As I’ve mentioned in earlier installments, a lot of my issues with Cathy involved my spirituality, which I’m a bit guarded about. As a result, I’m setting this part out on its own. If you’re the type of person who rolls your eyes at hauntings, spells, curses, any of that stuff, this will probably not be a post you’re going to enjoy. If that’s the kind of stuff you’d like to skip, you can do so without missing any big revelations that are crucial to the story overall.
If, on the other hand, you’re the type of person who runs toward stuff like hauntings, spells, and curses, this is going to be right up your alley.
Around the time of Cathy’s divorce from Sam, my son, then five years old, asked me a question. “Mommy, where do the other stairs go?”
At the time, we lived in a ranch-style house with a basement. There was no attic and only one set of stairs. However, my son had an interesting way of describing things, so I asked some probing questions. Where were the stairs? At the back of the basement, right under the real staircase. Then maybe he’d seen a shadow? No, he insisted. He’d seen other stairs.
Frustrated that I wasn’t understanding, he demanded I follow him down to the basement. He led me urgently to where he’d seen the other stairs, but we got to the spot, he was perplexed. Not in a “clearly pretending” way, either. He was genuinely confused as to where the stairs had gone. I decided that he’d probably seen a shadow, somehow. The light had played tricks coming in from the high basement window. I told him if he ever saw the other stairs again, he should come tell me immediately. I wanted to see it for myself, so I could explain to him what he was seeing.
A few weeks later, my son called me into his room screaming. He didn’t want to sleep in there because his favorite doll had “looked at” him. Again, I said it must have been a trick of the light that made the doll’s eyes appear to glance toward him. But he was adamant. The doll didn’t just flick its gaze toward him. It turned its head. He was so spooked by what was once his favorite baby doll, he couldn’t stand to be near it. I don’t know if he ever played with it again.
After that, strange things started to happen all the time. Doors slammed. Kitchen cupboards would suddenly stand open. The dog would bark at nothing and the cats aggressively avoided the basement, which was delightful considering that was where their litter boxes were. I began to wonder if our house was haunted. But that was silly. I’d lived in that house with my mother when I was a teenager and nothing paranormal had ever happened there. I’d grown up in my grandparents’ haunted house before we’d moved out on our own, and anyone who has ever lived in a haunted house knows that they just feel different. The house had never felt haunted before, but now it displayed all the hallmarks of a haunting.
These weird occurrences became more sinister. My son was the soul of unflappable calm as he explained “the green, drippy people” to me. They were in the basement, he said, hanging from the ceiling. Their eyes were red, like the ghost mouse’s eyes.
“The ghost mouse?” I asked, trying to convince myself he’d just seen an albino rat on tv or something.
“The ghost mouse.” He acted like it was something I should have already known about. “The ghost mouse I can follow to the other stairs?”
I made him promise me that he would never talk to the green, drippy people or follow the ghost mouse. And he would never, ever go down the other stairs. I stressed the importance of that, and he solemnly promised that he would never have gone down the other stairs because they were so scary.
My husband, ever the skeptic, thought I was reading too much into our son’s imagination. He was rarely present for the conversations we had or the weird things that happened. Once, we arrived home and my son and I were the first people in the house; my husband was still getting something from the car. We’d no sooner stepped inside than a bowl of candy flew from the chair it was sitting on to smash across the room. No matter how my son and I both argued, my husband insisted we must have somehow bumped it, though we’d been nowhere near it at the time. Then one night, as my husband and I laid in bed, the bathroom door slammed shut, hard.
“It’s the wind, Jen,” he said, irritated, as he got up to go prove I was being a baby.
“How is it the wind when the window in there is shut?” I demanded. “Every window in the house is shut.”
“I don’t know, it could be a draft up from the laundry chute when the furnace comes on.” He went into the hall and opened the door again.
“Yeah, I’m so sure it’s a draft that has never happened before in the whole history of me living in this house,” I muttered as he got back into bed. He’d no sooner pulled the covers up when the door slammed shut again.
“See?” he asked. “Listen. The furnace is on.”
He got up again and went to open the door. This time, it stayed open.
Then the furnace clicked off. And the door slammed again.
“Probably a change in air pressure,” he said, but he didn’t sound quite as certain. And he didn’t get up to open it.
There was never another “air pressure” problem like it again in all the years we remained in the house.
Once, I was putting a load of laundry into the dryer when a dripping, skeletal hand in a tattered sleeve reached out of a shadow, grasping for me. I screamed and raced upstairs, shaking. I lived in terror every day. To my son, these occurrences were normal. To my husband, they were non-existent. I thought I was losing my mind.
So, what link does all of this have with Cathy?
As mentioned previously, Cathy and I were in a small coven. We did rituals and spellwork together, much of it at my home. Any of my spiritual practice that didn’t happen outside or during group gatherings happened in my office. Before we’d put down our wood laminate flooring, I’d drawn a permanent circle on the subfloor, both with a marker and with some low-level energy. I always knew where it was, and any spells or meditation or chanting happened in that circle.
Cathy knew where it was, too. Shortly before she left for Colorado, she told me how blessed she felt by all the positive changes in her life. “I knew it would happen, ever since I did that ritual.”
Only half-listening (because at this time I was just waiting our “friendship” out), I asked, “Oh yeah?”
She took a drag off her cigarette in the annoying way she did, puckering her lips and pressing the filter against the yellow half-circle target that stained her front teeth. “Yeah. One night when I was staying over at your house, I went into your office, where your circle is? And I said, ‘Okay, universe. I want you to send everything I’m putting out into the world back to me three-fold, right here and now.'”
I realized then exactly what had happened. I hoped the weird occurrences would end when she left, and they did. Eventually, we lost the house to a foreclosure after my career floundered. We moved into our new house, which I’d recognized instantly as being completely non-haunted. Living through those weird events was just something that had happened to us, and soon we never even talked about it.
Shortly after I wrote the first of this series of posts, my son came to me and said, apropos of nothing, “Do you remember the other stairs?”
All of the hairs on my arms stood up. I hadn’t mentioned the subject to him in years. “I remember you thought there were some other stairs. Did you figure out what they were?”
“They were other stairs,” he said. “But there’s stuff I didn’t tell you about them.”
He described the other stairs to me, in more sophisticated detail than he’d been able to at five. They were old stone, uneven like ruins. They led down into a dark hallway with shadowy doors along its side. A dim orange light came from one of the doorways.
“And there was someone at the bottom,” he said in an uncharacteristically quiet, serious voice. “They had a person’s body, but their head was like an animal skull. With horns or antlers or something.”
This is where I rocketed from my temporary atheism and back into Hyper-Pagan mode. I typed every possible description into google to see what entity my son had encountered and made him look at depiction after depiction of ancient Gods and creatures and demons. “Did it say anything to you?” I demanded. “Did you say anything to it?” My son swore the figure never spoke and he never spoke to it or went down the stairs. I headed directly to the new age store and grabbed obsidian for both of my kids to keep on them at all times. I did a banishment and fumigated with Dragon’s Blood resin. For the first time in almost a decade, I set up an altar.
Why had I stayed away so long?
After we’d moved into our current home, I’d begun to wonder if our run of bad luck hadn’t been caused by whatever it was that Cathy had invited into our lives. I decided to do a cleansing spell while I had some alone time. I put some new age music on Spotify and set about doing the ritual. But I’d forgotten that Spotify had ads. Just as I was getting ready to begin, one of them came on. A woman’s voice cheerfully called out, “Hi! I’m [Cathy’s real name]!” It was an advertisement for a movie, but it still spooked me badly. I rushed through the ritual and didn’t feel any better when it was over.
I decided at that point that I was through with witchcraft and dove back into Catholicism. But Cathy’s manipulation and betrayal had made it impossible for me to share anything spiritual with anyone. If I couldn’t have faith in other people, I just wouldn’t have faith at all.
It was easier to give up my soul than deal with the damage Cathy had left.
Next Time: “It’s all here just waiting for me.”