Kristen Houghton is the author of the best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, which has been named Best Series of the Year by the WNYC Book Club. Her latest novel, Teeth: The Haunting of Dansbury Plot, has just been released.

Her writing portfolio includes The Huffington Post, Criminal Element Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, The Style Network, and OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network.

A storyteller from childhood, she has always felt that “Words in any language are pure magic,” and calls her passion for writing horror stories a unique gift of imagination.

Kristen holds a doctorate in education and has taught World Languages and cultures in both high school and college.

On a personal note, she is crazy about tennis and, just like her fictional character Cate Harlow, tries to play as often as she can.


by Kristen Houghton


The old lady walked down the small hill slowly, bent over and leaning on a cane. Her right hand advanced the cane and her left hand adjusted her large sunglasses. Dressed in a long dress, boots, gloves, and a gray sweater, she seemed untroubled by the unseasonable May temperature of eighty-eight degrees.

“There she goes. C’mon!”

Two boys, Steven and Peter, both eleven years old, were watching her come down the hill. When she reached the bottom and made a turn toward town, they jumped on their bikes and peddled like hell up toward the gate of the ancient house at the top of the hill—the house the townsfolk called Crawley’s Lair.

The house was at least three-hundred-years old and the stories about Arthur Crawley, a lone inhabitant who had lived there until five years ago, were legendary. Old Man Crawley was reported to have been many things: a miser who had millions of dollars hidden somewhere in the house, a mean bastard who had bitten off a man’s ear in a fight over a debt the man owed him, and a thief who had stolen the gold teeth from his own mother minutes after she died.

But the most interesting and disturbing story was the one about Arthur being something other than human. It was said that Arthur Crawley was really a super-large spider who had the ability to turn himself into a human. He accomplished this transformation, it was whispered by the neighborhood kids, by eating human flesh. Arthur Crawley, so they said, came from a long line of ‘spider-humans’ and was over two hundred years old.

Steven believed it all. The stories of Crawley’s Lair were told with gory gusto at children’s sleepovers and around late-night fire-pit marshmallow roasts on camping trips, so Steven had heard about it all his life.

The scariest part of the story was that spiders are cold-blooded, and cannot regulate their body temperature, so old man Crawley used his eight spider legs to spin the hair of the dead person he’d eaten into material for sweaters to keep himself warm.

“How about that red sweater the old man always wore!” the children would say. Didn’t someone, some poor traveler with red hair, disappear near Crawley’s Lair? They’d all heard the story of a man who went missing after delivering a package to Crawley Lair. His car was found at the bottom of the hill, but no one ever knew what happened to him.

Parents outwardly told their kids that it was just a silly tale, told about some sickly old hermit who had passed away a few years ago. They laughed at the stories. But inwardly they shuddered because they had heard the same tale themselves when they were children. They remembered an old poem someone had made up about the house and the giant spider who supposedly lived there:

Beware, beware all, of Crawley’s lair,
The giant spider lies in wait,
Waiting to eat your flesh, and spin your hair,
Once you venture past the iron gate.

Soon after Old Man Crawley died, his equally old sister moved into the house. Immediately rumors started about her, too. It seemed like the old woman had simply shown up one day without anyone knowing where she had been before. 

Children said that she, too, was a giant spider. Stories of homeless people and transients gone missing, the people most of the townsfolk never really thought about—all of them mysteriously disappeared.

So, the parents kissed their little boys and girls, and gently warned them to stay away from the house on the hill and not bother the elderly woman who lived there.

“She’s just an old lady, kids. Now you don’t want to upset her, do you? Promise me you’ll stay away from Crawley’s Lair, okay?”

Their children solemnly promised that they wouldn’t go near Crawley’s Lair and with that the parents had to be content. They hoped that their warnings were enough to keep their children safe, because they knew something they wouldn’t admit. People really had gone missing after visiting Crawley’s Lair.


The two boys were panting as they walked their bikes up the sharp incline that appeared right before they got to the top of the hill. Young and strong as they were, the uphill peddling made their legs ache—it was hot, and their backpacks were heavy. At the top they paused and looked down at the town below. They could see the old lady walking slowly along the neat rows of the old cemetery. She did that twice a week, one boy said, but she never stops at any grave, just walks through from one side to the other as though she liked being near death.

Steven figured she would be there for a while…just long enough for them to carry out their plan.

The story that the old guy had been buried with twelve bars of gold took hold of the children’s imaginations. Imagine finding those bars of gold!

The two boys called themselves The Fearless Spider Seekers. They leaned on their bikes, looking at the house. It was spooky all right: dark, gloomy, with a wooden porch that creaked just from a slight breeze. What made sense in secret conversations in their back yards didn’t seem so plausible now that they were actually face-to-face with the reality of the decrepit dwelling.

“I don’t know,” Peter began. “This place looks haunted.”

“Come on,” Steven said, “we don’t have to go inside. We just need to figure out where Old Man Crawley buried all his gold.”

“How do we know that if we dig, we won’t find him? Maybe his sister buried him in the back yard. I don’t want to even imagine what that’d be like.”

“Come on, Peter! You know Crawley is buried in the cemetery. That’s why his sister always goes there. Now come on, we need to do this before she gets back.”

“I don’t know…”

“Don’t be a baby. We’re Fearless Spider Seekers, remember? Let’s go into the back yard and start there. That’s where people bury things…in the back.”

Carefully putting their bikes down by the front lawn, they cautiously opened the rusty gate and walked quickly toward the back of the house. In their backpacks, both carried a small shovel and a spade. Peter had his grandfather’s handheld metal detector too, the one that was used on sandy beaches during vacations at the shore. They were confident that if there was any gold here, they’d find it.

The backyard was littered with old, discarded furniture—a bedspring, an ancient type of refrigerator, and various bundles of what looked like old clothes. Beyond the clutter lay a backyard of flat dirt leading up to a rusted fence. Peter took out the metal detector and they slowly and cautiously began to hover it over the ground listening for any beeps that told them metal was buried there.

“Hey kids! Hey, what are you doing? You two live here?”

Steven jumped at the sound of a human voice and bumped hard into Peter making the metal detector go flying out of his hand. They both turned in terror to see a tall man, holding a notebook, walking toward them. The boys knew everybody in town and this man was a stranger His hair was thick and soft, and in the sunshine it looked so black in color that it had a bluish tinge to it.

Suddenly the stranger smiled kindly. “Sorry if I scared you but I’ve been knocking on the door and ringing the bell for about fifteen minutes, and no one is answering. I saw the bikes out front so I thought I’d walk around to the backyard and see if someone was outside. I’ve been called over to do some work on the power lines and to install new meters in this town. You boys live here?”

They looked closer at the man and saw that he was wearing a utility belt and a uniform shirt with the logo Berkshire County Power and Light Company.

“No sir,” said Peter as he backed toward the side of the yard. “We don’t live here; we’re just—”

“We’re cleaning up the yard for the owner and we’re, um, looking for my key chain,” Steven interrupted. He looked around him. “Yeah, it fell outta my pocket. There it is.”  He bent down, pretending to pick something up.

“Okay.” The man started to walk away then turned back and checked the notebook in his hand. “There’s no number on the house. This is the Crawley Place, right?”

The boys both nodded. The man was definitely not from around here if he had to ask if the house on the hill, the property he was standing on, was the Crawley Place.

“Well, I got a little time to kill. I’ll wait a bit out front for the owner to come back.”

They watched him walk away back to the street where he got into a utility truck. He turned on the radio and they could hear some type of country music coming from the open window of his truck.

Steven turned on his friend. “Don’t ever let anyone know that there might be gold bars buried here, stupid! Whatever we find is ours and we don’t want anybody taking our gold, right?”

Peter nodded and they began combing the ground with the metal detector again.

After an hour of scouring the ground under the hot sun and getting no pings from the detector, the boys decide to take a break. They sat on the ground, opened their backpacks, and took out some soda and chips.

Steven looked around the property. There was still a lot of ground left to cover with that metal detector and they wanted to get it done before Old Lady Crawley came back from the cemetery. He told his friend to hurry up and finish and quickly ate his own chips and guzzled his soda.

It was getting hotter, and the metal detector was eerily silent as they slowly moved it just above the ground. Nothing. No sound. It was getting later too. They had no idea of how long they’d been there in the backyard of the creepy old house. Maybe the old woman would be coming back soon.

“I think it’s time to go,” Peter said.

“We’re okay.” Steven looked at his phone. “Just another fifteen minutes.”

They slowly went over every inch from where they’d left off up to the rusted fence. Finally, over a sunken piece of earth, they heard a ping from the detector and—

“You boys! Get off my property!”

The voice was raspy and harsh. They turned to see the old woman on the back porch staring at them and shaking her cane. She must have gone in the front door when she returned and then come outside to the yard. The man to whom they’d spoken earlier came out of the back door and stood beside her. He handed her a slip of paper. They heard him tell her everything should be okay with the new meter he’d installed in the basement but to call the company if there was any problem.

The old woman ignored the meter man and stepped down the back porch toward them. Peter took the metal detector and both boys grabbed their backpacks then ran to where they’d left their bikes. As they came around to the front, they saw the utility man standing on the front steps of the house. He was writing something in his notebook then began to walk to his truck.  Steven sighed with relief; the man was safe. He’s not trapped in Crawley’s Lair. Old Lady Crawley wouldn’t get to eat him.

Racing on their bikes toward the hill, Steven glanced back once and saw the old woman come out on the front porch, watching the man in the truck. Then he turned his attention to the steep incline and, following his friend Peter, zoomed down toward town.

For a couple of weeks after their adventure, they saw the utility truck and the man with the black hair that, when the sun hit it, had a bluish tinge to it. He was driving around town checking wires and meters in houses and shops. He always waved to them, and they waved back. He was kind of their hero since he hadn’t become a victim of Crawley’s Lair.


The heat of summer was at its zenith. The temperature at noon had reached 96 degrees. The two boys, headed to the town lake, paused and leaned on the handlebars of their bikes, once again watching the old woman walk down the hill. She walked slowly, bent and old, leaning on her cane with her right hand and adjusting her large sunglasses with her left. Despite the almost unbearable heat she was dressed in a long dress, boots, gloves, and a sweater.

The boys blinked and stared. They couldn’t stop looking. The fabric of the sweater was thick and soft, but it was the color that made the two boys gasp.

Old Lady Crawley’s sweater was black, but it was no ordinary black. The material was a black so rich that when the sun’s rays hit it, it shone with a deep bluish tinge.