewed my film, it was just a shaky shot of my window and the audio of me yelling.”

I just nodded, feeling disappointed but not surprised.

Frankie nodded her head back at me, “I know, I was bummed too. After that I didn’t see them anymore, but over the next few years every once in a while I would get that feeling again, of being watched. I saw the black-haired guy once on the sidelines when I was playing field hockey in high school and then again near the stage at my college graduation.”

“No shit?” I said.

“No shit,” she confirmed. “Both times the shock of seeing him almost stopped me dead. He looked exactly the same. He wore the same outfit and his face had that same flat affect. Then after college I moved back in with my parents for a couple of years while I got my Masters from Babson.”

“What did you Master in?” I asked, curious.

“Accounting,” she replied.

“Cool,” I said, taking another bite of lunch.

“Nothing happened the first few months, but then one night he came again. Only this time, he came inside.”

“No,” I said, having to forcefully stop myself from saying ‘that’s what she said.’

“Yup. I woke up just like I had all those years before with that creepy feeling and as I turned to look at the window he was coming through it. Not like, crawling in through the window, he was gliding through the wall and window, as though they weren’t even there.

“I scrambled back toward my headboard and looked around for anything that I could use as a weapon. He was gliding towards me really slowly, so slowly that I had time to realize that I didn’t have anything to fight him with, so I stood up on the bed and I think I said something ridiculous like, ‘Let’s go motherfucker!’” With this, Frankie actually cracked a smile.

“Atta girl!” I said with a laugh, surprised by her bravery.

“If you were cornered like that you’d do the same,” she said confidently.

I disagreed, but asked, “How the hell did he react to you?”

“He gave me that awful toothless grin again then said, ‘Frankie, Frankie, calm down, I’m just here to talk.’ I stayed there, standing on the bed with my back against the headboard as he explained who he was and why he’d been watching me since I was a little girl.”

“Fuck,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s one thing to have seen this guy when I was little and then think I spotted him a couple other times in my life. I could explain that away to over-active imagination. But this man was in my bedroom, calmly telling me that I was one of the ‘different ones’ and that’s why they were interested in me. That’s why I hadn’t been taken.”

“Different how? And taken where?” I demanded.

“That’s exactly what I asked,” she said. “He told me that we are all being studied and that some of us are different. When confronted, those of us who don’t automatically retreat, those of us who instead take a stand, we are the ones they want to learn more about. He said that he needed me to cooperate.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I said, taking the last bite of my sandwich. Frankie’s salad still sat untouched.

“It wasn’t good, but at least I can’t remember all of it,” she said, sadly.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“He told me that he was going to bring me to the ship where my mind could be examined. They were willing to manage my memories so that I didn’t have to recall the events, but I had to agree to go with them. I told him he could fuck off, that I wouldn’t go anywhere with him,” she paused.

“What did he do?” I asked, hoping she would say he just melted back through the wall again.

“He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he put that gross smile back on his face and told me that if I did not cooperate he would kill my parents and my cat and then kill me. I told him to fuck off again. That he’d have to kill me first to get to my family and he said, ‘No, Frankie, you’re not listening. If you do not cooperate, I will kill you last. Your parents and your pet die first. Then you get to die.’”

“Oh God, so what did you have to do?” I asked, not wanting to know.

“I cooperated. The last thing I remember is stepping off the bed and having him take my left hand in his. His hands felt like fine grit sandpaper. It was repulsive.”

I asked, “You said you can’t remember all of it, but what do you remember?”

“Not much,” Frankie admitted, looking up at the ceiling. “I remember being super cold, like shaking freezing, but I also remember being blisteringly hot. I remember what I think was a mirror and seeing a distorted reflection of myself in a black room sitting on a steel bench next to an extremely skinny man. He was holding onto my upper arm, really tightly, and he was, like, swaying back and forth. Weird other flashes came, but I didn’t remember all of it right away, they came back over the next few days.”

“The morning after it happened, I tried to convince myself it had been a dream. Then I got into the shower and that’s when I first noticed the marks on my upper arm,” Frankie pushed up the her shirt sleeve and pointed to a cluster of three marks on her right arm. They looked like little blue tattoo dots patterned as the three points of a triangle. “I think the alien made these marks as he was holding my arm, studying me.”

“Did you ever see that guy again, the window guy?” I asked, really really not wanting to believe this story.

“Oh yeah, he comes around every once in a while to tell me things, or ask me things. I’ve lost memories several times over the years, too. It is pretty awful, actually. He always visits when I am in a really stressful time in life. Like when I was getting my Masters degree, or when I moved to California for a while on my own, the night before a big interview, things like that. That’s part of the data they are trying to gather, the way we all react to different types of stress.”

“But, why would they want to know that?” I asked.

“They’re trying to figure out how to take us out for good,” she said.

“Take us out?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s an end date,” Frankie said.

“To what?” I demanded.

“To this,” she motioned around us. “They’re gathering data so they can most effectively end us. All that nonsense you hear about aliens abducting people to study our biology? It’s bullshit. They created us, they know exactly how our bodies work. And anyway, all they would have to do is study a couple of our bodies if they needed to understand our biology. No, they are studying what will most effectively bring an end to all of us without having to take out the entire planet. The first time they tried was with the big flood, but it didn’t work, a small faction helped us to survive.”

“Big flood? Do you mean like Noah’s Ark?” I asked, feeling myself about to fall down a deep, deep rabbit hole.

“Yes, exactly. They created us and then lost control. We became too aggressive. We are the perfect killing machines, we are too smart for our own good, and we can adapt to anyplace, anything. We survive too well. Then anytime we get a new piece of technology, we warp it into something that can be used to war with each other, or them,” Frankie was whispering now, leaning towards me.

“Well, why don’t they just kill us all?” I asked.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, they lost control of us and already tried that once and failed. We survive to well, heal too well. We are really hard to kill. Think about it, we can send one another into battle and then we know how to heal ourselves if we get hurt so that we can go back out and fight again. There are too many of us now, so they’ve changed tactics.

“We are on our way to destroying this planet and they won’t allow that. They created everything here. Look at every other species on this planet, how did human beings make such a huge jump mentally and emotionally speaking in evolutionary terms? It doesn’t make sense. But that’s besides the point, they’re developing a way to exploit our greatest weakness.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“They’re studying fear,” she replied. “It’s something that they don’t have. They evolved differently, they didn’t have to fear being chased by a bear or eaten by an alligator. They realized that, for us, fear is an incredibly strong emotion and they are studying how to use it against us. They abduct certain people to study how and why fear is triggered and then they study people like me who react with aggression rather than fear.”

“Fear,” I repeated.

“Just look at the news,” Frankie insisted quietly. “It’s starting. I mean, it’s already started. The most brilliant thing they’ve done is to push the fear of germs and disease, because, you know, we’re killing the effectiveness of antibiotics by overusing them. And once we do that, a lot of us will die off pretty quick once there’s a bad cold and flu season.

“They influence the news too. You know how everyone complains that there’s only bad news and fear based mongering now, and of course the internet is theirs and theirs alone.”

“Brilliant,” I said, meaning it.

“Isn’t it? They are very patient, and really, the way things are going, they only need to wait a couple more decades. Look at what we’ve turned religion into. Look at politics around the world. We take good things, powerful ideas and then twist them and create division, hate, fear. You see how it’s all escalating,” she sat back in her seat. “Once we’ve gone and taken ourselves out for the most part, they’ll come through in one final sweep, to take out the final survivors.”

“Maybe another flood,” I said.

“Or a bad cold and flu season,” she agreed, those damn eyebrows raised yet again.

“Are you even allowed to be telling me this?” I asked. “I mean, they threatened to kill your entire family.”

“I can’t keep it anymore, it’s too much,” she replied. “I don’t care what happens to me.”

“What about your husband?” I asked, my eyes flickering to the immense diamonds on her left hand.

“I can’t burden him with this,” Frankie said.

“But what about me?” I demanded loudly, making one of the college girls look up from her laptop and over to our table. “What if they don’t want me to know?”

“You’ll be fine,” Frankie said. “Things will wrap up soon anyways.”

I just stared at her.

“Wait, do you have children?” She asked, as though the idea had just dawned on her.

“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I snapped.


The rest of the day I was absolutely terrified to look up at the sky. I kept Kat securely strapped on me in her front pack and sat Max and Joey in front of the television after school. I wouldn’t let them outside to play. When they complained about it I lied and told them that I’d seen a snake in the backyard. I’d deal with the fallout from that lie later.

It wasn’t until my husband got home from work that night, when I was having a glass of Chardonnay and telling him all about Frankie’s aliens that I began to realize just how far down the rabbit hole I really had fallen with her.

You know, crazy disguised as conviction can be very compelling. After spending just a little over an hour with Frankie, I’d spent the rest of my day terrified. Looking over my shoulder, questioning everything that I’d ever known to be sure, because this woman was so convinced of something so outrageous that she was able to convince me of the same.

Maybe crazy is too strong a word, but Frankie certainly wasn’t grounded in reality. But, then again, am I grounded in reality? I’m grounded in my reality. My reality is one of a safe, non-alien-abduction childhood. I live in a secure home with my family; I lock my doors (most) nights and think that’s enough to keep the bad guys (and snakes) out.

That’s my reality. But what if there is another reality?

I woke up around two o’clock that night. I don’t know what woke me. I got up and checked on the girls, then went downstairs for a glass of water. The dogs followed and asked to go outside. Icy terror filled me for a moment at the thought of letting them out under the immense night sky. Then I shook it off, opened the back door and forced myself to step out onto the porch with them.

I saw stars and sky through the dark trees above me. No aliens. No circular craft. No big-eyed muscle heads watching me from the branches above.

I thanked God for my quiet life of shuttling tiny people to and from get-togethers with other tiny people. For picking up dog poop in the back yard. For feeling bored and tired in the afternoons and going to the same restaurant on a date night every Wednesday. I thanked Him for my family and my friends who will surely intervene if I ever wander too far down a conspiracy theory void.

I called to the dogs and opened the door to let them back in. Just as I was about to step my smug ass back into my supposedly safe and secure home I heard three low whistles behind me. They were so soft that I would have missed them had the night not been so quiet.

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.

Zila

Emails sat in my inbox, awaiting reply. The woman from Wellesley College had offered to arrange a tour of the tunnels beneath the campus. She wanted to tell me the campus ghost stories as we toured the underground maze – accompanied by a campus security guard/groundskeeper “just in case we get lost.”

This sort of safe scare had been exactly what I wanted when I started this quest for ghost stories; I could vacation to the land of ghosties without having to put down roots. The problem was that I had begun to realize that there wasn’t any such thing as a safe scare. I was looking into the darkness, and I’ll be damned if there weren’t moments when I suspected that it was looking back.

That creeper Nick knew I was pregnant before I did. My dreams had been getting strange. I had been obsessing a bit. Reading up on hauntings and demons, ghosts, and possession. My husband, C, wanted me to take a break from the ghost research to watch Shark Tank with him. Though tempting, I had to pass.

I didn’t need a break, I needed to reframe my quest. I couldn’t be a looky-loo, stomping around in these people’s reality, oohing and ahhing like a tourist in Beacon Hill. I needed to treat this with a bit more awe, a touch more respect. I realized that I was avoiding people’s stories because I needed to get up the nerve to face them. To recognize them for what they really were.

These stories weren’t just there for entertainment. They were glimpses into the darkness. And I needed to decide if I wanted that darkness to catch a glimpse of me.

I volunteer at the Wellesley food pantry once a week. Nothing major, just a couple hours of unloading donations and restocking shelves. And yes – there is need of a food pantry in Wellesley. Not everyone in town summers on Martha’s Vineyard and drives a Land Rover. The pantry has two collection bins, one at Whole Foods the other at the Roche Brothers. Grab an extra can of tuna fish next time you’re grocery shopping and pop it into one of the bins. Believe it or not, you can’t always spot hunger. It might look like your next door neighbor who is quietly struggling to keep up with her medical bills and has to choose between bankruptcy and lunch.

Anyway, the pantry – knowing that I will chat with adults about something other than children’s’ books or the children who read them, even if only for two tiny hours, anchors my week. One of the volunteers at the pantry, Gary, a seventy-seven year old ex-marine, was really enthusiastic about my “scary Wellesley stories,” as he called them. It was his belief that the spirits were acting out because they had a message that needed hearing. I wasn’t so sure.

“You aren’t going to believe this,” he said, one Monday morning as he unloaded a grocery bag full of pasta sauce.

“You’re getting remarried to a twenty-five year old who just ‘gets’ you.” I said.

“Bambi isn’t just a pretty face,” he replied.

“Where are you registered?” I asked, throwing away an open, half-used bag of potato chips. Honestly, think before you donate.

“Costco,” he replied. “Really, though, my neighbor has a ghost story for you!”

“Oh?” I said, a bad feeling coming over me.

“Yes! I told her all about you. She has an old ghost story,” he replied.

“What kind of a ghost story?” I asked with a pit in my stomach.

“As charming as I am I couldn’t get her to elaborate, but she hinted that it was something that happened to her when she was young.”

“How old is she now?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, anyone under sixty seems like a child to me. Maybe she’s in her fifties. What’s the matter?” He asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I mean, I don’t know, I just started to feel funny. It’s nothing.” I don’t know what had come over me, but I was chilled to the core.

“You’d better go sit down,” Gary demanded. “That baby of yours needs a break.”

I waved off his concern, But I couldn’t shake the feeling. Gary kept talking about the paranormal and said that he had given this woman, Casey, my email address.

I changed the subject.

That night as I checked my email a message popped up from ccotton1966@wellesleycares.org. I opened it and realized it was from Gary’s neighbor, Casey. Casey Cotton. She said she had a ghost story. A “cautionary tale” that she wanted to share. Could she treat me to lunch at The Local?

My initial reaction was to her name. Casey Cotton sounded like the girl reporter in a superhero comic book. I looked over her email address and googled “Wellesley Cares.” A website for a non-profit community group came up. A photo of Casey sitting at a table surrounded by senior citizens in wheelchairs adorned the “About” page.

I texted my friend Heidi and asked if she’d ever heard of Casey Cotton or Wellesley Cares.

You don’t need another project. She texted back.

She has a ghost story, have you heard of her?

Heard of her? That woman is a legend. She was President of the Juniors and I think she had something to do with starting luminary night. You can’t name a board she hasn’t been on. North 40, Save our Neighborhood Schools, Say No to Number 1 –  that’s all her. She started the Community Cares deal awhile back and runs the Boston Marathon every year to raise money for it. Heidi texted back immediately.

You just moved here, how do you know all of this? I asked.

How do you NOT know this? Heidi replied.

I emailed Casey Cotton and we set a lunch date for the following week. I declined her offer to pay. We’d go dutch. But this strange cloud of, I don’t know, dread, I guess, hovered over me the rest of the week. I had vivid dreams of dancing around a fire and walking through thick forests in darkness. People hidden just out of sight.

Casey Cotton was adorable. Wild, red hair streaked with gray framed a pale face, sprinkled with freckles and lightly traced laugh lines. She wore head-to-toe Chico’s and carried a big Prada tote with grommet detail. She had a complete look, and she was killing it.

I was wearing maternity jeans a blue and white striped shirt with navy flats and wrapped a hot pink scarf around my neck in a complicated knot.  I had been feeling so stylish when I left the house. When I saw Casey, I immediately regretted my horizontal stripes.

We exchanged hellos. She was a hugger, which had become awkward for me as of late, with my expansion and all. She smelled of overly flowery perfume with a cigarette smoke undertone. We sat at a high top table near the bar.

“What’s it like to be Gary’s neighbor?” I asked after we’d ordered drinks (seltzer water for me and a Chardonnay for Casey).

“It’s a dream!” she replied, sliding her napkin onto her lap. “He trims back my hydrangeas in the fall and I practically have to beat him off with a stick when the leaves come down. He has this leaf blower –“

“He brought it over last fall,” I said with a laugh. “I couldn’t convince him otherwise.”

“He is so excited about your project,” she said.

“I know it, we discuss it at the pantry.”

“He told you about my story, then?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, no. He said you didn’t give him many details but that you had a ghost story from when you were young.”

“I do. But as I said in my email, it’s really more of a cautionary tale. It’s something that actually changed my life – ultimately for the better. But, not without some difficulty.”

Get to it, then. I felt like saying. Just tell the damn story.

Lately, I was a touch cranky when I was hungry. I was hungry.

“I sort of view all ghost stories as cautionary tales,” I said, relieved to see our waitress approaching the table with our drinks. “Do you mind bringing some bread?” I asked her. She glanced at my protruding stomach and nodded.

Casey got around to telling her story after a bit more chatter over the menu. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been in such a rush to hear it.

I was pretty wild as a teenager,” she began. “You name it, I did it. It was a classic ‘my parents are getting a divorce, I’m sad and scared and don’t know how to handle it,” reaction. I see that now, but at the time. I thought it was all just an escape. They were both distracted, my siblings were already out of the house and I was there alone. A lot of kids get themselves into trouble in high school one way or the other. But I took it to the extreme. Honestly, though, that’s my personality. Once I’m in, I’m all in.”

“What sorts of things did you get into?” I asked, thinking this polished woman probably just did a couple kegs stands and got arrested for smoking pot in the woods.

The bread basket arrived and I dug in. Casey sipped her wine before responding.

“The usual teenage stuff, of course. Beer, pot, sneaking out at night. As I traveled deeper into the darkness I had to take things up a notch just to keep up.”

I stopped pulling apart my second piece of bread and said, “Darkness?”

“Yes, darkness,” she confirmed. “I was drawn to it and the people it surrounded. What began as a few beers around a campfire escalated to acid trips in the woods.”

She had my attention.

“You know, I’m not sure what your experience has been, but the people that are drawn to these things. Drugs, drinking, etc… are broken, especially the young ones. I don’t care what they say. What begins as a numbing agent ends as a slow painful burn.”

I just nodded my head. Processing.

The waitress returned and took our lunch orders. A salad for Casey with dressing on the side, and a cheeseburger with bacon and fries on the side for me. I said I was hungry.

“So you were drawn in by the numb feeling that the drugs offered?” I prompted.

“Yes, at least that is what drew me in at first. I was, oh I don’t know, a sophomore in high school and what, fifteen probably. I was stealing money from my mom so I could smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, cutting school, riding around with older guys. I thought I was the coolest thing. So young and so stupid.”

I smiled, “Well you can’t fault yourself for that. We were all there once.”

“Right, but again, like I said. Once I’m in, I’m all in. I started hanging out with a group of guys that were into the occult. They dressed in black and painted their fingernails black, and drove black cars and had black hair, black bedroom walls, even black eyeliner.

“When I was with them, I felt like I was in on some kind of inside joke. They made me feel like I belonged, for once. I spent more and more time with them. A couple of other girls hung out with them too, we dressed like the guys. I even dyed my hair -”

“No!” I exclaimed, motioning to her beautiful auburn locks.

“I know,” she laughs, “My mother just about died when I came home with dull, jet black hair.”

I shook my head, “So what did you do when you all hung out? What kind of occult stuff were they into?”

“At the time I thought it was just harmless stuff. We’d go out at night into the woods around Morses Pond. They would make a campfire in the middle of a pentagram and chant some words that I didn’t understand. Or we’d sit around with a ouija board and try to contact our ‘spirit guides.’ One of the girls was into tarot cards and she would ‘read’ us and tell us our fate.”

“Spooky,” I said, smiling as the waitress placed a huge cheeseburger in front of me.

“It was, but it was all pretty tame,” Casey said, slicing up her salad. “But then one night I snuck out to go to this guy’s place. The house was just two streets over from mine, he had graduated the year before and was living in his parents basement.”

“You are making me so nervous,” I said. “I am picturing my daughters doing the same thing, and it scares the hell out of me.”

Casey smiled, “Don’t worry, just pay attention to them. Know who their friends are, they’ll be fine.”

“That seems to be the party line,” I said with a laugh. “So, what did you do that night?”

“It was like a lot of other nights. We smoked pot and listened to horrible music. Then my friend, Ben, had the idea to play around with the ouija board.

“There were five of us who played, four guys and me. Things started out pretty normal, we were joking around, asking about prom dates. Making fun of the whole thing, when secretly, I’m sure we all would have liked to be a part of that world.

“Then someone asked if there were any spirit guides with us and the board answered ‘yes.’ When we asked it whose guide was there, it spelled out my name. Feeling cocky I challenged the board to tell us something no one else knew about me. It spelled out Avalon,” she pauses and sips her wine. “My dad had moved out the weekend before to the Avalon apartments in Newton. I hadn’t told anyone.”

Unable to speak because I had just taken a huge bite of burger, I shook my head and made an “Uh, uh,” noise.

“I tried to laugh it off, but I think the guys knew that the board had hit on something. ‘Tell us more about Casey,’ one of them said. The board spelled out ‘Hutchins here.’ It was the name of my childhood cat. It had died when I was ten. None of them could have known that. Then the board spelled, ‘meow.’

“Nope,” I said, putting my burger down.

“I took my hands off the planchette. I didn’t want to play any more, but they gave me a hard time. Said I couldn’t stop until I closed the board with them or the portal would be left open.”

“I thought that was just something from movies,” I said, parroting something that creeper Nick had said.

“No, you have to close the board and end communication. Everyone knows that,” Casey said. “You haven’t left a board open, have you?” She asked, in a forced whisper.

“No! I’ve never played with a ouija board,” I replied.

Casey sat back in the chair, “Lucky you,” she said. “Well, they convinced me to keep playing and found out that my spirit guide’s name was Zila. She said that she watched over me and influenced my drawings.

“I hadn’t told anyone about the pencil drawings that filled my notebooks. I had been drawing dark forests for weeks. Sometimes, when I was in class, I would look down at my notebook and see an entire page covered in dark, gnarled trees.”

“Trees?” I asked, my dreams returning to me. Goosebumps prickled my arms.

“Trees,” she confirmed, her fork stabbing at her salad. “After it mentioned the drawings I just refused to play anymore. I refused to help them close the board, they all gave me a hard time about it. I made a friend walk me back home, but believe me, I didn’t sleep that night.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” I said.

“Yeah, well, that is just the beginning. Long story short, things went from bad to worse in high school. I got into trouble for skipping classes and I got arrested once for smoking pot in the woods near Morses Pond.”

Called it! I thought to myself. “Did you ever play with the ouija board again?” I asked.

“No. I wanted nothing to do with it, and after that night I began to pull away from those people. I was friends with a couple girls in my grade and we were outsiders, together. Actually, you know, there was this one time that they wanted to play the ouija board, I refused, but they did it while I watched. They asked if there were any spirits present and the board spelled out ‘Zila.’”

“Ok,” I said, “Now I won’t sleep for a week.”

Casey laughed, “I know. It was freaky, and honestly, it seemed impossible. That time in my life was a mess, bad luck just clung to me, repelling people. I barely managed to graduate from high school. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. But then, I didn’t know what to do with me either. I was terrible to them and I knew it, but I couldn’t get out of my own way.”

I smiled sympathetically, “I think we spend the rest of our lives making up for the way we acted from age thirteen to twenty-one. I know I have several people that deserve an apology.”

Casey nodded in agreement.

“At least you made it through high school,” I said, overcome with sadness for this poor woman who had obviously been left to fend for herself during her parents’ divorce.

“There was no chance I could get into college, not that I had bothered applying anywhere. By fate, our church had a missionary program in Brazil that summer. A neighbor’s son had gone the year before. Supposedly, he came back a ‘different boy, all straightened out.’ My parents were sold and I was destined for Sao Paulo, Brazil.”

“I was to volunteer in a youth center. It was an after school program to keep teenagers off the streets. The brochure the church gave my parents said that I would ‘experience what life is like as a local Brazilian.’ And I would ‘immerse’ myself in the local culture. If they had known the local culture that I would be immersed in, I think they probably would have kept me home and gotten me a job at the McDonald’s.”

“How long were you there?” I asked, finishing off the last of my fries.

“Two horrible months,” she replied, sliding her half finished salad out of the way. I had to stop myself from sliding it in front of me.

“What was it like?” I asked, remembering my summers as a teen. Painting our house with my dad, waitressing, tubing on Cazenovia lake.

“Well, the work we were doing wasn’t bad. I was there with about twenty other volunteers all around my age. Most of them had elected to go, treating it as missionary work. Though, through their proselytizing, they alienated most of the kids we were supposed to help. These Brazilians were solid in their belief in God, but their beliefs were a mix of Catholicism, African traditions, and Spiritism. We were a bunch of upper class, American, Born Agains. The two belief systems were night and day. I mean, what would you expect someone who practices voodoo to think of the Rapture?”

“I didn’t know New England had any Born Again Christians,” I said.

“My parents were from Tennessee,” she replied.

“I was making a bad joke,” I said, with an awkward laugh. “Sorry, go on.”

“Well, anyway, we had the mornings to ourselves, I would usually go on a walk or read or draw. I was still drawing the trees. Pages of dead trees. Then in the afternoons we were to report to the community center and help high school kids with their homework. Play cards with them, or make bracelets, just pass the time. We were basically entertaining them so they wouldn’t fall into drugs and drinking or any of the other dark things that I had done at home. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

“I made friends with a couple of the girls. It was nice at first. I didn’t feel like such a horrible outsider when I was with them. Then one afternoon one of the girl’s mothers came to the center to walk her daughter home. I was sitting at a table with the girl, Maria, and a couple of her friends and her mother came over to us. Her mom took one look at me and said ‘Kiumba! Kiumba!’ In a loud, scary voice.

“Everyone in the room turned to stare. Maria tried to calm her mom down. But the woman was crossing herself and pointing. She kept saying, ‘kiumba’ over and over again. I said I was sorry and that I didn’t know what it meant. The girl dragged her mom out of the community center, but not before I heard her say, ‘Zila.’”

“Stop it,” I said. “No way.”

“It was awful, I tried to follow them out but one of the center organizers stopped me. I was reeling. I felt like I was losing my mind.”

“I can’t even imagine,” I said. “What did you do?”

“Well, the girl didn’t return to the center for two days. I asked a couple of the kids what the word ‘kiumba’ meant. A few of them just crossed themselves and walked away when I asked.

“Finally, a boy told me that it’s an evil spirit who attaches itself to a person. It causes mental problems, like depression and paranoia. It’s whole purpose is to possess a person and cause them harm, and, well, cause them to harm others. The boy said that they are the ‘fathers of addiction.’

“When he said that, it hit home. I had been smoking cigarettes like a fiend. I had worked my way up to two packs a day, though I could have smoked more. It was as if I was driven to smoke. It wasn’t a choice.”

“Good Lord,” I said.

“Eventually, Maria came back to the center. She tried to avoid me, but I wouldn’t let her. I begged her to tell me what her mother had been so upset about. Finally, she agreed.” Casey motioned to the waitress and asked for another glass of Chardonnay. I requested the dessert menu.

“So what did she tell you?” I asked, after ordering the flourless chocolate cake. Don’t judge.

“She said that her mother saw a dark spirit, what she called a ‘master kiumba’ standing behind me. She said it’s claws were in my back, that she had never seen one so big, so dark.”

“Geez,” I said.

“I asked her what I was supposed to do about it, how it got there, why it was with me. She said that I had let it in somehow and now that it had a hold of me it wasn’t going to let go.

“I know this all sounds crazy,” Casey says.

“No,” I said. “It’s just, really scary.”

“Well, it felt crazy,” Casey said, sipping her wine. “But somehow, I just knew that it was right. I knew that something had been with me since that first night in my friend’s basement with the ouija board. It felt as though, if I could turn just around fast enough, I would see something behind me. Hidden just out of sight.”

I put my fork down, again, reminded of the feeling of my dreams.

Casey continued, “It only got worse. That night I called and begged my parents to let me come home. My mom said that I needed to learn to ‘honor my commitments’ and my dad said it would be way to expensive to change my plane ticket. I was stuck. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t stop smoking cigarettes. None of the kids at the community center would even look at me, let alone speak to me. The other volunteers steered clear too. I was a basket case.

“Then this one evening, as we were about to close the center, the girl, Maria, stayed behind and told me that her mother wanted me to meet someone, a priest who practiced Macumba. It’s what they call voodoo in Brazil. He was a Quimbanda practitioner, black magic. The story of my kiumba had gotten back to him and he wanted to see for himself. Maria asked me to go to her home to meet him.”

“This sounds bad,” I said.

“It was. She was insistent. I guess you can’t just say no to a Quimbanda priest. Not unless you want trouble to rain down. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and I was so isolated and panicked that I probably would have done anything.

“So, I went with her and met this man. He looked,” she sipped her wine, considering. “Well, he looked, totally normal. I had been expecting someone in black hooded robes, but he was wearing a polo shirt and khakis. I even drank tea with him and Maria translated our conversation. It wasn’t a normal conversation, of course. He asked me how I’d procured the kiumba. I told him I thought that it was the ouija board. Several times he sort of spoke to the space above my left shoulder. Finally, he asked if he could ‘have’ my kiumba. He said he could pay. I told him that if he could get rid of this thing, then that was payment enough.

“But he insisted that he had to pay. He wanted to take control of this spirit, to control it’s power. As far as I was concerned he could have at it.

“Maria’s mother sat in the corner of the room, a rosary in her hands, repeating over and over what I assumed was the Hail Mary prayer. It was all, just completely -”

“Fucked up.” I interjected.

“Yes. Well, about a week later, I went to this man’s house -” she began.

“No, you did not!” I said.

“I told you I was young and stupid,” she said.

“Right, but that is next level reckless! You could have been killed, or raped, or -”

“Involved in a black magic ritual that included killing seven chickens,” she concluded.

“Don’t even tell me,” I said, turned off to the chocolate cake.

“I won’t horrify you with the details. I’ve spent my life trying to forget that night. I hadn’t prayed since I was a little girl and I prayed and prayed to be saved that night. I promised God that I would devote my life to doing good if He would get me out of there alive. He did. And I’ve kept my part of the bargain.

“I was given a jade necklace that night, by the voodoo priest. He said it was my payment and a talisman that would ward off evil. It would keep the kiumba from coming back to me, but I had to wear it always.”

“And?” I prompted

“It has worked, for the most part. But I can’t say that I don’t have scars from that night. Something’s been with me my whole life. But I’ve managed to, sort of stay a step ahead of it.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well, it’s just that sometimes, I know things. About people. You might say that my eyes were open that night. There are some that have darkness around them. It’s always standing right behind them, like mine was,” she says. Finishing her second glass of wine.

“How often does this happen?” I ask her, wanting to know if she sees anything around me.

“Often enough,” she replies.

I just stare at her, completely freaked out.

“Don’t worry,” she assures me. “There’s nothing around you. I can’t say as much for our waitress,” she nods in the direction of the bar where our server is standing close to the bartender, laughing.

“I have to warn you, though, you need to be careful with these interviews that you’re doing. Some doors can’t be shut. That was one thing the priest told me. The door that had been opened, by the ouija board. It can’t be shut. He said the talisman would protect me, but he couldn’t do anything about the choice I had made to play the game.

“I came back home determined to never make such a stupid choice again.”

“So you came back from Brazil, and what, everything was alright again?” I asked, incredulous.

“No, things weren’t quite that easy. I could tell that Zila had left, but she left behind a sort of blank space. Once in awhile, something else tried to creep into that space. Still does.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” I say.

She glances at my neck, not for the first time, and asks, “What’s that around your neck?”

“Oh,” I say, lifting my hand, “This scarf, it’s just an old thing from JCrew.”

“No, your necklace,” she says.

It takes me a minute to even know what she’s talking about and then I feel my chest. Beneath the scarf, beneath the shirt, was the St. Benedict medal that Nancy had given me. I had taken to wearing it on a chain.  “Oh!” I say again, realization dawning, “It’s a St. Benedict medal that a friend gave me.”

“That’s quite a friend,” she says. “You know, I really should get going.”

We’d already paid for our meal, the waitress had dropped off our bills to sign. But I stopped her, “Wait, you said your story was a cautionary one. Cautionary to whom?”

“Don’t you realize? To you. It knows you’re looking. Watch your back.” With that she pushed her chair back and walked out of the restaurant without another word.

I sat for a moment then pulled the little folder with our bills towards me. I wrote out the tip and signed my name to the receipt. Nosey Nelly that I am, I peeked at Casey’s bill to see if she had tipped well (I’ve got a thing about always tipping well).

She’d only tipped ten percent. Jerk. More disturbing was the fact that she’d signed her check ‘Zila Cotton.’