Haunted by a TV Movie

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve never witnessed anything paranormal in my life, bar the weird noises my cats make at night. Yet still, I lie there in bed some nights, covers pulled tight, imagining all manner of nasty things. Not necessarily things that can hurt me, but things I wouldn’t want to see. Visuals that would scar me forever.

That has never happened, thankfully, and I eventually go to sleep and then wake up for work, and life goes on. But it has happened in fiction, in ways that terrify me in otherwise banal films, books and video games.

I scare easily. I’ve stopped watching films because of jumps-scares, and the night was a little too dark. I got about five minutes into Silent Hill 2 before switching it off (it was too full of dread, and unbearably sad). I have enormous respect for the creators and artists of these works, who can affect us in awful ways. I think one of the reasons I’m always drawn to horror is because it does affect me. If it’s meant to be scary, it will probably make me cower. And I may not make it all the way through.

One of my favorite scary movies is The Haunted. Not the 1999 version with Liam Neeson, but a more obscure 1991 made-for-TV film that I caught by accident late one night as a teenager. It’s based on a true ghost story; a family in Pennsylvania that claimed to have been haunted by a demon. I will never claim it’s an amazing film, and the special effects are cheap and not-entirely convincing, but somehow the filmmakers managed to create images that have stuck with me for decades.

If you like haunted house stories, you’ll find nothing in the film that surprises you, apart from a scene where the father of the family is sexually assaulted by the entity. The acting is fine, but nothing to write home about. The ending, from what I remember, feels unsatisfactory, and it relies on genre clichés a little too much. But the ghost/demon itself is what gets into your mind.

We see it quite early in the film, when the mother (and main character) is doing laundry. The soundtrack changes and a bass rumble fills the speakers. The atmosphere has changed, so we know something ominous is about to happen. Strange occurrences have already unnerved us. We’re ghost story aficionados, ready for the next level. She looks up, and stares at a black shape floating through her living room. There’s no form to it, nothing that looks remotely human or recognizable. It sounds like squealing pigs as it drifts along, and we know it is pure malevolence.

Maybe people who’ve actually seen ghosts will correct me, but The Haunted frightens me because it looks like how I imagine a haunting to be. The rest of the film is well-made, but nothing special. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, and does it pretty well. However, I keep coming back to that ghostly, demonic shape. I’ve seen more terrifying films, for sure, and better stories about haunted houses. But I love how the entity in this film is presented. I love the lack of comprehension we get when we witness it floating through the house, its lack of humanity and even shape meaning there will be no easy reckoning. Other ghosts have stories, tragic pasts, human frailties. This is simply an amorphous thing—it exists only to scare, and make us think of the other. It’s the kind of thing I dread seeing at night. Even though I know I probably never will, I can still imagine it happening, just like I can imagine every creak and bang after midnight is actually done with malicious, otherworldly intent.

I don’t know how much thought went into the film, or if anyone else was affected by it like I was at sixteen. I’ve had a love of weirdness in fiction as far as I can remember, and there are better examples of it out there in books (such as House of Leaves, or the awful “funhole” in Kathe Koja’s The Cipher.) But I think it’s important to remember that some of the most effective horror out there works because it defies our understanding. Even before Lovecraft, we enjoyed exploring worlds and situations that made no sense, that defied all laws of physics, and that left us reeling with their lack of explanations.

And sometimes cheaply-made TV movies can be surprisingly effective in creating images that delight, surprise and scare.

Papercuts: Horror Classics from DC Comics

Papercuts: Horror Classics from DC Comics

By Ryan “HB” Mount

In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s DC Comics was producing a large amount of horror based comics, even in the comics code era.  Most famously, they had works like House of Secrets where readers were introduced Swamp-Thing.  While there was the couple of series like House of Mystery that endured, there were a lot more that most current readers may overlook like Tales of the Unexpected and Ghosts.  Also, interesting about of this period, is how few collections were and are available of all these titles.  There were a couple of Showcase Editions of some titles, which were low-cost, newsprint, black and white reprints.  Even now, with digital comics, most of these runs have yet to make it onto the digital platform for current readers to enjoy.

Papercuts has traditionally been focused more on current and ongoing books.  There are many reasons for that.  One, very simply is because they are the easiest books for readers to check out after the reviews have been posted.  So, if you like what is reviewed this week, make sure to visit your local comic shop and go through the back issue and dollar bins and see what haunting surprises wait for you!

The Witching Hour #30 (DC)

Published: April 1972

The Witching Hour ran from 1969 until 1978 and has an incredible run of 85 issues.

After reading this issue, this series was the most inventive book of the books I looked at this week.  Mainly due to the art found throughout the entire book.  While there was still a lot of traditional panel work, there was a lot of panel breaking and bleeding.  There were some pages that did away with traditional grids and put nearly no borders on entire pages.

There are several tales throughout the issue, but the best two are “Night Fright” and “The Box.”  Night Fright is the tale of a young couple and an attacker and due to lack of any supernatural elements, was extremely creepy and believable that could have happened to anyone, especially in that time.  The Box was fantastic because it was a one page story that told a complete story, with a twist ending, and incredibly dark in nature and subtly political in today’s contexts.

If given the chance to read any one of these series, completely though, I would certainly start with this one due to the mixture of natural and supernatural horror and interesting art choices.

Ratings: 4 out of 5

Weird Mystery Tales #14 (DC)

Published: November 1974

Weird Mystery Tales ran from August 1972 until November 1975 and had a moderate run of 24 issues which by today’s standards would be a huge success.

The art again was another simple grid layout and overall the art might not stand out with any unique voices, but these were all professional artists working on each story.  When comparing a horror anthology of today versus this one, I’d say the skill level of the artists working back then on even a lower tier book, far surpasses the horror niche books being put out today by a lot of publishers and even perhaps a higher quality than a lot of Big 2 books on the stands today.  While it is not crisp and as neatly printed as today’s comics, the craft is still great to read.

The title does a great job of letting readers know exactly what is in store.  Each tale is a mystery, some more obvious than others, but all told with the reader asking themselves what is really going on here in terms of the mystery, which is solid story telling.

Ratings: 3 out of 5

Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #14 (DC)

Published: October 1972

According to Wikipedia, Forbidden Tales of the Dark Mansion started under the title of The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love for the first four issues.

The series ran from September 1971 through March 1974, but only produced 15 total issues in three years.

The most notable feature of this book that it features early Howard Chaykin art.  While it is fun to see where he started, this is still a long way from modern Chaykin with his heavy lines and square jaws.

While after the name change, it was said to have been a departure from the romance angle, this book is still a romance book with horror and supernatural elements.  Every story in this book dealt with relationships one way or another and it sets itself apart from the other horror titles.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5

Secrets of Haunted House #9 (DC)

Published: January 1978

Secrets of Haunted House ran from May 1975 until March 1982 and had a fantastic run of 46 issues, just 4 issues short of what today is the marker for fantastic indie books.

If seeking variety with horror anthologies, this appears to the title to explore a vast variety of subject material.  Everything from ghosts and vampires to androids in the future.  If there was a way to put The Twilight Zone story telling into comics, Secrets of Haunted House, comes the closest.

The art is extremely basic with its simple four to six panel grids on nearly every page.  With such a simple style, this book hopefully leaned on the story telling to keep issue fresh for its long run.  Perhaps that is why the variety of tales in this book was all over the map in subject matter.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

Next time on Paper Cuts:  Horror Classics from the vault of Marvel!

 

If you like what you read, make sure to like it and share it.  Follow me on twitter @hebruise and let me know what you liked, what you did not, which horror books you are into and your suggestions to be reviewed!

The Wailing: Movie Review

I really had no idea what to expect going into this movie. Here is a full list of everything I knew about the movie:

  1. South Korean ghost movie
    2. Really scary
    3. Really good
    4. Two-and-a-half hours long

Point #4 kept me from watching it for a while. I’m all in favor of a good movie regardless of length, but it’s not always easy to carve out two-and-a-half hours to sit down and watch a movie. I wish I was one of those people who could break up a movie into several viewings, but that doesn’t really work for me.

I had a day a couple weeks ago where I stayed home from work to battle the flu. Having the house to myself and not wanting to leave the couch, I figured there would be no better time to watch this. Plus, I figured the creeping deliriousness of my brain would help to heighten the supernatural aspects of the movie.

And so, slightly sweating yet huddled under a heavy blanket, I hit play.

First things first: yes, technically this is a ghost movie, but it’s not a ghost movie in the way I normally think of them. In this movie, a ghost takes the form of an old Japanese man and he persuades the villagers to kill their family in horrible ways. In that way, it plays out as a possession movie, with a ghost/demon in the center of it all.

Of course, it’s not nearly that simple. Is the Japanese man really causing all of the murders, or does the mysterious woman in the white dress have something to do with it? And what of the suspiciously hip-looking shaman? To put it more succinctly, who is the angel and who is the demon?

We follow Jong-goo, a policeman in a tiny village in South Korea. Very early in the movie he is called to the scene of a grisly murder and notices that the murderer has an odd rash on his neck. He begins to notice this same thing at every murder scene. It’s when he sees the rash on his young daughter – Hoy-jin – that he really begins to worry.

And then there are the nightmares. Early in the movie, we hear the story of a hunter encountering a man in the woods with red eyes, hunched over a deer and devouring it raw. Jong-goo begins dreaming of the creature, even seeing him in a kind of waking nightmare at one point. As Hoy-jin’s behavior becomes more erratic, Jong-goo becomes more frantic in his search to destroy the evil that is infecting his daughter.

Let’s get this out of the way: Jong-goo is a terrible policeman. Just awful. Even before Hoy-jin starts showing evidence of the murder rash, he shows to be unreliable at best. He routinely shows up late. He is not aware of his surroundings. He believes every rumor presented to him and changes his mind at the drop of a hat, merely because he hears new information that may-or-may-not be credible. He seems incapable of processing information and making a decision based on everything he knows up until that point. He’s like a dog chasing a ball; he’ll just follow whatever the newest piece of information is and ignore everything else. Not exactly who you want to be investigating a series of ghost murders.

As a father myself, I understand that decision-making can become cloudy when it comes to your child being in danger, so perhaps his actions later in the movie can’t be judged as harshly. However, since we had already seen his extremely flawed thought process on full display before his daughter contracts the murder rash, I feel like his daughter being under duress didn’t make his decision-making any worse. He was terrible throughout the entire movie; his daughter contracting the rash only made him more violent.

I loved the setting of this movie. Some of the imagery was really impressive. However, it was extremely slow-paced and the actions of Jong-goo only served to frustrate me at every turn. Perhaps I could look past some of that in a shorter movie, but the long run time really killed this movie for me. I’m fine with a long movie if there is a point to it, but this movie had entirely too many moments that dragged, and I don’t feel that the payoff at the end was worth what it took to get there.

I also didn’t love everything about the ending. There were a few different things going on, and, while I liked how one of them wrapped up, the other involved Jong-goo and his notoriously terrible decision-making. I should have been invested in his story and really torn by the decision he was being forced to make. Instead, I had already lost all faith in him and was just frustrated by the entire situation.

There were creepy moments, but it wasn’t really scary. It wasn’t unnerving. It wasn’t much of anything but slow and marred by a protagonist incapable of ever making a correct decision.

I know a lot of people loved this, but it just wasn’t for me. Then again, “slow moving possession film,” isn’t exactly my subgenre of choice. If you like possession films, give it a go and tell me why I was wrong.

Rating: 1.5/5

Book Review: Covenant

The roots of the horror genre are tangled around humanity’s fear of death and the abominations that transcend it. Vampires, zombies, and demons all fit this description, but the earliest, and possibly the most widespread in human culture, are the ghosts of the unquiet dead. While many authors turn their imaginations toward new ways to terrify, ghost stories have scared us for centuries untold. Allan Leverone has delivered a solid example of such a tale.

The book is a quick read, thanks to the author’s skill in building tension and keeping the story well-balanced between Lindie and the Padgett brothers. Part I sets the tone by introducing the villain and his campaign of cruelty and depraved acts of murder. However, these first few chapters don’t reflect the tone of the rest of the book.

Part II takes us to modern times. Justine and Lindie Cooper move to New Hampshire, buy their first house, and begin fixing it up. During their remodeling work, Justin Cooper dies in a suspicious accident, and Lindie is the prime suspect. She knows she’s innocent, but a local detective won’t give up until all his avenues of inquiry are exhausted. She also notices oddities in her house. Now convinced the place is haunted, she hires Verna Watson, a local medium for help.

Lindie Cooper is easy to empathize with as she struggles to grieve her husband while trying to discover the cause of his death. She has no friends, save for her new boss, and the questions surrounding Justin’s death has everyone whispering. But the town has secrets of its own. When the drug-running Padgett brothers run afoul of the local police, the lines between crimes of the past, murder, and supernatural activity get crossed.

While the plot was predictable, I was surprised by the characters. Lindie’s story examines not only her grief but also her struggle to overcome ostracism and find a friend amidst so many unfriendly faces. Even the detective breaks out of his hard-boiled shell to confront possibilities he never expected.

Overall, Covenant is an entertaining novel that fans of ghost stories and paranormal activity will enjoy. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it is a skillfully written, page-turner of a ghost story with great characters, a terrifying villain, and a satisfying ending.


Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Justin and Lindie Cooper move into their dream home, a rambling, oddly-shaped “Handyman’s Special” in Covenant, New Hampshire, they are completely unaware of their house’s violent and tragic history.

Within a week, Justin Cooper is dead under suspicious circumstances, and Lindie must deal not just with her grief, but with a police investigator—and a town—convinced she is trying to get away with murder.

But that’s not her biggest problem. Because evil resides in her home, an entity that is more than a century old.

And it’s angry, relentless and determined to eliminate Lindie Cooper next.

Here’s What Really Happened to Claire

I’ve been sitting on this story for a while now. Jill called me in late July to unloaded it and I’d decided to bury it out of fear and spite, but in the process of clearing out my own demons, I came to realize that secrets are really dangerous.

We had to do some soul cleansing in preparation for the exorcism of our home. Demons thrive on shame and worry – the nasty byproducts of secrets, among other things – and our priest advised us to come clean.

I have your pretty run-of-the-mill secrets. Occasionally, I don’t return the grocery cart to the holding pen, I just leave it in the parking lot. I pick my nose in the car. Sometimes I fantasize about running away to begin a new life, alone, waitressing in Colorado. I wet my pants quite frequently while walking the dogs or getting the kids out of the car, and it’s not the uh oh! I was laughing too hard and a little pee came out kind of wetting my pants. No, I’ve ruined two pairs of Uggs. The flat tire on Chris’s car didn’t just happen out of nowhere, I hit that curb pretty damn hard. I’ve had Botox three times and I’ll keep getting it until the relentless aging process calls for bigger guns. Sometimes I nap while the kids are at school instead of doing housework. I’m a gossip. I’m an angry mom. You can all attest to the fact that I use the Lord’s name in vain and I swear relentlessly. Oh, and I’ve never seen Top Gun, though I lie and tell people that I have if the subject comes up. It’s just too annoying to listen to people’s incredulousness and insistence that I simply must see it.

There is my list of relatively harmless little deceptions and white lies, but, as the preacher says, “lies aren’t color coded in the bible.”

Our exorcist insisted that bringing hidden things, no matter how insignificant they may seem, into the light would snatch them back from demons and drain their negative power. The technical term for all you Catholics out there is confession, and it was supes fun to tell the priest all my little offenses. But I had this one nagging secret that I’d kept for a while.

I didn’t think it was my sin to confess. It was a secret that I’d been holding for someone else and as I aired my own dirty laundry, I realized that that someone had put me in the role as confessor. A role that I had absolutely no right to and one that had put my soul in grave danger.


 

When Jill called me in late July and asked me to meet her for coffee about thirty minutes away in Newton, I tried as politely as I could to make excuses. After I’d listened to her and her besties tell me their ghost story I’d never wanted to see any of them again, let alone catch up over coffee. Of course, I’d seen the three women around town a few times, from afar in Whole Foods or driving by in their souped-up SUVs on Washington Street. That was as close I ever wanted to get to those witches again.

And I use that word respectfully. Those women conjured their dead friend and used her spirit like she was a genie. I didn’t believe that was the only dabbling they’d done in the dark arts. I simply couldn’t believe they could be that successful with such a powerful spell out of the gate and then just give up magic for good.

Hillary, Jill and Vanessa frightened me, and after I’d had some time to process their tale, I began to fear they would regret telling me their ghost story. To begin with, the story itself didn’t add up. What if they noted my obvious suspicion and realized what a mistake it had been to share it with me?

Hillary, Jill and Vanessa’s story of the drowning of their friend Claire on Morses Pond is Ghosts in the Burbs story number eight, If You Go Out In The Woods Today  on the blog and podcast. Go back and listen if you haven’t heard it yet and ask yourself if their story sounds genuine.

I did just that before I met with Jill. I wanted to refresh my memory. It made the truth, or at least what Jill claims to be the truth, all the more chilling.

When she reached out to me this summer it was right around the time that I’d hit rock bottom with my back. It was the days of only sleeping until about one o’clock in the morning before I had to get up and pace downstairs until morning. I was highly medicated and beginning to notice strange tapping noises in our home. I was in no shape to take on Jill’s stress.

She left me three messages and texted several times before I got back to her. I tried to beg off, but she was insistent. She said it was a matter of “life and death.”

I didn’t have one ounce of patience for melodrama, but she sounded so desperate that I agreed to meet her.

Jill thanked me over and over in a text and insisted that we meet in Newton. She didn’t want to risk being seen together.

“Whatever,” I texted back, to exhausted to argue.


 

“You look great,” Jill said as we sat down at the sticky, crumb-covered high top table. “Are you doing Paleo?”

I laughed, “No, it’s just nerves.”

“Well, they look good on you,” she replied pushing Tory Burch sunglasses to the top of her head. “I’m a nervous eater, I just stuff my face with carbs. It’s why I’m up seven pounds.”

“Oh, shush,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Well, I mean, I really can’t gain weight unless I try super hard. It was one of the things we asked for in the conjure. But, that’s sort of why I asked to meet you here.”

“Jill,” I grumbled, “I told you on the phone that I can’t deal with anyone’s ghost story right now. I’ve got my own stuff, I -”

“You’re the only one who I can tell,” Jill pleaded. “Please, just listen.”

“Fine,” I said taking a sip of weak, lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee. “What’s the problem?”

Jill leaned forward, her flawless skin glowing under the harsh fluorescent lights, “The story we told you wasn’t one hundred percent true.”

“No shit,” I replied.

“So you did know,” she declared, slapping a hand lightly on the table top.

“Yes,” I said simply, shifting in my seat. My back alternated between a dull throbbing and sharp pains that travelled down my left leg. In no mood to drag the story out of her, I’d listen as she’d asked me to, but I wasn’t up for an interview.

“Vanessa said you didn’t buy it, but Hillary insisted we were fine. When we told you about Claire and, like, what we’d done, we thought maybe it would make things settle down.”

“Did it?” I asked.

“No,” she replied shaking her head. “But we hoped it might help.”

“Why did you think telling me your ghost story would help things?”

“Confession is supposed to help,” she explained.

“Only if you confess everything,” I said quietly.

“Right, and that’s why it didn’t work,” Jill said nodding her head.

Her doe-eyed, innocent look grated on me. Whereas Hillary was the quintessential Queen Bee and Vanessa an unapologetic bitch on wheels, Jill’s innocent front offended me the most. She was the girl in the power group in high school who would be kind to you in gym class but giggle and whisper along with the other mean girls as you passed their lunch table. Her sticky sweet act made her the most dangerous; you’d never see the knife coming.

“Ok, so we didn’t exactly tell you everything that happened the night Claire died,” she acknowledged.

“What were you all smoking pot in the woods that night or something?” I said getting increasingly uncomfortable.

“It wasn’t drugs,” Jill said quietly.

“Ok, well, I don’t understand why I’m the one that has to hear this,” I complained.

“She’s getting worse. Besides the three of us you know the most, our husbands don’t even know what we did after she died. I have to try and see if this will work.”

“Jill, I don’t want to know, if you need to confess go to a priest,” I said about to get up.

“Liz, please, she won’t let me,” Jill pleaded. “Besides, you already know too much. It will be safer for you if you know everything.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Jill. What did you guys do to her?”

“It really was an accident, really! We didn’t kill her on purpose – “

“Stop,” I demanded, panicking. “Please, don’t tell me any more.”

“I have to, you already know too much and I think she might come to you for help or, maybe use you to get to us.”

“Fuck,” I said, both resigned to my fate and grossly curious as to what had actually happened that night in the woods.

Jill took a sip of coffee (two Splendas and skim milk) and began her story.

“At the beginning of that summer we’d set up a little bonfire spot in the woods. It was hidden away in this valley, near a stream. We had a couple of cases of beer with us that night and were drinking around the fire the way we had done a million times that summer.

“Vanessa started to head back into the woods with Philip to make out, but Claire stood up and said that we needed to get going or we were going to miss curfew. We were supposed to be home by eight-thirty.

“Vanessa was drunk, and she told Claire to relax and stop being such a goody two shoes. Claire snapped back at Vanessa and told her to stop being such a bitch,” Jill paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “So Vanessa stomped over to Claire saying something like ‘What did you call me you little priss’ and then she shoved her.

“It was like it happened in slow-motion. We all watched as Claire lost her balance and fell backwards, she landed hard and hit the back of her head on a rock. And then she had, like, a seizure or something. Her whole body was writhing around on the ground and her arms and legs were flopping around. It was awful.

“Chris jumped up and pulled Claire onto his lap, she flopped around for a bit more and then went still. He got hysterical. He screamed her name over and over and then he started screaming at Vanessa. ‘What did you do? You stupid bitch! Look what you did to her!’

“Hillary had knelt down beside him to feel Claire’s wrist and Frank stood over her watching. All the while Philip began screaming back at Chris and Vanessa was yelling right along with them. John, my husband, walked over to Philip and put his hand on his chest to stop him from attacking Chris.

“Finally Hillary screamed louder than everyone else. She told us all to shut up so she could concentrate. She bent down to check Claire’s pulse again and she told us she couldn’t feel anything. Claire was dead.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I lamented.

Jill nodded her head and pressed on with the nightmare, “We all just stood there silent, watching Chris as he rocked back and forth holding Claire on his lap. They’d been together since we were in, like, sixth grade, you know? He was really her best friend.

“Anyway, I don’t know who spoke first, but I think John said he’d walk through the trails to a neighborhood and call the police. That started a whole new round of yelling. Philip had stolen the beer from his parents house and they would have kill him if they found out. Vanessa started freaking out because she had pushed Claire and even though she hadn’t meant to, she had killed her.

“Finally, Hillary broke through all the yelling, ‘Shut the fuck up so I can think!’ She screamed at us. We all shut up, hoping that she would take control. She did. She told us exactly what to do, and we did it. Chris didn’t want to, but Hillary finally convinced him that it was the only way.

“We each chugged another beer because part of our alibi was being too drunk to notice that Claire wasn’t with us. Hillary insisted the beer was an extra precaution in case we were breathalyzed. She poured a beer on the rock where Claire’d hit her head, to wash away the blood. Then she had us wait about fifteen or so minutes until it was dark out then Philip, John and Frank carried Claire’s body to the boat and as we were pulling away they tossed her out of the back to make it look like she’d hit her head on the dock.”

“Oh my God, Hillary is a sociopath,” I said.

“You have no idea,” Jill replied.

“What about Chris, how did he go along with this?” I demanded in disbelief.

“Frank and Philip talked him through it. Along with Hillary they convinced him that it wasn’t worth the trouble we would all get into if we told the truth. Claire was dead, why should anyone else’s life be ruined?”

“Said every teenager in a made for T.V. movie,” I remarked sarcastically then stood up. Jill looked up nervously and asked if I was going to leave.

“No,” I said, leaning my elbows on the table. “It’s my back, I can’t stay in one position for too long. It’s nothing.”

“You should do yoga,” Jill said knowingly, “It’ll really loosen you up.”

“I’ll have to look into that,” I said. “Anyway, how the hell did you get the police and everyone to believe you? I mean, I could tell you were all hiding something when you all told me the story.”

“They believed what they wanted too,” Jill said sadly. “It was strange. It was almost like it was supposed to happen the way it did. Like we didn’t have any choice but to follow Hillary’s lead. And it worked. She saved all of us from a mountain of trouble.”

“It does seem too perfect, how could seven teenagers keep a secret like that?” I asked, “Especially if they were drunk.”

Jill just looked at me and shook her head. Something bubbled up in the back of my mind. A little detail that the women had told me that night back in the fall.

“Hillary said she got that book, the one with the spell in it, after Claire died, right? But if you’re telling me the truth, as you know it anyway, then there is no way anyone could have believed you. Maybe Hillary wasn’t surprised by the accident, maybe she expected it.”

“How could she have known Vanessa would push Claire?” Jill demanded. “No, there’s no way, I mean… No. There’s absolutely no way,” she trailed off.

I stared at her for a moment and said, “Hillary’s book had a spell in it strong enough to conjure a dead girl, what if she needed a sacrifice to make that spell work?”

“It’s not possible,” Jill said, though I could tell she wasn’t so sure.

“There are lies within your lies,” I replied. “You guys even lied to me about what you ‘wished’ for or whatever when you conjured her spirit.”

Jill looked down at her coffee cup smiling sadly, “We were so young,” she began, “We thought we knew what we would always want. We asked to marry our boyfriends, we asked to be rich and thin and pretty forever. We wished for the number of children we would have in the future. We wished for good grades and good colleges and nice cars and health. We knew that it was everything that Claire would have wanted too.”

“You told me that you all asked to live near each other too,” I said.

“No, we didn’t ask for that, it was part of the conjure. We have to stay close to each other whether we want to or not. We realized that when we went to college. Things get…bad when we are apart for too long. Vanessa and I ended up transferring so that we could be near Hillary at B.C.”

“And forgiveness?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Asked Jill, confused.

“You guys told me you conjured Claire so you could ask for her forgiveness,” I said.

“Oh that,” Jill looked down at the table, “No, we didn’t ask for forgiveness. That was a fib, we, well we thought that making Claire’s death count for something would sort of, like, atone for everything.”

“Atone?” I repeated.

“Yeah, like, make up for the fact that we’d covered up the way she really died.”

“Jill – “ I began.

“I know,” she said, cutting me off. “Listen, we were young and completely self involved. I know that now. But believe me, we’ve suffered for what we did, more than you can even imagine.”

“Am I supposed to feel badly for you and your ghoul friends?” I demanded.

“No, no not at all. I, just, I was hoping you could help. That you might know what to do,” she stumbled.

“Ok sure, I know exactly what to do. Go tell the police what you all did so Claire’s poor family knows the truth. There’s my advice. Either you can do it or I will,” I threatened.

“It’s not that simple,” Jill replied. “Claire doesn’t want that now. I think there was a window in time where if we had fessed up we could have been released from all of this and Claire could have moved on, but that window has passed. Believe me, I’ve tried to go to the police. I tried to confess, really.”

“What the hell do you mean, ‘tried to confess?’ That’s bullshit.”

“You don’t understand. She won’t let me tell the truth now, none of us can. I got into a car accident on the way to the police station and when I finally got there I got so dizzy I couldn’t even stand,” Jill explained.

“Please,” I said, rolling my eyes, “You were just scared to death of being found out.”

“No, it wasn’t that. I wanted to tell the truth, I tried and because of that I wasn’t allowed to sleep for a week. If it were all that simple I would have done it years ago. And don’t get any ideas, you can’t go to the police either. Trust me, she’ll retaliate. Her power has grown like crazy. We didn’t know that would happen, but somehow she is drawing power from us, or maybe she’s just gotten used to being dead.”

“Or maybe her power comes from blind rage at you for putting her in this position,” I countered.

“Maybe,” Jill replied.

I sat back down in the tall chair, my leg both numb and throbbing. The nerves in my back caused the pain to travel, making me antsy and exhausted.

“Jill, what is it then? What exactly is she doing, just tell me so I can go home and forget about you and your friends.”

“She’s always there now, everywhere I go. I can’t look in mirrors anymore, if she isn’t directly behind me in the bathroom then she’s peeking around a doorway in the background. That’s her favorite trick. Staying just out of sight so you have a moment of relief, thinking that she might not be there before you spot her.

“The worst though was last week I was out walking our dogs around the pond -”

“Morses Pond?? I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah,” she said, then seemed to realize, “Well it’s a good place to walk the dogs.”

“Ghoulish,” I spat.

“I suppose,” she acquiesced. “But that’s not the point. I was walking the dogs and ended up running into my daughter’s first grade teacher. As we were chatting Claire stepped out of the woods behind the woman and just stood there, right over her shoulder staring at me. She doesn’t usually come so close. Do you have any idea how hard it was to carry on a normal conversation with that woman? I couldn’t let her think I was a crazy person.”

“God help us,” I sighed. “Jill, I am sorry but you all made your bed -”

“Yeah, fine, but it’s not just Claire,” Jill leaned forward, whispering, “I think I am beginning to see other things. Things that aren’t from our, like, realm. I think she’s letting things in. It wasn’t part of the conjure, I mean, it’s not something that we counted on.”

“So it was all alright when you were getting everything you needed from her and she was just lurking around outside, but now that she’s pushing back a bit you can’t take it?” I said sarcastically.

“No!” Jill said, annoyance briefly showing through her botox. “She’s taken things too far. It was under control at first, we could manage her. Yes, we saw her once in awhile, at the edge of the field while I played field hockey, or a glimpse in the stands at Vanessa’s volleyball game. But then she, came closer. And she was so angry. I mean, it was all an accident. Even if we didn’t completely tell the truth to our parents and everyone, Vanessa didn’t mean to kill her, it just happened. What was the use in ruining everyone else’s life over an accident?”

I stared at the woman for a moment and asked quietly, “And how’s your life turned out now, Jill? You and your friends trapped her ghost so you could use her energy for a stupid wish list and when things got a little too real you gathered your little coven and bound her tighter.”

“We are not a coven,” Jill hissed shaking her perfectly highlighted hair.

“You are the definition of a coven,” I said sitting back in my seat, attempting to find a more comfortable position.

“Why are you so mad at me?” She demanded.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Jill. I’m not mad at you, I am afraid of you and your friends. I just want you to cut through the bullshit and tell me why you dragged me here.”

“There’s no reason for you to be afraid of us, we’d never hurt you,” she said reaching her hand out to touch mine.

I yanked my hand and my coffee back and said, “Oh really? Is that why we’re meeting in a Dunkin Donuts in Newton? Because you’re so sure of our safety? What would Hillary and Vanessa do if they knew you told me all of this?”

“I’m doing this for all of us, but they think we need to go back into the woods to bind her again. I don’t. I think we need to confess. We can’t live on the same street forever, we’ll drive each other crazy, we’re already beginning to.”

“So you really have to stay together? How bad was it when you all went away to college?” I asked.

Jill considered for a moment then said, “When we separate, she is able to, like, draw us down easier.”

“Coven,” I spat before taking a sip of my coffee.

Jill ignored my comment, “She can latch onto us if we are alone.”

“Well, you’re alone now, is she here?” I asked.

Jill gave a small nod and her eyes darted to the windows behind me.

A chill consumed my body and I turned quickly to see a large Dunkaccino display.

“There’s no one there,” I said pretending to be annoyed so she wouldn’t see how terrified I actually was.

“I told you, no one else can see her.”

“Oh, Jill,” I said, sighing.

“Just wait, I know you’re skeptical, I get that but just look at this, please.”

She looked down at her phone. Punched the security code, swiped around a bit then handed the phone to me.

I hesitated but she forcefully shoved it towards me so I took it. I looked down at the photo on the screen then looked back up at her.

“It’s not photoshopped,” she said quietly.

I looked back down to a photo of three smiling little girls; their blond, brunette and auburn hair tousled by the wind. They looked to be about seven years old and wore big smiles and soccer uniforms.

Arms around one another they stood on a grassy field, a colorful fall forest behind them. At the end of the line, to the blond girl’s right hand side, stood an older girl, a young teenager. Her black hair remained untouched by the wind and cascaded down over a navy blue short-sleeved polo shirt. She wore khaki shorts and worn-in boat shoes, but no smile.

“No,” I said, moving my fingers to enlarge the image. As the image enlarged I realized that I could actually see the autumn leaves behind, or I should say through, the teen. I dropped the phone on the table as though it were one of the Angus Steak and Egg sandwiches marketed on a poster behind Jill.

“It’s her,” Jill said, sitting back in her chair and reaching for the phone. “That’s concerning enough, but look in the background, by the treeline.”

She moved her fingers over the screen to select and enlarge a portion of the photo and handed the phone back to me. Again I hesitated to take it and again she shoved it towards me.

I sighed huffily as I accepted it. I looked at the enlarged area and saw a teenage boy at the treeline. Though the image was a bit blurry, it was still clear that it was a young man with dark brown hair. He too wore shorts and a short sleeved polo.

“Lurky,” I said, looking up. “Who the hell is that?”

Jill paused, “It’s Chris.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, attempting to hand the phone back.

“Look at his feet,” Jill said.

“What about his feet?” I demanded looking back at the photo.

Then I saw it, “They’re not there,” I said quietly.

“They’re not there,” Jill repeated. “I don’t think she has enough power yet to bring him back completely, but once she does, I just don’t know what they’ll do to us.”


 

I sat in my car and watched Jill pull out of the parking lot in her Land Rover. She was talking, either to herself or to someone or something that only she could see. I didn’t trust her or her story but I fully believed that she and her friends had done something wonderful and terrible and had completely lost control of it.

Did I go to tell the police? No. What proof did I have? It was my word against theirs. I publish ghost stories on a blog and podcast; I’m not exactly the most credible source. I mean, really, who is to say that I haven’t made all of this up? Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. Who knows what they could tell the police about me.

At any rate, that’s the “true” story as it was told to me and this was my confession of Jill’s confession. I’m telling you this because our priest said that I have an obligation to share the truth because I shared the lies. So, do with the so-called “truth” what you will.

There was a time when I would have thought, what difference does it make. We all make up stories to support our version of events. We excuse ourselves from the worst offenses and justify wrongs.

We don’t have to invite everyone, we all just have to promise not to post any pictures to Facebook afterwards so they don’t find out. It’ll be fine.

Maybe my daughter threw a candy bar into my bag in the grocery and I didn’t realize until I got home. What am I supposed to do, drive back and pay for a one dollar chocolate bar? It’s fine.

I know I said I’d help out at the kids’ holiday fundraiser but I have so much wrapping to do. There’ll be plenty of volunteers there, they won’t miss me, they’ll be fine.

Sure he’s a bigot and a racist, but he’ll be good for the economy, right? It’ll be fine.

Slippery fucking slope, huh?

It all matters – every word, every deed, every opportunity to do the right thing – now more than ever. Look beyond the veil with me, be honest with yourself and tell me, who’s winning? Can’t you see the demons high fiving, the devil looking on and nodding his head with a knowing smile?

Even though my little spiritual warfare seems to be behind me for now, I can’t say the same for everyone else. So I can listen. I can be here.

I won’t turn away. I’m a little shaky and knocked down a peg or two for sure, but I’ll be here just the same. A tiny library flier took me this far, I can’t imagine where we’ll go from here.