Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard—a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.
But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.
Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
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None of this would have happened if it weren't for the She Shed. We thought it would be a place to have our ladies' nights in peace-away from the children waking up at midnight, away from the husbands giving a cursory wave before heading upstairs to watch sports in the dark, away from the dirty dishes piled in the sink. All we wanted was a place to call our own. To have something that belonged to us. What we got was our lives and homes ripped into bloody shreds.
It was the She Shed that started it all, a blissfully ignorant idea that transformed our cheery suburban enclave into something demonic.
The suburbs were hell...literally.
It all began in June, when we gathered at Liz Kowalski's house for our monthly movie night. Well, we called it "movie night" but it was really just an excuse to get together on a semiregular basis. Something to look forward to during the monotony.
My next-door neighbor, Jess, and I arrived at Liz's house around the corner at the same time, each of us taking a different route on Maple Leaf Drive.
"Yo, Amy, I did wind sprints out of my house tonight. Shit, I need a night out more than anything." Jess wore white workout shorts and a tight tank top and held a bottle of tequila above her head as she walked up the pathway to Liz's house. Her blond hair flowed freely down her back, and in the dark, her six-foot frame stretched a long shadow in the automatic lights on either side of Liz's door. Jess's husband, Del, worked for a liquor distributor and always had high-end bottles of alcohol on hand, which made her very popular at parties.
"You do know this is a wine night, not spring break in Cancún, right?" I said as I eyed her bottle of tequila while hitching my sauvignon blanc into my armpit. I had found it on sale in an endcap at Target. I grabbed it out of impulse as I sped through, trying to buy the ingredients for dinner and new water shoes for my two kids before someone had a meltdown.
Jess frowned as we reached Liz's door. "It's George Clooney's tequila, not Jose Cuervo. And Del told me that tequila has less sugar than any other alcohol."
"Yes, I obviously attend these nights to watch my weight," I said as she pushed open Liz's door.
"Well, I have CrossFit at eight tomorrow morning, and I can't be hungover. Hey, do you want to join? It's Bring-a-Friend Day."
"Sorry, Jess. I always appreciate the invite, but my answer is still going to be no. Always," I said as I followed her inside the house. I never understood why Jess would willingly work out in a building without air-conditioning, doing exercises that mirrored the worst days of gym class. Most of the other moms in Winchester took barre classes, running around town after their workouts in high-waisted Lululemon leggings and tank tops with built-in bras while drinking kombucha.
Jess opened her mouth to espouse the wonders of CrossFit just before Liz rushed forward, arms outstretched.
"There you guys are!" She looked down at our shoes, and we quickly added them to the pile next to the front door. Liz's entire first floor had white carpeting, impressive since she had two energetic boys: Carson, who was seven, and Luke-their oops baby-who had just turned two.
Liz placed our bottles on the kitchen island, next to a collection of air plants in a raffia basket that she had gotten on sale at HomeGoods. The island was covered in an almost embarrassing amount of food for four people. If nothing else, no one would ever go hungry at her house, although I knew she overprepared out of anxiety rather than hospitality. Once, she'd run out of toilet paper during a party and nearly had a meltdown.
Jess poured herself a tequila on the rocks as she scrolled through her phone for a playlist. She made a new one each month for our get-togethers, titled "Suburban Lady Jams," and filled it with whatever new songs had just been released.
Liz turned to me, her brunette topknot making her seem taller than her five feet. "I have wine open already." She pointed to her fridge, and I opened the white door and saw a box of pink wine on the shelf, spigot waiting.
I could already feel the pounding headache from the liquefied candy inside the box, but I didn't want to turn her down. Liz was a sensitive soul who'd worked as a pediatric nurse before she had kids, and her feelings would be hurt if I declined. I gritted my teeth as I stuck a goblet large enough to double as a vase under the spigot and watched as bright pink liquid sloshed into it. I smiled at her over the glass before I took a sip. The sugar immediately went into every groove of my teeth, straight to the nerves, like chewing on aluminum foil.
"Yum," I said as I forced a smile, and Liz beamed. I could see Jess smirk in my peripheral vision as she pulled a lemon out of her bag, halved it with one of the sharp kitchen knives from the block on the countertop, and squeezed it into her drink. We might both regret our decisions come the next morning, but me definitely more than her.
Liz gave me a motherly pat on the arm. "Guess what, ladies? Construction on the She Shed starts tomorrow." She clasped her hands together in prayer form.
My eyes widened. It had started as a joke a few months ago, that we should have a clubhouse. We sketched it out on the back of a field trip form. It had a wet bar, a wine fridge, a flat-screen television mounted on the wall, pink velvet couches, fiddle-leaf fig plants ("I think those are supposed to be kept in the house," I said, to which my friends waved their hands around. "The plant will be kept alive by witnessing our friendship," Jess responded.), jute rugs, fuzzy blankets, and himmeli on the wall. Basically, a living Instagram post that we would enjoy without any hint of irony.
The next week, Liz texted all of us: Ladies, the She Shed blueprints are safely in my care.
Before Jess or I could react to the news, we heard a thud and a bloodcurdling scream from upstairs. Liz gave an exasperated sigh, waiting a moment to see if her husband, Tim, would leave his home office to intervene. Through the door, we could hear his elevated lawyer-speak. When he didn't so much as peek his head out, she threw her hands up and ran up the stairs to investigate.
I felt the wine/gasoline course through my veins and exhaled loudly. It felt like the longest day of my life. My son, Jack, had had his last day of first grade. He ran out of Winchester Elementary, screaming, wearing a handmade Dr. Seuss hat covered in marker, to where his five-year-old sister, Emily, and I stood. We waited outside Door 1, politely chatting with the other moms, lamenting that I couldn't have volunteered more during the year due to my busy schedule job hunting for a social worker position.
I still hadn't found one.
After school, it had been ice cream, a playdate that left my couch covered in marker, another pizza dinner, and more ice cream to celebrate the last day of school. All the while waiting for my monthly movie night with my neighbor friends. It sometimes felt like these nights were my only true escape, among people who understood and accepted me.
Liz appeared back down the stairs, wearing old gray sweatpants instead of light-colored jeans.
"Sorry, ladies. Luke wanted another drink of water. It's his latest trick for stalling bedtime. Of course he spilled it all over me," she said. "Bedtime is just so hard."
I glanced at the clock. Nine fifteen p.m. "Where's Melissa? Is she still coming?"
We turned as we saw a flash of light, Melissa's giant Infiniti SUV pulling into the driveway.
"On cue," Jess said as she took another swig from her glass of tequila. "Only Melissa would drive two blocks instead of walking."
All four of us lived in the Whispering Farms subdivision, a suburban enclave thirty minutes outside of Chicago. Well, thirty minutes with no traffic. With traffic, it took over an hour, making the city seem much further away than it was, an inverse mirage. I wasn't sure whether the city or our suburb of Winchester was the palm tree with water. Whispering Farms was our bubble, so close to the city, yet at times it felt like another dimension. The further we got away from the city, the more suburban stereotypes became like actual real life.
The front door squeaked open, its metal hinges rusty, and Melissa walked through the door. She still wore her work clothes, a smart black suit with four-inch heels and dangly earrings. Her curls drooped, and her lipstick was smeared. In her hand, she held a six-pack of Spotted Cow beer. It was only sold in Wisconsin; she and her husband stocked up on it twice a year after a state border crossing and guarded it furiously.
"Sorry, but I had a work call run late. Y'all, I finally just said my kitchen was on fire." Her voice still held the faintest hint of a lilting twang. She actually grew up in southern Ohio, but when people asked about her accent she usually said, "The South," even though her voice was more country than belle. People usually pictured Savannah or Charleston, as opposed to the truth: Chillicothe, Ohio.
Melissa's heels click-clacked through the foyer before she stopped and kicked them off. She padded toward us and set the six-pack down on the counter.
"Ah, you brought your contraband smuggled across state lines. Spotted Cow: favorite beer of FIBs," Jess said with a laugh. Jess was raised in Wisconsin and never failed to remind us of our FIB status (Wisconsin lingo for "Fucking Illinois Bastard"), despite living in enemy territory.
Melissa responded with a smile and a head shake as she opened a beer bottle. It was a running joke between them. "Fancy Illinois Bastard," she said as she clinked her drink with Jess's.
"Damn straight you are," Jess said.
"Oh, you need more wine, Amy," Liz said, and, before I could stop her, filled my wineglass to the brim from the box in the fridge. I looked longingly at the beer in Melissa's hand before Liz handed the wine to me and lifted her own glass. "Cheers. Thanks for coming over. I live for these nights with you all."
We had started the movie/wine (well, tequila, beer, wine, whatever) nights the previous fall, when we were all forced to attend our school's curriculum night. All of us had kids in first grade, and we huddled in a corner, trying to avoid the PTA moms with clipboards, signing up volunteers for class parties. Melissa had whispered that she needed a drink, and we all nodded furiously. Three hours later, we were in her gleaming kitchen, next to her Viking range, drinking too much and laughing too loud. On the way out, before I stepped onto her expansive front porch, I turned and said, "We should make this a monthly tradition."
We had found each other, at first banded together by the fact that we all seemed to be on the edges of wanting to be in suburbia. We wore the costume of suburban moms, yet it only covered us on the outside like a camouflage, just enough to hide the parts that didn't belong. Then, after we got to know each other, we were bound by true friendship and love for one another. And a lot of laughter.
"C'mon, everyone. Let's go pick out a movie to watch." Liz gestured for us to follow her down to her basement, to the leather sectional where Jess had spilled a rare whiskey at the Super Bowl party as I shamelessly inhaled queso dip and pigs in a blanket.
"Amy, hon, it's your turn to pick," Liz said in an encouraging, motherly tone.
We rotated who chose the movie, usually landing on a mid-to-late nineties or early-2000s classic. Last time, we'd watched 10 Things I Hate About You, cheering for Heath Ledger as he serenaded Julia Stiles on the field.
I flipped through the romantic comedy movie selections, noting we had watched nearly all of them. Rather than a rewatch, I had a thought. "What about something different, like a scary movie?" I laughed when I saw their faces. "C'mon, everyone. I was a serious horror movie fan as a teenager. Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Jason movies, all of it." I held up my hand as I ticked away a few more. "I'd much rather watch a fictional horror than a realistic tearjerker where someone's husband dies. Real life is much more traumatic than anything on-screen."
There was a pregnant pause in the room as everyone remained silent. They knew I didn't want to talk about my sister that night-or any night, for that matter.
Melissa cleared her throat. "My childhood was enough of a horror movie, and it turned me into a wimp." Except, she was the furthest thing from a wimp: she was a senior vice president at a large banking corporation run mostly by old white men who'd asked her to fetch coffee and to fudge expense reports during her first week there. Her husband, Tony, stayed home with their kids and swapped sous vide recipes with all the neighbors. This was less than approved by her conservative parents, who were high-ranking members of a wealthy megachurch that held Sunday services with a laser light show and fog machines, like a Jesus nightclub.
"I'm all in," Jess said as she plopped down, tequila cradled in her elbow like a newborn. "You guys know there's very little I will say no to."
"Jess, trust us. We know. Did you ever hang those bedroom blinds?" Melissa said.
I settled down on the couch, pulling an embroidered blanket over my lap. "I'm the one who lives next door to her and has front-row seats to the nightly show. What are you guys complaining about?" I smiled at Jess.
"You're welcome," Jess said as she tipped her glass to me with a laugh.
"No complaints here," I replied. "Del's a lucky guy."
"If you choose a horror movie, I'm leaving," Melissa said as she began to rise from the couch, her black suit bunching.
I gestured for her to sit down, and we tried to find something else, but no one could agree on a movie. Instead, we chatted about how glad we were not to deal with homework since it was the summer, what we would do with our kids for the next three months, how none of us had gotten our kids into that fancy vacation Bible school camp that all the other moms mysteriously did, and how our neighbor Greg Spadlowski's new hair plugs gave us Nic Cage vibes.
Then, Liz said, "Let’s go outside and christen the She Shed location!"
We refilled our drinks and followed Liz outside. I eyed her tiki bar on the deck, covered in straw and colorful parrots. It was a source of pride for her, so much so that we had to gently talk her out of hosting a Jimmy Buffet themed party for Tim’s stuffy law firm partners last summer.
"But who doesn’t love 'Margaritaville?'"she had said, confused. "His concerts at Alpine Valley are so much fun."
"I know, but probably not the most appropriate theme for a group of corporate suits. My office’s last party was themed "Bourbon and Bites'," Melissa had replied.
We followed her to the edge of the fence, where an area of grass had been cleared out. Liz reached into her pocket and pulled out four small, woven circles. "These are for each of you. I saw an ad on Instagram and had to buy them." She passed out the circles, black bracelets of woven string, with a small charm in the middle, engraved with, "Stronger With You." I did a slight internal eyeroll at the corniness, but I knew it was genuine.
"Liz, you’re the best," I said as she passed them out.
After we put the bracelets on, Liz lifted her glass in the air. "To our friendship, and having a place to call our own. I love you girls."
"To those that wish us well, and the rest can go to hell,"Jess added, her voice rising e with every word, before we clinked our glasses together, and then poured a little of our drinks into the dirt.
As the liquid absorbed into the ground, a strong, chilling breeze whipped through the yard and tinkled the wind chimes across the street. We paused and looked at each other, glasses still held in the air.
"Well, that was weird," I said.
"I think that was a good sign," Liz said with a laugh.
I can definitively say, now, that it was not.