Welcome to Out of the Swells! While Wellesley remains the most haunted place on earth, it isn’t the only spooky place around. So… let’s travel Out of the Swells, we’ll be reasonable and jet set just once a month. Premium Members will find future Out of the Swells ghost stories on Podbean for $1 per month. But this first episode is as free as a relative’s advice over the holiday break. I’ll be sure to let you all know when a new story is released – this first Out of the Swells tale will be the only one I post on the blog. If you like it and want to hear future tales, hop on over to Podbean.
Not to worry though, there will be plenty of Ghosts in the Burbs stories right here on the blog and podcast. I’ve set the schedule at two per month, and it’s a resolution I am determined to keep.
Now, throw on your cashmere wrap and put your kids in front of an educational app. Let’s hop aboard the Highline ferry.
Here’s Out of the Swells Ghost Story #1 – There Once Was a Nanny From Nantucket
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I am drawn to Nantucket like a toddler with a fork is drawn to a light socket. The island is picturesque and historic and all weathered grey shingles and cobblestone streets, a New England Yankee’s dream. It’s also touristy and a touch claustrophobic. Nantucket is what 1980s movies told us summer was supposed to be. It’s ice cream every night, sailor’s rope bracelets on sunburned arms, gold bangles, painted pink toenails and a place where my deep love of navy blue and white striped clothing is accepted, no, celebrated with love and approval. It’s hydrangea and white roses, crushed seashell driveways and weather vanes. It’s an ice-cold beer in a plastic cup. Giggling, sandy haired, sun kissed children with dirty feet and sticky lollipop hands. It’s a weeklong binge of French fries and burgers, oysters and fried fish, and finishing off the kid’s leftover chicken fingers as we try to manage the logistics of a week that is always far too short. It’s too many glasses of Chardonnay and late night ice cream cones, dehydration and recalling the previous night over coffee with embarrassed laughter.
On island, email goes unanswered and Chris puts down his cell phone and lets his beard grow. Though I always wish I’d lost those last ten pounds Nantucket makes me magically forget the extra weight as I watch my daughters awkwardly splash around on boogie boards and discover hermit crabs in delight.
Nantucket isn’t all happiness and light. It has a darker side. As you walk the streets countless widow’s walks hover above where wives watched and waited for loved ones who would never return from sea. Peek into the beach plum bushes, but don’t get too close, there you’ll find deer ticks that spur stories of friends who’ve suffered terrible bouts of Lymes disease. Over your morning coffee read the Inquirer and Mirror and learn about the opioid epidemic claiming the island’s young people the way the whaling boats stole it’s husbands years ago.
At one time the island was primarily home to Native Americans. The native Nantucketers were a part of the Wampanoag Nation, and you can probably guess their fate. English settlers came seeking land and an escape from Puritanism. They discovered whaling and then a trade ship with an infected crew docked on the island and quicker than you can say ‘louse-borne illness,’ the Native American population was decimated.
The victor’s have told Nantucket’s history. But even if the complete story isn’t so well-known the memory is there, the love and rage, the satisfaction and remorse. Stepping off the ferry boat you can feel it, the untold history whisping around you in the thick fog.
We spend two weeks on island each summer. When Chris and I were childless and carefree we ferried to ACK as often as we could; staying in cheap bed and breakfasts, sharing bathrooms with other guests and creeping past inn keepers’ bedroom doors at two in the morning giggling and dizzy from too many shots of tequila.
An old family friend who we spent time with each summer messaged me on Facebook to inquire about our vacation timing. A friend of hers had a summer nanny whose “crazy-ass” Nantucket haunted house story I just had to hear.
A part of me wanted to wave off, I was desperate for time away from real life. Vacations were not really vacations anymore. On this particular trip, our two older girls had their blow up toddler beds set up alongside each other in the walk-in closet and the baby’s pack ’n play lived in the bathroom. We’d slept until about quarter to five each morning, which we considered a success. I was exhausted and frazzled but, in the end, the pull of a Nantucket haunted house story was too strong for me to dismiss.
My friend, who had been enthusiastically following the blog, told me that she’d put the nanny and I in touch if I promised that she could come along on the interview. Her second condition: I couldn’t use her real name for the blog post; she insisted that I create a fabulous pseudonym. I agreed.
And so, “Buffy Von Carmichael” and I arranged to meet the nanny, Ashley, for a drink at CRU oyster bar. On an island where the summer population carries a look-at-me, don’t-look-at-me, why-aren’t-you-looking-at-me vibe, CRU is a scene unto itself. Perched at the edge of docks where multi-multi-million dollar boats preen, the restaurant’s upscale, on-trend coastal preppiness makes diners feel as though they too are on-trend.
[Don’t bother calling for a reservation, they will claim they’re booked through Labor Day. But go ahead and show up with your friends and apologetically ask for a table. Allow the host to act shocked that you would even think a place so incredibly incredible could possibly have a table available last minute, then wait patiently as they pretend to look around and seek out a corner for you. Finally, act shocked and grateful when you’re party is seated within ten minutes.]
Buffy and I secured a spot on the patio. We sat next to each other on a navy blue sofa and Buffy placed her clutch on a wooden wingback chair to reserve it for our storyteller.
I took my recorder out of my own clutch (a monogrammed straw purse with multi-colored pompoms) and when a tanned and toned young man came to take our drink order I requested a glass of Chardonnay, just the house wine, nothing fancy.
Buffy requested a Triple Eight blueberry vodka on the rocks. A delicious drink that I’d made the mistake of loving too much our first night on island. I don’t drink hard alcohol, college ruined it for me, but this blueberry vodka tasted nothing like vodka and, caught up in island induced happiness and the novelty of drinking something other than Chardonnay, I drank too much of it, lost the time and threw up before going to bed with the spins.
“Watch out for that stuff,” I commented.
Buffy waved away the warning and scanned the crowd, “Nobody,” she sighed.
I rolled my eyes. Buffy is an unapologetic snob, a quality that on her is somehow endearing. I asked her for a bit of backstory as we waited for Ashley to arrive.
“Ok, so you remember that woman at Orange Theory who always holds onto the handles during the sprints?” I made an annoyed sound to indicate that I knew just whom she was talking about. “Right, so she used Ashley as a babysitter during the school year, Ashley’s a junior at Wellesley.”
“Oh, so she’s in college,” I confirmed.
“Right, and she works during the summer for families in town. She specializes in vacations.”
“Hold on a minute,” I said, putting my drink on the table. “Babysitters ‘specialize’ now?”
“Oh yeah,” Buffy said, nodding her head knowingly. “My neighbor has a girl working for her who only does carpools. You can hire her to drive your kids around from activity to activity but she doesn’t really babysit. One of my sitters, whom I pay twenty dollars an hour mind you, doesn’t ‘do’ bedtime. She will only ‘babysit’ when the kids are in bed. Says she has to focus on her academics.”
“The end is nigh,” I commented.
“Indeed,” Buffy agreed. “So our Ashley is a vacation nanny. She comes out for a month or more with a family, lives with them and basically does everything with the kids. I would kill for that kind of setup.”
“I painted my house and waitressed on the lunch shift in college, why wasn’t I smart enough to be a vacation nanny?” I complained.
“I know. I walked dogs for Christ’s sake. These girls are way savvier than we were. The Orange Theory woman told me that Ashley’s been doing this every summer since she graduated from high school and families pay over six thousand a month depending upon how many kids are in the family and how ‘hands on’ they need her to be.”
“Stop it,” I demanded.
As we discussed our ideal job description for a vacation nanny Buffy looked up and waved. I turned around to see an Abercrombie and Fitch model approach us. Her dark skin and incredibly long wavy brown hair swayed as her long legs carried her toward us. She wore adorable scallop edged hot pink shorts and a strappy silk cami. Her youthful body was so toned that this bare outfit didn’t even look sexy, just fresh. She had the darkest brown eyes I’ve ever seen and she smiled happily at us as she approached.
“Hi Mrs. Von Carmichael,” she said cheerily, “Thanks so much for reaching out. It’s so great to have a kid-free night!” Then she turned to me and held out a hand, “You must be Mrs. Sower, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Hi Ashley,” I said, shaking her hand, impressed by her maturity. Buffy motioned to our waiter and Ashley put in a drink order, a white wine spritzer – Chardonnay, not Pinot Grigio. I was, again, impressed.
The girl cut right to the chase, “You want to hear my ghost story,” she said to me. I nodded my head and began to answer but she held up a hand, “Sorry, but I only have until eight thirty. I have a really early morning with the kids.”
I glanced over at Buffy and held back from saying ‘hashtag job description’ and instead said, “Sure, thanks so much for taking time off to share your story.”
“Of course. I’m actually kind of relieved to tell someone who will believe me,” she replied.
“No one believes your story?” I asked.
“Oh, they do,” she said, tilting her head as though considering. “My friends are totally entertained by it, and they acknowledge that I believe that it happened, but I don’t think I’ve told anyone who really believes it, you know?”
“I get that,” Buffy said, leaning forward. “I once saw Cher walking down Newbury Street. She was wearing black jeans and a blond wig. I know it was her, but no one believed me.”
Ashley and I stared at my friend.
After a beat I nodded my head and said, “Right, I think this stuff is kind of hard for people to accept.”
“Yeah, well, there are a lot of things I find hard to accept lately,” Ashley replied, raising her eyebrows.
Buffy and I exchanged a look after the girl refused to elaborate.
“The election?” Ashley finally said.
Of course, I realized, she goes to Wellesley.
“Oh, that,” Buffy said, dismissively. “There’s no way he can win.”
“Stranger things have happened,” I said.
Buffy waved a hand and downed the rest of her drink. “Impossible things aside, what’s your ghost story, Ashley?”
“I nannied for a family last summer. They rented a house off Cliff Road, and the place was really haunted, like, horror movie haunted,” the girl replied.
“I heard voices and footsteps, I saw a, like, monster and something sat on the end of my bed,” she paused, pushing Pantene-quality hair behind an ear, then continued, “There were other strange things, but the worst part was the sense that I was always being watched.”
“How long did you stay in that house?” I demanded.
“A couple weeks in July. After the first week I wanted to go home, but I had committed to nannying for this family and they were paying me a lot of money. I was supposed to stay the whole month, but I couldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t have even lasted a day if even one of those things happened,” I commented.
“Well, right, but it took me awhile to understand what was going on. At first, I was so busy getting used to the family and learning their routines and stuff, but the more time I spent in the house, the more obvious it became.”
“Hold on, back it up,” Buffy demanded. “Start at the very beginning. Who were you nannying for, what happened first, and go from there.”
I looked at my friend and thought that I should bring her with me on every interview. Then I looked back to Ashley and nodded encouragingly.
“Ok, so the family had two kids, a nine-month-old little girl named Daisy and a little boy named Charlie who was three-and-a-half. Wait, you can change the names, right?” She asked me.
“Absolutely,” I confirmed.
“Ok, good, thank you. So, the Roberts were referred to me by the couple I’d nannied for the previous summer. The mom, Michelle, was probably in her, like, early thirties but the dad, Carter, was way older, probably in his late forties. They were both pretty cool. I’ve been sitting for families since middle school so I’ve seen it all. These guys actually spent some time with their kids.
“Some parents don’t, you know? They just want the kids dressed up and cute to show off when their friends are over, but otherwise, they want me to keep them out of the way. My first summer nannying out here the parents left me with their ten-week-old baby for two days without even checking in once. They needed a ‘romantic getaway,’ so they stayed at the White Elephant for the weekend. I sent them text updates the whole time but they never responded.”
Though there was so much to unpack in this opening monologue, I couldn’t help but to get caught up on the emphasis on how old forty seemed to her. A glance at Buffy gave me the impression that she was stuck on the same thing.
Ashley went on, “But this couple was pretty chill, but they went out every single night and they drank, and I mean a lot. No matter how late they were, though, Michelle woke up at seven every morning for a run and then yoga in the back yard.”
I sipped my drink, trying to look neutral. I didn’t want to let on how dreamy this sounded.
Ashley shook her head and shifted in her seat, “I was there as a safety measure more than anything else, you know? I took the kids to the beach in the morning to keep the house quiet and we’d be back a little before lunchtime. Michelle hung with us the rest of the day until about four o’clock when cocktail hour started. Mr. Roberts was in Boston most of the week for work, and he golfed mornings when he was on island, but when he was there he hung out with us in the afternoons.
“I was alone with the kids morning and night. Even when the Roberts finally got home at night they were so drunk they’d be totally passed out so I couldn’t rely on them at all.”
“Alright, so the parents partied hard. What about the ghosts?” Buffy said impatiently. I stifled a laugh and had to stop myself from spitting out my drink.
Ashley stared at Buffy for a moment but chose to direct her answer to me. “I’m trying to impress upon you that, for all intents and purposes, I was alone much of the time, especially at night and that made what happened all the more terrifying.”
I looked between the two alpha women with amusement and asked, “Where exactly is this house?” All intents and purposes and impressions aside, I wanted the exact home address so that we would never stumble upon the listing and rent it.
“It’s right off of Cliff Road just a bit out of town, near Steps Beach,” she said, before taking a sip of her cocktail.
“The house number?” I asked as casually as possible.
“I don’t know if I should say?” Ashley said.
To this, Buffy moaned, “Oh, come on.”
“Well, I can’t exactly remember, but if you must have it I’ll look back at my emails,” she snapped back.
“We simply must,” Buffy replied.
“Anyhow,” I said, giving Buffy a look and willing her to be less aggressive. “You were left alone with the children a lot which sounds like a huge responsibility. What did you notice about the house that was strange?”
“The first thing I noticed were the voices,” Ashley replied quietly. “You know those noise machines that you put in kid’s rooms to help them sleep?”
“I swear by them,” I said.
“The Roberts had two of them in each of the kids’ rooms and they insisted on playing the white noise at full blast. It seemed like overkill to me at first, but the kids were both pretty good sleepers, even the baby.
“This one night, after we’d been there for about a week, I was up giving Daisy a bottle in the middle of the night when I first heard the whispering. Those noise machines were almost deafening, but as I was putting her back into the crib I thought I heard someone having a conversation. It sounded like a man and a woman. It was a weeknight so I knew that Mr. Roberts wasn’t home and anyway it was, like, three o’clock in the morning. Michelle had been out that night with friends and she was home but passed out.
“I stood by the door listening for a minute and then stepped out into the hallway. I closed the door behind me as quietly as I could and just stood still, but I didn’t hear anything else. I peeked in on Charlie, his room was just across the hall from Daisy’s and he was sound asleep, so I tiptoed down into my room and grabbed my cell phone and dialed in 911, but I didn’t press send. I had to check to make sure no one was in the house and I wanted to be able to call the police if someone was there.”
“Ashley!” I scolded, “You should have called the police immediately if you thought someone was in the house!”
“I know, but it was my first week with this family. What if the police woke everyone up in the house and it turned out to be nothing? I figured I could look downstairs and if I didn’t see anything then, there had to be another explanation.”
“I’m guessing there was another explanation,” Buffy said, leaning forward in her seat.
“Um, yeah. I checked the entire downstairs, even the closets. The house was gorgeous on the outside but it hadn’t been, like, updated in forever. Inside it was all dark wood and low ceilings.
“I checked the first floor, and luckily the basement door was padlocked. The Roberts’ real estate agent left a note for us with a list of the ‘property’s charming quirks.’ She warned us that the sea grass and beach plum bushes that surrounded the yard were infested with deer ticks and she also mentioned that we were not to go into the basement. It was the homeowner’s private storage area. I checked the basement door that night and the padlock was in place, so I didn’t give it another thought.
“I had a really strange feeling, like you know how when you walk into a room after someone’s had an argument and there’s, like, a vibe?”
Buffy and I nodded our heads. “You can’t be married with kids and not know about angry vibes,” Buffy quipped.
“Yeah, so I went back upstairs and peeked in on the kids again. Charlie was still sound asleep and when I looked into Daisy’s room I couldn’t see her in the crib from the doorway so I walked over to the crib and saw that she had just snuggled her way into the corner. I was shifting her away from the crib bars when I heard that low conversation again. It was definitely two people arguing.
“Again, it sounded like it was coming from directly below Daisy’s room, which would have been the family room. I was trying to listen closely when the bedroom door click shut behind me.”
“911!” I exclaimed.
“Well, duh. I had my phone right out in front of me with my finger on the call button, but I walked over to the door to lock it before I called the police when the thought hit me that someone could be going into Charlie’s room.”
“Holy shit, that is awful,” I said, thinking of my girls.
“It was,” Ashley said, taking a sip of her drink. “I grabbed the door handle, it was one of those old ones where you press a lever down and a bar lifts, you know?” I nodded in encouragement. “Right, so I pulled the door open as fast as I could and jumped into the hallway. I figured that I would startle whoever was out there. I was about to scream my head off and press the call button on the phone, but there was no one there.
“I threw open Charlie’s door and again, no one. I checked behind the door, under his bed, in the small closet. I even tried the window. I was certain that someone had been in that room, or in the hallway. The floors creaked so badly that they couldn’t have gotten down the stairs so fast.”
“Tell me you woke the mother up,” Buffy said.
“No, I didn’t,” Ashley replied. “Again I looked in on both kids, I even checked to make sure they were breathing. Then I sat down in the hallway in-between their rooms with my phone. I ended up falling asleep. Michelle woke me up as she was headed out for her jog.
“What did you tell her?” I asked, thinking how freaked out I would be if I ever found one of our babysitters asleep in our hallway in the morning.
“I tried not to, like, freak her out, but I mean, I had to explain and not seem like some sort of freak show.”
“What did she say?”
“She was weirdly chill about it.”
“That’s fucked up,” Buffy said.
“Totally. I would have called the police that morning to have the house checked out,” I agreed.
“Yeah, but you put your ADT on when you’re home during the day,” Buffy said to me dismissively. “I would have been freaked out by the fact that a babysitter was sleeping in the hallway.”
“That stupid alarm system is worthless, there’s this one window in our basement that keeps tripping it and, well, whatever, never mind. I would definitely have called the police and I would have been pissed at you for not calling them the night before,” I said to Ashley pointedly.
“Yeah, but, she wasn’t. She thanked me for watching after the kids and gave me the morning off so I could sleep. She said the voices I heard were probably just picked up by the sound machines from another house.”
“That’s not how those things work!” Buffy said in disbelief.
“I know, but I didn’t want to disagree with her,” Ashley explained.
“She was way too chill,” Buffy said.
“Right? It was weird,” Ashley replied. “It was almost, like -”
“Pathological,” I interrupted.
“Totally,” Ashley agreed. “It was like she wouldn’t allow anything in that would disrupt the story she’d created about their family. They were rich and relaxed and their children were to be the same way. She was way into appearances, but I could tell she didn’t want anyone to think that she was.”
Buffy and I nodded with both guilt and understanding.
“So the morning after hearing the voices I tried, but I couldn’t sleep. I would start to doze off and then get startled awake by someone calling my name. The first few times I thought Michelle had changed her mind and needed my help or that the kids had snuck upstairs. But every time I opened my eyes, I was alone. I was beginning to get super creeped out, but since I’d barely slept the night before I pinned it on exhaustion.”
“That afternoon Carter came back from the city, it must have been a Thursday. Michelle joked with him about my night and he poked fun at me, said something like, ‘At least there’s one responsible adult in the house.’”
“Gross,” I said.
“Right? That night Michelle and Carter were out as usual and I was falling asleep when my bedroom door latch clicked and the door creaked open. I had my back to the door and I heard heavy footsteps walk into the room. I stayed still for a minute, not sure if I should just pretend to be asleep.
“You know, I’ve had a couple lurky dads in my time. Once in high school a dad was driving me home and he put his hand on my knee and asked if I wanted to grab a ‘brewski’ with him sometime.”
“No!” Buffy and I yelled at the same time.
“Yeah, it was disgusting. Carter didn’t seem the type, but you just never know, so when I felt someone sit down at the end of my bed I popped right up but,” Ashley paused.
“What?” I demanded. “What did he do?”
“That’s just it, it wasn’t Carter. There was no one there. I know I heard someone open my door, walk into the room and sit on the end of my bed, but there wasn’t anyone there.”
“Oh fuuuuuck,” Buffy said, keeping her eyes on Ashley while motioning to our server for another round of drinks.
“I got up went into Daisy’s room, picked her up out of her crib and rocked her in an old chair in Charlie’s room until I fell asleep. The Roberts woke me up at two o’clock when they peeked in on the kids after getting home from whatever party they’d been at.”
“What did you tell them?” I asked.
“I said that I’d heard weird noises and didn’t want to leave the kids alone,” she said.
“How did they react?”
“The same, they made a joke of it.”
“What the hell was wrong with them?” Buffy demanded, as though the girl could answer.
“They were drunk,” Ashley answered simply before ordering a club soda from our waiter.
Duly cautioned, Buffy switched to wine and I downgraded to a spritzer.
“Then what?” asked Buffy.
“So then I began to feel like I was being watched all the time. Like, constantly. The first week I was there I would sit out in the backyard and read or whatever, but after that night I didn’t go anywhere by myself. Even that back yard creeped me out. It was surrounded by tall sea grass and beach rose bushes -”
“Lymes disease,” Buffy interrupted.
“Totes,” Ashley agreed, sagely. “There was a house-wide porch on the back of the home, and past the beach grass the yard overlooked the ocean, like, between Jetties and Steps. It should have been beautiful but it just wasn’t. It was depressing.
“When the kids napped I tried to stay close to Michelle but, like, out of her way and when the kids were up I kept us out of the house as much as I could.
“This one weekend Carter was all pissed off because we’d forgotten one of the beach chairs at Jetties the day before. He stomped around the house looking for more chairs and then Charlie said, ‘Maybe they’re in the basement.’ Carter hooked into the idea and got a screwdriver to unscrew the metal latch that held the padlock to the doorframe.”
“Charlie followed him right down the stairs and I went after him, I was terrified to let him go down there alone.
“He wouldn’t have been alone,” I protested, “His dad was with him.”
“Same difference,” she countered.
“Yeesh,” Buffy said, making a face.
“That basement hadn’t been used for storage like the real estate agent had written in her note. It looked like no one had been down there in fifty years.
“It was positively dank. I tried to hold Charlie’s hand but he pulled free and ran to his dad, who’d crossed the dirt floor to the far side of the basement.
“‘Carter, don’t!’ I called before I could stop myself. He just looked back over his shoulder, amused in his stupid, arrogant way and said something about the ‘fucking beach chairs.’ Then he pulled a door open to this little storage area there was-”
“A ghost!” Buffy exclaimed.
“Shut up!” I said, nudging her shoulder, causing her wine to spill.
Ashley snorted and said, “No ghost, just an empty, dark closet with a small wooden box sitting at the center of the floor.”
“Oh, shit,” I said.
“Charlie rushed right into the closet and scooped up the box. Carter had already turned away to continue his stupid search for the chairs and I went over to Charlie and reached out to take the box from him. He pulled it close to him and he goes, ‘No! It’s mine. She said it would be here.’”
“Nope,” I said, shaking my head.
“Who said it would be there?” Buffy demanded.
“Aunt Lydia,” Ashley replied.
“Who the fuck is Aunt Lydia?” Buffy demanded.
“Charlie said it was the sad lady who talked to him in his bedroom,” Ashley explained.
“Nope,” I said again, downing my useless wine spritzer.
“It was super fucking creepy,” Ashley said giving an exaggerated shiver. “I asked Charlie what was in the box and he said it was Aunt Lydia’s circle.”
At this, Buffy guffawed.
“Cut it out,” I said, trying not to laugh.
“Aunt Lydia’s circle is the new name for my lady parts,” she said laughing.
Ashley looked at us like we were just as bad as the Roberts and pressed on with her story, “Anyway, I got Charlie to come back upstairs with me when I promised him I’d help open the box.”
“What was inside?” I asked.
“An Indian Head penny from 1860,” she replied.
“Spooky,” I said.
“Aren’t those things valuable?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
“Google it,” Buffy insisted.
Ashley sighed and I said, “Let’s stay on track, Ashley has an early morning with the kids.”
Buffy gave me a look just this side of an eye roll and I returned it with a headshake.
“Anyway, Charlie was obsessed with that thing. He never let it out of his sight. He said the sad woman told him it would ‘take him happy from the gloom.’ He talked about that a lot, the gloom.
“Michelle and I were in the backyard with the kids one afternoon. We’d set out a beach blanket for Daisy and Charlie ran around on the lawn with a beach ball. Michelle went inside to get a diaper and some wipes when I looked up at the house and saw a figure in one of the second floor windows. My window. It wasn’t human. It had a small baldhead and a long skinny body. It was so hunched forward that it almost had to look up to look down at us, you know?
“I stood up slowly and was about to start screaming for Michelle to get out of the house when Charlie looked up to see what I was looking at. When he saw the creature in the window he started screaming for his coin. I looked away from the window and scooped Charlie up but I could barely contain him.
“Just then Michelle walked out of the house and asked what the hell was going on. Charlie was struggling so hard against me that I was forced to put him down. He ran straight towards his mom – towards the house. I yelled for him to come back, to get the hell away from the house.
“Michelle snapped at me to calm down. ‘You’re getting Charlie all worked up,’ she complained as he went on and on about his coin. I picked up Daisy off the blanket and told her what I’d seen. She thought I was completely crazy. She thought I was having some sort of panic attack or something. She asked me if I was missing my family, if maybe I needed a night off, if I would like something to drink.”
“Oh, man,” I said.
“I did my best to calm down and agree that I had just seen some kind of trick of the light. I told her that what I really needed was ice cream cone, that it would make me feel much better. All I wanted was to get as far away from that house as I could.
“She was icy to me after that. I think she was annoyed that I was, like, losing my mind on her perfect vacation. She told Carter and he made angry jokes about it. He even jumped out of the bathroom to scare me as a prank when they had some of their friends over.”
“What an asshole,” Buffy said.
“You know what? He was an asshole, they both were. They were so concerned with partying and looking good and they didn’t even give a damn about their kids. Sure, they spent time with them, but as soon as one of the kids had a problem, or Michelle started to get bored. She was off with a magazine.”
Buffy and I were silent. Mom guilt overtook me. I felt bad about being so jealous of this flighty woman and her family. I wondered if Buffy was thinking the same thing. She wasn’t.
“They’ll be divorced by the time the boy is five,” she said with conviction. “They may be assholes, but that’s how adults act when they are deeply unhappy. They try to distract themselves so they don’t have to contemplate reality.”
“You’re so right,” I said, impressed by her insight.
“But they have kids,” Ashley insisted. “Don’t they care about their happiness?”
“Honey, I’m not saying it’s right, but being a grown up is complicated and shitty. You’ll see,” Buffy said firmly.
“Yeah, well, all of that aside, what the hell happened with that creature in the window?” I asked, wondering what was going on in Buffy’s personal life.
“There was definitely more than one thing going on in that house. I think Charlie was talking to a ghost, but that thing in the window wasn’t a ghost. It was, like, able to do stuff. It could mimic things.”
“Voices, for one thing. I can’t tell you how many times thought I heard Carter talking in the house in a room only to find that not only was he not in the house, he wasn’t even on the island.
“Then it began to mimic me. I didn’t realize it at first but there were a couple times when Michelle would start talking to me about something and I would have no idea what she was referring to. Like she’d ask if I’d had time to grab the dry cleaning or if I’d picked up the green tea we’d discussed.
“At first I thought she was just being absent minded, but there was this one time when I walked downstairs after having taken a nap and Michelle goes, ‘Back so soon? I thought the humidity might be too much for you.’
“I hadn’t any idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just gave a kind of noncommittal reply and she went on this bent about how ridiculous it is that people think running just consists of throwing on a pair of sneakers and heading out the door.
“She pointed to my feet and said, ‘Do you even wear sneakers? I only see you in those flip flops.’ She was so, like, annoyed with me.”
“She probably felt challenged by the cute young babysitter taking up running all of a sudden when it was so obviously her thing,” Buffy reasoned.
“But that’s just it, I didn’t go running. I’ve never gone running for exercise. I hate it. I had no idea what she was talking about. But she’d had a full conversation with me, but it wasn’t me. The thing had pretended to be me just to make her mad. Oh, God, I almost forgot this, too: a couple days later I was in my room and I heard something fall down the stairs and whatever it was fell hard. Then I heard Daisy start shrieking.”
“Oh God, don’t even tell me,” I said.
“I ran out of the bedroom right over to the stairs screaming Daisy’s name and Michelle appeared at the bottom of the steps shushing me.
“She had Daisy in the Baby Bjorn, the baby was sound asleep. I made a stupid excuse saying that I must have heard a baby crying outside, but I know what I heard. I heard Daisy fall down those stairs.”
“Jesus,” Buffy breathed.
“A few days after that Mr. Roberts was supposed to be in Boston, it was a Tuesday, and I will never forget it. I was up really early with the kids and I decided to give them their breakfast on the porch because I knew Michelle hadn’t gotten home until after three the previous night.
“I got the kids all set up on the lawn chairs and went back inside to grab my coffee and when I came back out Charlie was saying, ‘Dada! Dada!’ and was pointing to the side of the house. I started to say, ‘Daddy’s at work,’ when the door to the outside shower opened and out stepped Carter, fully dressed in Nantucket reds and a polo.
“I almost dropped my coffee. I raised my hand to wave and began to say, ‘What are you doing back so soon?’ or something like that when he motioned for us to follow him. Charlie started to jump up to run to Carter, but something, I don’t even know what, made me grab his arm so he couldn’t go off the porch.
“Carter just smiled and kept walking towards the back of the lawn. I called to him again, but he didn’t look back at us. He walked right on through the hydrangea bushes into the sea grass and beach plums.
“Charlie kept calling to him but I just stared. It was, surreal. He just kept going. I rushed the kids inside and Charlie went absolutely ape-shit that I wouldn’t let him go to his father. You know what I honestly thought? I thought that he was going to keep walking until he made it to the ocean, then just keep heading out. I thought he was going to commit suicide,” Ashley shivered.
I had goose bumps on my arms and Buffy whispered, “What the fuck was wrong with him?”
“Nothing,” Ashley replied. “There was nothing wrong with Carter. Once I got the kids inside I brought them upstairs and woke Michelle up, which was nearly impossible. Once I got her to listen to me she was so pissed. She wanted to know what time it was! She insisted that Carter was back in the city; she wouldn’t even go downstairs to look out the window.
Ashley screwed up her face in disgust. “Her breath reeked and she still had her makeup on from the night before, she was such a hot mess. Her husband was walking out to sea for all we knew and she was pissed that I’d woken her up!
“I made her call him. I found her cell phone in her purse and stood there while she called his cell phone and when there was no answer I insisted that she call his office. I had to know if he was in Boston.
“But,” Ashley paused, placing her drink on the small table between us before continuing, “he answered the phone. I could hear him saying, ‘Hey, Mish, what are you doing up so early you little drunk?’”
“No way,” I whispered.
“It was awful,” Ashley confessed. “I looked absurd. I know she thought there was something wrong with me, like I’d cracked under the pressure of nannying for them or being away from home or something.
“She stayed on the phone for a minute and laughed with Carter about my freak out. She said something like, ‘don’t stay away too long, it sounds like you’ve got a twin walking around the island and you know I get lonely.’”
“Ugh, gross,” I said.
“I know, right? When she hung up the phone I told her I wanted to leave. First of all I was fucking terrified, but I was just as humiliated.”
“Oh shit! You bailed on the nannying gig?” Buffy said in awe as though this were the wildest thing that Ashley had told us.
“What was I supposed to do? Things were totally fucking escalating. I’ve seen horror movies, I wasn’t about to be the fucking final girl.”
“Good point,” I said.
“What the hell is a final girl?” Buffy asked.
“I’ll explain later,” I said impatiently. “But, that’s it? You just left?”
“I did. I took a ferry off island that afternoon, I couldn’t stay there another second.”
Ashley said she hadn’t had any contact with the family since that day and had no idea what became of them or the rest of their vacation. She asked me if I knew what the thing was that had haunted the cottage and I gave a vague ‘maybe just ghosts,’ answer.
I asked her if she’d had any lingering effects after her brush with the paranormal.
“Besides the dreams, no,” she replied. When I asked her to elaborate she looked at her cell phone and said, “I really ought to get home. I need to go to bed.”
We watched her slip through the crowded patio, each processing the girl’s story in our own unique way.
“Carter, I mean, Mr. Roberts, has some secrets in his closet,” Buffy said knowingly.
“No, you don’t think-” I began.
“Mm hmm,” she replied, raising her eyebrows as she sipped her drink.
“You’re too jaded,” I countered, more hopeful than certain.
“Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” she intoned.
“Just because she called an adult by his first name doesn’t mean anything chancy happened,” I snapped.
“Mm hmm,” Buffy replied.
“That’s your take-away from her story?”
“Not my only take away,” she said. “I’m wondering why you pretended not to know what was haunting that house.
I looked at her for a moment and said, “I didn’t want to scare her.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about scaring me. What was it?”
“Something that can mimic, and I mean actually impersonate someone? It had to be really fucking powerful. I doubt there were any ghosts in that house. My guess is that Aunt Lydia’s Circle was cursed and a demon or whatever got that little boy to take it out of the place it had been hidden away.”
“Yeesh,” Buffy said.
“Yeah, well, either that or it was some sort of a Native American something or other.”
“Well if that’s the case, then good for them. They deserve a little revenge,” Buffy replied.
“True, but either way, I mean demon or not, those things don’t just haunt you and let you go.”
“Well, then maybe it will haunt the stick out of her ass,” Buffy replied.
Our server returned and asked if we would like our check.
“No,” I told him, “I’ll take a Triple 8 on the rocks.”
Buffy laughed and said, “I’ll have the same thing as Lydia,” then she asked, “So, what the hell is a ‘final girl’ anyway?”