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This week I've been visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Maine in connection with my father's 90th birthday party. Just for fun, I started posting some pictures with spooky captions. It evolved into an ongoing story, being posted in slightly different versions on facebook and twitter. Now that it's complete, I wanted to compile it all together here as a single file. It won't be quite the same as getting the story in "real time" (and doesn't have the interactive comments from my friends on facebook), but for your enjoyment:
"Not that you'd call mermaids in the strictest sense"
by Heather Rose Jones
Visiting my brother & sister-in-law in Maine to celebrate our father's 90th b-day. My bedroom for this week has a lovely little 3rd floor balcony. But...
...I have chosen the attic room, full of strange objects, potentially carrying forgotten curses. We’re in an isolated backwoods gothic house in Maine with “smart” systems enabled. So you absolutely know that the house will achieve evil sentience at some point and turn on us.
Lovely morning view from my bedroom. Look at the peaceful and scenic lake out there. I thought I saw the splash of a large fish but probably my imagination. Togus Pond isn't large enough for fish of any significant size.
I thought I heard odd noises in the night, but probably just the dog moving around downstairs. Just came up to my room to get something and...I get this feeling like something’s different. Can’t quite put my finger on it.
Went out for a walk before dinner. My brother and sister-in-law are so proud of the house they've built over the past year and a half. Just your ordinary Gothic-looking house in the Maine woods. Not sinister at all.
Togus Pond is picturesque. Not the sort of lake that would hold monsters. Or spirits of the long-drowned. I'm sure those are just made-up stories for outsiders.
The locals have assured me that there are absolutely, positively no carnivorous mermaids in the lake. Not properly speaking. Not that you’d call mermaids in the strictest sense.
Off to bed in my cozy attic room. Big day tomorrow for Dad's 90th b-day party. I'm sure I'll sleep soundly, but I keep having this weird feeling of being watched.
I kept hearing this creaking in the night, like a rocking chair moving slowly, but that’s just silly. It must have been the trees outside.
You might think the attic is full of generations of accumulated stuff but mostly my sister in law buys it at estate sales for home decorating. There’s an interesting story I heard...but I don’t have time to tell it at the moment.
When I was out walking yesterday, I stopped to chat with an elderly local man. He said a bunch of the stuff in the attic was from the old Fielding place the other side of the lake. Had a big estate sale when the last member of the family moved down to Florida.
Evidently it’s a bit of a sad story. Big house, big family, string of tragedies. You can see it in the picture over the other side with the dock sticking out into the water.
Anyway, string of tragedies: boating accident, slipped and fell while doing dock repairs, nasty cut on a fishing knife while ice fishing one winter, snowmobile went through a thin patch while crossing one arm of the pond. One adult son moved away and refused to have any contact with the family.
Eventually there was only the teenage girl and her great-grandmother. She spent most of her time sitting on the end of the dock just staring out at the lake. The girl, that is, not the great-grandmother. Talked to herself all the time.
When she was much younger, they said she had an invisible friend she talked to all the time. You know how kids do. But now...well, you can’t blame the poor kid. Losing so many family members.
Some people visit the cemetery and talk to their dead, but some of hers weren’t in the cemetery. They went into the pond and never came out again.
Anyway, probably some of the toys in the attic came from the old Fielding place. Not the girl’s toys--she never was much for dolls and things, except for a battered plush Ariel, you know, the mermaid from the Disney film? The Ariel doll had been her “lovie” since she was a tiny thing, barely larger than the toy itself. Took it everywhere and wouldn’t she set up a fuss if you tried to take it away! Especially after her mother was gone. Once she was old enough to insist, she only answered to Ariel and folks forgot her name was really Clara. No, if there were toys in the estate sale, they’d be things that belonged to her brothers and cousins. The ones that died.
It makes you think of those other movies, the Toy Story ones. What must it be like to be a toy and have your child just disappear one day and never come back and you never know what happened to them? Or maybe you do know, but you’re just a toy. There’s nothing you can do about it. Going off to college is one thing, but going into the water... And maybe they were all clustered in the bench by the gable window, watching as it happened.
I was looking out at the pond this morning--what I could see through the trees. I thought I saw something moving at the end of the dock at the old Fielding place, but by the time I swapped out my reading glasses for my distance ones there wasn’t anything there. Just a bunch of ripples in the water like someone had dived in, but that’s not likely in October. Hard to see through the trees anyway.
The local guy who told me the story about Ariel Fielding says no one lives there now so no one has any business on the dock. Old Mrs. Fielding in Florida has been trying to sell it, but none of the deals have closed. No one’s actually said the word “haunted” but they get this look and find some reason not to sign the papers.
I asked for more of the story about Ariel Fielding. Folks here aren’t exactly chatty, but between a few comments and Googling for local newspaper archive I’ve pieced together the basic facts. Her mother was “from away” as they say. Or at least, she wasn’t local. It was a funny story though: one day her father was out canoeing on the pond and he came back with a woman sitting on the front thwart.
It was a cute stunt, bringing her back to the family place like that to introduce her. People figured he’d met her off at college and didn’t want to say anything until they knew they were serious. Togus Pond isn’t exactly the Great Lakes, so there’s only so many places he could have picked her up, but whoever had helped him set it up was keeping mum. Anyway, they got married real quick. He absolutely doted on her. She was a quiet sort. Folks here appreciate that but hers was more a waiting and watching quiet, like a great blue heron looking for fish. Sitting on the big granite boulder beside the pond. It made a body uneasy. Then came the first accident.
There’d been three of them out fishing in the canoe, Ariel’s parents and her dad’s brother. The brother had been teasing Ariel’s mother (though she wasn’t yet because Ariel wasn’t in the picture yet) about something--nobody remembers what exactly. She turned suddenly and gave him a look that made him jerk back. Between the turning and the jerking, the canoe tilted and the next thing you know all three were in the water. Ariel’s dad was holding the swamped canoe but the other two had gone under the water. He was yelling and calling for help. Finally Ariel’s mom breaks the surface, gasping and reaching for the canoe. But the brother never came up. Folks figured he’d been caught by a snag or something. They searched long past hope. That water’s dark.
It was awful, but in a few months, there was happier news because Ariel’s mom told everyone she was pregnant. Living in a big sprawling house with lots of cousins doesn’t put a damper on how people feel about a new baby. You put up with a lot of quirks from a woman who’s expecting and hers weren’t that much stranger than usual. Mostly it was craving raw fish. But Augusta had moved with the times and had two sushi restaurants, so that was ok. When Ariel was born--except she was Clara then, her dad insisted that she be named for his grandma--it was touch and go for a bit. She came out blue like she wasn’t sure about this breathing thing, but soon came right.
You’d have thought sorrow was all in the past for the Fieldings at that point, and it was for a couple years. Then round about the time Clara/Ariel was starting to talk came the accident with the dock repairs. Least said the best. They’d been having a picnic while the men were working on the dock. When the timbers gave way, between the workers and those who went to lend a hand, lots of folks were hip-deep in the water. It took a while to notice that one of the boys was missing. Ariel’s parents had both been among those out in the water trying to sort things out. When the police were called out to search the woods and people were changing to dry clothes, you could hear the two of them arguing but not what it was about.
Whoa! Had a bit of a jump-scare there. The french doors blew open with no warning. Just the wind, no doubt, though it wasnít really blowing hard at all. Itís like all the heatís gone out of the room. Now, where was I?
They never did find the boy. Ariel’s dad got real protective after that, wanting to hold her all the time, and wanting to make sure that there were always two or more people looking after her when he was at work. Her mother didn’t take that well, like he didn’t trust her to look after Ariel. That didn’t mean she should have teased him like she did--playing with Ariel along the edge of the pond and splashing her in the water all the time.
They argued a lot and it got worse and worse. And then, one bright summer day, the three of them were all out on the water, with Ariel trailing her hand in the water over the side. Suddenly she gave a happy shout and reached for something under the surface, teetering like she was about to go in. Her father reached for her and...well, you can guess. Canoes are tippy things. They had Ariel in a float jacket, of course, and the two of them could swim, so you wouldn’t have expected it to result in more than another yelling match. But Ariel’s mother was gone. The police asked a lot of questions because of the arguments and...well, just too many things had happened. But in the end the verdict was accidental drowning. Ariel’s dad dragged that canoe off into the woods and never used it again.
Ariel was just old enough to understand a bit of what had happened. After that was when she got real attached to the mermaid doll--took it everywhere and screamed if you tried to take it away. Her father tried but he gave up. You might have thought he’d give up about all sorts of things, but it wasn’t a year before he’d met a girl--a local one this time--and was talking about marriage again. The family tradition was to hold weddings on the lawn overlooking the pond, but he put his foot down and rented a hall in town. No point in dragging through all the rest of the details. Ariel became a quiet, strange little girl, talking to her imaginary friend or her mermaid doll sitting at the end of the dock and staring out at the dark waters of Togus Pond.
With each disappearance or death, she just got quieter, like she was afraid to care about anyone any more. At least, that’s what the charitable types said. She wasn’t close to anyone except her great-grandmother--the one she’d been named Clara for. One by one the family left--one way or another--until it was just the two of them rattling around in the old house. Old Mrs. Fielding wanted to sell up and move to Portland, but the idea made Ariel hysterical. She’d scream, “I won’t leave them! You can’t make me!” Poor kid.
When it finally happened, if there hadn’t been so many people around, folks would have chalked it up as just one more tragedy. Probably would have been called suicide, even though she’d never shown any signs of self-harm. A dozen people had come out to help Mrs. Fielding start to get the house in shape to list it. While they were sorting out furniture and making notes about needed repairs, Ariel came down from her room, holding that mermaid doll as tight as can be. She walked past them without a word, heading out the back of the house toward the pond. Everyone followed. There was a sense that something was up. Ariel walked out to the very end of the dock and laid the mermaid doll down on the planks. Then she started singing--this weird warbling tune that sounded like she was underwater or something. As she sang, it sounded like there were echoes coming from the pond. There were ripples--big ones--like something swimming just under the surface. And then she took off all her clothes and dove into the water. No one ever saw her again. Not that they’d admit to. Old Mrs. Fielding left for Florida the next week and let the real estate agent sort out everything else.
Most of the furniture went to antique stores. There was a big estate sale for the rest, with lots of lookie-loos due to the rumors and stories. My sister-in-law hadn’t heard any of that and doesn’t remember exactly which items she got there. Anyway, it’s been fun doing a little detective work around the party preparations. My dad’s 90th birthday party came off fabulously last night at the Vassalboro Friends meeting. We even had some people Skype in from Europe. Today’s been quiet and relaxing.
I just heard a snuffling sound. Maybe the dog? But he isn’t climbing stairs much because of a sore leg. Especially not up the spiral stairs to the attic. The light switch is all the way the other side of the room.
“Alexa,” I whisper. “Alexa, turn on the attic lights.”
“Alexa, for God’s sake, turn on the attic lights.”
A crisp, mechanical voice answers, “God is a cultural construct. For more information, I can display the Wikipedia entry on the screen.”
My phone charging cord came loose some time in the night and it’s about to power down. I think I have enough juice to take and post one more flash photo.
[Randy, posting to my facebook] "The power just went off. Must be the wind storm. Are you okay?"
[Seth, posting to my facebook] "There sure was a lot of wind last night. Power came back on after a few hours though. It must have been been affecting the air pressure in the house because every so often the door to my bedroom would rattle for a little while. Good thing I'm not superstitious or I would be wondering how a house that's only a year old could be haunted."
[Seth, posting to my facebook] "Heather usually comes down for her first cup of coffee by now. I guess she decided to sleep in."
[Seth, posting to my facebook] "I went upstairs to check on Heather and this is all I found."
And we heard him exclaim, ere he rode out of sight:
"Happy Halloween to all, and to all a good fright!"
Postscript: Too late to incorporate it into the plot of the story, last night featured a massive windstorm that blew open the door to my balcony at some point over midnight. (And would have done so multiple times if I hadn't jury-rigged something.) And then the power went out. Do you know how dark it is in an isolated house in the Maine woods? Yes, that dark.
The next time someone asks you "where do the ideas for stories come from" point them to this one. It would spoil the fun to sort out exactly which parts are inspired by truth and which are invention. The first few posts were more or less random. I sketched out the plot on the 30th and then wrote up the remaining parts in detail the morning of Halloween. (Hence, the inability to include last night's windstorm.) The photos are all from the house and surrounding neighborhood, including the carved angel and the canoe on the woods. The only staging involved certain contents of the attic.
I hope you've enjoyed this story, whether you followed along as it was created, or read it for the first time here.
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