In the days of Delphi, when it was known that demons lurked in sulfurous caves and that fate was a force as natural and immutable as gravity, the fearful and the witch cursed would travel from the four corners of the earth to consult the Pythia in their sacred shrine. Those priestesses of Apollo would spend their lives communing with the dead and prophesying, retiring at days end to their myrrh-perfumed bedchambers. They were revered and honored by all.

Sylvia Leiber, though possessed of the second sight, held no such pretensions. In the year of her birth (1986), science had long since driven the hamadryad from the wood. Divine revelations? Delusions. Demoniacs? Schizophrenics. The only people who still sought out mediums were spiritual-but-not-religious soccer moms and lapsed Catholics. The highest height a seer could hope to achieve was a 15-minute appearance on Dr. Phil between segments on pregnant teenagers and heroin-addicted grandmothers. Nevertheless, as the owner—and sole employee—of Psychic Readings by Sylvia, a business she conducted from the comfort of her downtown apartment, her inbox was always full.

Buried beneath missives from the usual collection of solicitors, skeptics, and “scholars,” was an email with a subject line that caught her interest: “HELP — I don’t believe in ghosts or anything supernatural but…” Sylvia was sure how the rest of it would read without opening it, but a message with a header like that promised a paycheck.

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
JUNE 4, 2019, 12:54 PM

I don’t believe in ghosts or anything supernatural but theres something going on in my house. Both my me and my son have seen and heard things I don’t know how to explain. He says he’s heard whispering coming from his closet and under his bed and I see shadow people out of the corner of my eye just about everyday. I was hoping you could come out and see what you think.

—Betsy Davis

That could be anything. Or nothing. Sylvia leaned back in her chair. Her desk was strewn with books and bills: Haunted Ohio, Black Swamp Water and Electric, The Element Encyclopedia of Spirits, a well-worn copy of Fifty Shades Freed. She began to do the math. Vague phenomenon meant a vague timeframe, which meant she could hang around the Davis residence for days at a time charging $15.25 an hour, plus whatever expenses she decided to throw in on top of that. Sage isn’t cheap. She smiled and started to type.

FROM: [email protected]
TO: [email protected]
JUNE 5, 2019, 2:35 PM

Greetings Mrs. Davis,

I received your message and am fully prepared to conduct an investigation of your property. With the phenomenon you have described, it seems likely that an exorcism of your home will be necessary. I am available this Saturday and Sunday. My rate is $15.25 an hour as well as any additional fees incurred during our consultation.

—Sylvia Leiber

TO: [email protected]
FROM: [email protected]
JUNE 5, 2019, 2:37 PM

Thank you, yes please come as soon as possible. This saturday is perfect. We’re at 439 Potter Rd. Its a little hard to find but we’re the only house for miles anyhow.



Saturday came and Sylvia stocked her car with crystals and sage and entered the address from the email into her phone. Google Maps led her past the prefab monstrosities on the edge of town and into the country. The field fringed roads seemed to stretch on to infinity. Over the corn tassels, she could see elevator tops and white church steeples made hazy by distance. The houses came more sporadically there, adrift in a verdant sea of corn.

439 Potter Road appeared suddenly, an old two-story farmhouse perched atop an island of too-long grass. Windows cataracted by field dust gazed vacantly out and the tin roof gleamed dully in the afternoon sun.

Sylvia parked her car and walked up the gravel drive to the door, eying the collection of bird feeders hanging from the awning above the porch. The flowerbeds were a confusion of Menards statuary. A weathered Virgin Mary stood proudly beside a gnome with a fishing pole. Before she could knock, the finch ravaged screen door was thrown wide open and Sylvia got her first look at her client.

Betsy Davis was five feet tall and painfully skinny, so skinny it was hard to believe she had ever been pregnant. Her hair was a black tangle that came down to her shoulders. She looked to be about 46 years old.

“Mrs. Leiber?”

“Ms., but Sylvia’s fine.”

“Okay, Ms. Leiber. I’m so glad you’re here! Did you have trouble finding us? I know it’s a little samey out this way.”

“No trouble at all. Especially not with this,” Sylvia said, holding up her phone.

“Good! Good! Come on in. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Mrs. Davis conducted Sylvia inside, through the entryway and into a parlor that looked out on the road. A large bearded man was sitting on a flower-patterned couch drinking skunk-smelling coffee. He rose when they entered.

“You the psychic?”

“Yes. And you are…?”

“Jim Davis. Bets’ husband.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”


Betsy looked from her husband to Sylvia and back again before saying:

“Let’s all sit down. I’m sure you have questions. I’ve seen a lot of shows. There’s always an interview or something before they—the psychics or mediums or investigators—start looking around. So, do you have any questions?”

“I, uh…yeah. Yes. How long have you lived here?”

“Oh, about eight, nine years.”


“You sure, Jim? I don’t think that’s—”

“It’s right. We moved here two years after Bill was born.”

“…And in those ten years, did you ever experience anything like the phenomena you mentioned in your email?”

“No. No, that’s all been new. The last six months or so.”

“Has anything changed in the last six months? Renovations? Deaths in the family?”


Jim smacked the window with the flat of his hand, sending the goldfinch that had alighted on the screen flying and cutting Betsy off before she could finish.

“Damned birds.”

“No. Well, Jim put up a new backsplash in the kitchen around then. But other than that, nothing, really.”

“Do you know anything about the history of the house?”

“Yeah. It was my father’s. It’s where I grew up. He moved down to Florida when he retired and gave it to us as a sort of going-away present. But before that, I guess I don’t really know. I do know it was built in 1916, though.”

“But nothing that would account for this kind of activity?”

“I guess not. Bill, our son, he was the first one to notice something was going on. He said he heard knocking coming from his closet. We didn’t think anything of it, but he kept talking about it. Eventually, Jim went to check it out.”

“Yeah. And I didn’t find a thing, ‘cept for some of her dad’s old books.”

“But then I started to hear it too. And it’s only gotten worse since then. I started hearing voices. Seeing shadows where they shouldn’t be. And things would move and go missing. My great grandmother’s salt shaker, some other—I-I’m sorry. I need a drink. Can I get you something, Ms. Leiber? Tea? Pepsi? We’ve got just about everything.”

“Do you have water?”

“Yes, but it’s bottled. With as much iron as there is in the well out here, you take your life in your own hands drinking straight from the tap.”

“Oh, that’s fine. Thank you.”

“You want anything, Jim?”

“I’d take a warm-up on my coffee, since you’re pouring.”

“Coming right up.”

Mrs. Davis rose, gathered her husband’s mugs off the end table, and walked across the tangled shag carpet of the living room. Mr. Davis watched her until she rounded the corner into the kitchen before leaning in and whispering to Sylvia.

“Listen, Bill’s always reading those Excalibur—” (pronounced in a way that convinced Sylvia he thought it was spelled Ecks-Caliber) “—type stories. Knights and dragons and fairies and that sort of thing. It gives him all kinds of funny ideas.”

“What kind of funny?”

“Funny like there’s goblins in the corn back behind the house. Boogeymen in the cupboards. There ain’t a ghost or a demon or nothing here. The boy’s just…imaginative, s’all.”

“I see. And you think he’s just…imagining the things he’s told you and your wife about. The things your wife has seen?”

“I didn’t say that. Well, I mean…I think he tells Bets these things and she…you know—” (the sound of footsteps from the kitchen made him talk faster, lean in closer) “—runs with ‘em. They’re here together alone all day while I’m at work. She’s a little…touched. She just…I don’t…”

“And here you go,” Mrs. Davis said, handing a bottled water to Sylvia before setting the twin mugs of coffee down on the end table.

“Thank you. You said it was your son that first had these experiences?”

“Yeah. He’s always been perceptive.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, when Jim’s father passed, Bill was only about three years old. We were sitting here in this room and Bill started pointing to that window and saying he could see Grandpa. A couple minutes later, the phone rings and it’s Pat, Jim’s sister, saying that his dad’s had a heart attack and that he’s died.”

“I see. And would it be possible for me to talk to Bill? Is he home?”

“No, actually. He’s at a friend’s house, but they should be dropping him off soon. I can take you up to his room, though. Maybe you’ll hear the knocking, too.”


Mrs. Davis walked Sylvia through the house, leaving Jim to his coffee. Nearly every wall had some kind of decal on it. LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE, the dining room commanded. Family is a Quilt, proclaimed a vinyl sticker above the living room couch. The only energy Sylvia felt as she moved through the house was that of Mrs. Davis, who was radiating an aura of mania that set Sylvia on edge. After touring the house, they reached the foot of the stairs.

“His room’s the one on the left. I’d go up with you, but those stairs are just too hard on my knees these days.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Davis. I shouldn’t be too long.”

“Okay. I’ll be in the front room with Jim if you need me.”

Sylvia mounted the oaken stairs, and it was there, on the seventh step, that she felt the presence of something lurking in the house. Something old. Something ancient. Weird nightmare visions of primordial forests and dank grottoes kaleidoscoped in her mind. The far off beating of tom-tom drums pounded in time with her racing heart. Distantly, a great and terrible croaking like that of some immense toad sounded. Her hands gripped the railing, and for a moment she feared that she would tumble backwards down the steps. And then, as suddenly as it had come, it passed. Sylvia took a moment to collect herself before continuing up the stairs to Bill’s door. She knocked, and when there was no answer, she opened the door and entered into the boy’s bedroom.

The wood floor was an elephant graveyard of half-destroyed Lego sets and plastic knights. The bookshelves, too, had deposited their contents around the room. Stacks of secondhand Conan paperbacks and collections of Goosebumps reprints leaned precariously. But there, in the center of it all, left conspicuously bare of the boyish detritus that covered the rest of the room, was a blue rug embroidered with a patchwork scene of the night’s sky. Sylvia moved it aside, revealing a six-pointed star circumscribed by a snake eating its own tail scratched into the floor.

A theory began to develop in Sylvia’s mind, a theory that led her beneath Bill’s bed, past a tangle of forgotten Bionicles, and through a forest of cobwebs, to a shoebox containing a salt shaker, a box of rainbow chalk, a butter knife that had been filed into a crude athame, and a black leather-bound book with a Latin title. Inscribed on the inside cover was the name “Robat Davis.”

Sylvia began to flip through the pages. Woodcuts of strange, orgiastic rituals. A smattering of Aklo here and there. Faux-Egyptian hieroglyphs sharing the page with Celtic runes. It was sloppy work, but there was enough there to be dangerous. About a third of the way through, Sylvia came to a dog-eared page inscribed with the image of a grotesquely fat, thousand-legged frog crouched evilly atop a clutch of pearlescent eggs. Sylvia collected the shoebox and its contents and returned to the parlor where she found Mr. and Mrs. Davis waiting.

“Mrs. Davis, was your father involved in any sorts of clubs or groups?”

“Uh…yeah, actually. An astronomy club, I think. When I was younger, I remember he used to have people out to the house every few months to look at the moon. I always used to look forward to that. There was always dancing and costumes and nicknames. I thought it was funny; they’d call him ‘Robert’ when they came to visit.”

“So her dad’s a fruit. I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“I don’t think astronomy was their primary interest. I found this under Bill’s bed.”

She handed the shoebox to Mrs. Davis, but Mr. Davis wrenched it from her hands and began going through it before she had the chance. When he came to the salt shaker, he said:

“So the little shit’s been the one taking things! I fuckin’ knew it. Now we’re gonna owe this bitch 300 and some dollars because you’re as batshit crazy as your father.”

“Mr. Davis, I don’t think you underst—”

“The hell I don’t. Get the fuck out of my house.”

Sylvia rose and Mrs. Davis began to cry.

“You’re making a mistake,” Sylvia said as she walked out the door, down the gravel drive to her car.

“Yeah, I’ll bet. Don’t let the door hit you.”


That night, while she sat in her apartment eating dinner with her best friend Alex Trebek and ruminating on the events of the day, Sylvia received another email with a subject line that caught her interest: “i’m so sorry i should’ve known Jim would act like that. Hes always…”

TO: [email protected]
FROM: [email protected]
SUBJ: i’m so sorry
JUNE 9, 2019, 7:43 PM

i should’ve known Jim would act like that. Hes always had a temper even when we first started going together. Whatever is happening is getting worse. When bill came home he went straight up to his room and the house began to shake. Father Gregory wont return my calls either and Im scared. I cant pay you but i need your help. please


She ignored it, and the sudden and mysterious collapse of 439 Potter Road the next week was headline news in the local paper, as was the increase in reports of ribeiroia in the lakes, ponds, and streams of Ohio that summer.