Book Review: At The Cemetery Gates

At the Cemetery Gates: Year One, by John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan

I remember going to sleepovers as a kid, and staying up into the wee hours of the morning trading scary stories and urban legends in hushed tones with my friends. We’d swear up and down that we knew someone who knew someone who knew the girl whose boyfriend was murdered by the hook hand killer. We’d retell local legends, and stories we’d read in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.The tales were short and sweet, getting to the good stuff quickly and allowing for the storyteller to embellish for maximum effect. It spawned an entire generation of horror fans, including authors John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan, who paid homage to the Scary Stories collections with their newest book, At the Cemetery Gates: Year One.

The following aren’t short stories so much as they are digestible suburban fables.

Cemetery Gates Media presents a collection of fourteen twisted tales clocking in at 168 pages of consumable bites of horror and dark fiction, written in the very style that made Alvin Schwarz’s tales so popular two decades ago. Rather than setting everything up neatly like a regular short story, Brhel and Sullivan condense their stories into compact vignettes that are ready for retelling around a campfire, or in a bedroom late at night.

Favorites include:

Passion’s Paroxysm, a quick glimpse into a day in the life of a mistreated husband. The surprise ending make this tale destined to be an urban legend

The Girl With The Crooked Tooth, a thoroughly eerie homage to Edgar Allen Poe, complete with a creepy dude with an odd obsession with a woman. I don’t like dental stuff, so this one really got under my skin. The beautiful prose and unsettling imagery stuck with me.

New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, about a simple mistake leading to catastrophic consequences. If you like the stories that play on fears of being killed at random, for no good reason, this is sure to titillate.

Considering that I couldn’t find a bad thing to say about this collection and found it to be even more enjoyable than their last anthology, I give this book the full 5 stars. Many of these stories are trope-heavy, but that’s how good lore works. It follows a basic template, and works as a means of expressing universal fears in American society. Anonymous murderers, poison in our food, and systematic conspiracies that affect the marginalized are all things that many of us worry about.  Urban legends synthesize those apprehensions into morsels of dread that serve to remind us that death awaits us everywhere, at all times. I’d heartily recommend At The Cemetery Gates to readers who want a little something to nibble on before bed each night, and to young horror fans who want something juicy to regale to their friends between classes. Find it on Amazon.

America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Book Review

America’s Most Haunted Hotels: Checking in with Uninvited Guests
By Jaime Davis Whitmer with Robert Whitmer

Ghost stories are a staple of the horror genre, and they always have a little sharper edge when the magic words, “based on a true story” appear under the title. Ghost hunting has taken on its own genre, as either pure entertainment or amateur scientific research, sometimes a combination of both. I readily admit my deep affection for a good haint tale, and this book delivers spooky real-life accounts as well as practical information about haunted tourism. If you’re a writer, having a solid nonfiction reference like this is handy.

Jamie Whitmer is an author, ghost hunter and traveler. Her book Haunted Asylums, Prisons and Sanatoriums was published in 2013, and this could be considered a sequel of sorts. She opens the book with practical information on what it takes to do a full paranormal investigation at sites like old prisons and hospitals. These are expensive and time-consuming since the entire building must be rented to do an investigation.

However, haunted hotels can be investigated for the price of a room, and many offer ghost tours for those who just want to visit. If you’re an avid spirit-seeker without a big budget, this is much more affordable. The Whitmers were able to use the tools of the trade in their room, or within hotel common rooms with permission from the manager. (It never hurts to ask.)

In the introduction, the author shares her experiences with spirits of the dead and her ideas of how and why these hauntings occur. Her husband, Robert, also shares his views. He’s a practical man and says he is “open to the possibility that things exist that I cannot see…I go into this endeavor with an open but cautious mind.”

The author researched the hotels featured in the book. She opens each chapter with the history of the original owner(s), photographs of the hotel, notable events in town, the natural landscape and features, and tales of famous deaths, hauntings and other sightings that gave these hotels their notoriety. Some of those stories are apocryphal and don’t stand up to the author’s historic scrutiny. She and Bob both write separate first-person accounts of what they did—or didn’t—experience during their stay at each place.

Occasionally, the couple is delighted with their stay in the hotel but disappointed that they experienced nothing more than a great night’s sleep. Of course, ghosts aren’t on the payroll and don’t always show up when people want them to! On other stays, Ms. Whitmer writes of doors mysteriously opening, corner-of-the-eye glimpses of people who weren’t there when she turned her head, and an emotional experience that left her shaken.

It’s hard to resist the charm of these old hotels. If you enjoy “ghost tourism” and are looking for a firsthand guide to the top 10 haunted hotels, you should read this first before planning your trip. The people who led their tours were engaging and knowledgeable and clearly enjoyed their jobs. While room and tour prices will change, the authors do their best to help you plan your trip accordingly.

I’m scheduled for a stay on the Queen Mary in a few months, and eager to tour and see the places that the authors described so beautifully. While I doubt I’ll see a ghost, I will know a bit more about the history of this great ship-turned-hotel, and the Whitmer’s account of their stay will have me keeping watch out of the corner of my eye.

Book Review: Deadraiser (Part 1: The Horror In Jordan’s Bank)

Deadraiser Horror Book Review
Big fish in a small town. Necromancy. Human sacrifice. Conspiracy. If you like these things, you’ll get a kick out of Deadraiser Part 1: The Horror In Jordan’s Bank). From the Goodreads summary:
DEADRAISER is the tale of a present-day practitioner who achieves what others have been unable to do for centuries — to raise the dead. The problem is that he must sacrifice innocent victims in order to maintain his power. Enter Fanchon (Frankie) Manning, daughter of the late movie star Erika Manning. She is the ideal sacrificial lamb for the Necromancer’s perverse desires. The only thing that stands between the Necromancer and the girl is Christopher McGuire, a lost soul who long ago has ceased believing in anything. In order to save the child, he must somehow rediscover his faith and summon the courage to take on the darkest, most sinister being imaginable.



I’m going to start off by saying that the story is outstanding. Authors Stephanie C. Lyons-Keeley and Wayne J. Keeley really captured the feel of the small town and the townspeople within. The book is a bit tongue-in-cheek, totally aware of how stereotypical the small-town characters are (the bumbling sheriff suspicious of the newcomer, the ne’er do well kids, the vulturistic journalist, etc.) and chuckling with the reader over it. Everyone was distinctive and developed; every action and line of dialogue was something only that character would have done or said. I especially liked Damon the caretaker; he creeped me out from the beginning.The book effortlessly jumps from character to character and back and forth in time, but I was never confused. It all felt natural, and the narrative flowed well. The authors nailed the tone and atmosphere, which made the dream scenes and death scenes effectively scary. I gobbled this book up whole chapters at a time, and looked forward to getting my next chance to read some more. I may or may not have put my toddler to bed a half hour early in order to finish this book; I won’t confirm or deny. Don’t judge me.

I wanted to give this book 5 stars, but I’m frustrated over the ending: the authors unnecessarily ended the story on a cliffhanger. In so many of our favorite series, there is an overarching conflict that spans the entire series. Smaller conflicts are put forth that the protagonist has to weather. Katniss has to survive the Hunger Games, but President Snow is still looming and a rebellion is brewing. Harry Potter makes it through his first year at Hogwarts and defeats Professor Quirrel, but Voldemort is back and gaining power. Eventually, the protagonist has to address that overarching conflict in later books, but satisfies the reader by completing the smaller arc in each preceding book. This doesn’t happen in Deadraiser. The overarching conflict is unresolved, and so are most smaller conflicts (one is resolved by the death of a character, but nothing the protagonist actively contributed to). So the ending feels abrupt and unsatisfying, like the authors are trying to stretch out the story for more money. If they are, it’s a smart move, business-wise, but it left me feeling resentful enough to make a whole thing out of it in the review.

In the end, I still recommend this book to old-school horror fans and lovers of the Occult, and look forward to devouring Part 2.

The Psychic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That stung a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has a psychic?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

“And now?” I prompted.

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

“What happened at that party?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More what?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

“Who -” I began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shadows?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But this was different,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ElizaBethBeth?” I asked.

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

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

“Did he hear you?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you decide to do?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Ugh,” I said.

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

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

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

“Was she?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It can’t be unfixable -” I began.

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

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

“What do you suggest?” She asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No one,” I said, quietly.

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

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

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

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

“No, I wasn’t,” Beth replied.

Crimson Peak: Movie Review

crimson peak - poster

Ghosts!  Ghosts everywhere!
At the turn of the 20th century, Edith Cushing (CUSHING!) is wooed by an English baronet, gets married and moves to his not-at-all ominous mansion, nicknamed “Crimson Peak”.  There is a nefarious plot between the baronet and his insane sister in regards to Edith.  And then, of course, there are the aforementioned ghosts.

crimson peak - edith
My thoughts:
First things first: with this being a passion project of Guillermo Del Toro, you knew the set design was going to be top-notch.  Like, next-level, blow-your-mind stuff.  It did not disappoint.  With all the big names attached, somehow the house was the star of the show.  It was created as such a living being that it actually breathed.  The hole in the roof led to some great visuals of various leaves/precipitation floating through the massive house.  Footsteps in the snow outside looked like blood footsteps, as the red clay the land was situation on was brought to the surface with each footstep.  The walls of the house oozed with red clay.  I was in love with all of it.

crimson peak - house
If we’re listing things I loved about the movie in order (and we are, because it’s my review and I’m a grown up and I do what I want), the next in line was the performance of Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe, crazed sister of Tom Hiddleston’s Sir Thomas Sharpe.  She was a ball of barely contained crazy in the early going, then she really let loose as the movie progressed.  Her eyes were wild and her face was cold steel and she was amazing and I’m scared of her and I love her and I’m very confused.

crimson peak - lucille mirror 2
I could talk plot and the rest of the cast, but what’s the point?  Mia Wasikowska was fine.  Tom Hiddleston was fine.  Charlie Hunnam was fine.  Everyone was fine and performed their jobs admirably.  The plot was also fine.  Even if everything besides the set design and Jessica Chastain was terrible, it would still be worth watching for those two reasons.

My point is, if you haven’t seen this yet, please do so, if only for how amazing it all looks and for Jessica Chastain releasing her inner crazy.

crimson peak - lucille piano
Rating: 4.5/5