The Gloucester Beach Specter

 

(written in Swedish in the summer of 2000 and partly based on a personal experience of the author)

Fragments of a diary found in a chest in the attic of recently deceased Mary Janine Frankwell, Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA.

June 1, 1986

Greetings. My name is Boston Grainey. I’m not an avid chronicler, which I’m sure you will soon notice, but I thought it would be nice to write a little travel journal, which might or might not be useful to somebody sometime in the future. Because this place is stunning! I’m already in love, despite arriving only this morning. And the hotel! If you could only see it… the view! A large panorama window separates me from the majestic, undulating Atlantic, currently black as a moonless night, and whose waves thunder so forcefully that the painting to my left shudders every few seconds. But it’s a delightful thundering. Ideal working conditions for a writer, in other words.

Writer… well, that is what my profession is. Even though I haven’t been too productive of late. But I thought this would be the perfect place to rid myself of my writer’s block, this wonderfully mystical paradise of pitch black waves and glimmering golden beaches!

It all started six months ago. That’s when I decided a little retreat to sublime New England wouldn’t hurt. Especially not to its coastlines, with their beautiful seascapes and rustic villages. Such as Gloucester, an idyllic fishing community located on the outskirts of the Cape Ann peninsula, which outermost perimeter houses my hotel – the Cape Ann Seagull Inn – wonderfully located just a few yards from the rippling, romantic sea, on the somewhat rocky but divine Long Beach. What more can one ask for?

June 2, 1986

Ghastly! I don’t know what other word would better describe what I experienced tonight. Utterly peculiar and awfully frightening, but at the same time stirringly exciting… Christ, what is it that I’m saying? Allow me to tell you the whole story.

After having enjoyed a delicious lobster for dinner (I could write pages about how amazingly well it tasted, but that is off the topic at the moment) at a nearby restaurant, I decided to take a little walk along the beach. The hour hand of my watch pointed at ten, the minute hand half a lap ahead. It had gotten dark hours ago, and the moon did what it could to lighten up the pristine beach while the waves thundered intensely to my right.

It was getting windier as well, and the tide made the waves break closer and closer to me as I walked along, wearing khakis and a knitted sweatshirt. It had been quite hot during the day – the first real day of summer, I heard someone say – but by evening it was quite chilly. It still is, the drafts from the window shivering my body as I write this, looking out over the deserted beach. A storm is on its way.

The wind was still bearable about an hour ago, as I walked along humming on an old Paul Simon song I can’t recall the name of. I hope you don’t think I’m too wordy, never getting to the point. I guess it’s a (bad) writer’s defect. You’ll have to excuse me. I’m a bit nervous, actually. And soon you’ll understand why.

It was now it happened. I spotted something moving in the water about a hundred yards ahead of me, around 30 yards into the sea. It looked like a person! Impossible, I thought; no one would want to swim here right now. In these waves, in this darkness… and with a water temperature barely exceeding 50 F. (Even though I said that it had been a hot day, it was not hot enough to heat up the water to a moderate temperature.)

As the lights on the twin lighthouses of Thacher Island pulsated red and white, I continued my walk along the beach, now with an assertive gaze and taking forceful steps. I couldn’t take my eyes off the person in the water. Despite a wave of fear washing over me, and a whole bunch of thoughts raging like a twister through my mind, I wanted to continue. I wanted to walk closer, see who it was. A tickling urge for adventure rinsed through my body, as the person ahead of me was rinsed by the waves, over and over again. Who was he (or she)?

It was a woman. The closer I got, the more I was able to distinguish it. She had long, black hair and wore some kind of white gown – it looked a bit like the clothes patients wear at a hospital – that had curled itself around her, stuck to her relatively curvy features. It was impossible to tell her age from this distance, but she looked quite young. Maybe 25. Perhaps even younger. Anyway, I saw her wade farther out into the ocean (she was already quite far out, and the tide hadn’t reached all the way in yet) as the waves crashed into her hips, pushing her back, sometimes down. Every now and then she disappeared from view, but was soon back right in front of my eyes (but she hadn’t seen me – yet!). I kept thinking that it was over, that the waves had drowned her. But luckily (?) she kept reappearing. I don’t know if she was trying to end her life but couldn’t take that last step. Or was she just a lonesome night swimmer, after all? No, it couldn’t be. Not in this cold water, where people didn’t even swim during the day. No, that definitely couldn’t be. At least not considering how it ended.

By now I was almost walking parallel to where she was. The difference was that she was 30 yards out at sea, where her battle against the waves made it hard for her to look elsewhere. I stopped and observed her carefully. Now I could better judge her age. She looked even younger than I had first thought. Possibly 18. She had slender legs and was rather thin, but not exactly skinny. Truth be told, she was stunningly beautiful.

And it was now that she spotted me. She quickly turned toward me and stared into my glaring eyes. I tried to read her face but it was impossible from this range. I wondered whether I wanted to get closer to her or not. I was curious, but at the same time acutely frightened. I wanted to talk to her, but at the same time run away. Then something else caught my attention – she was naked. That gown or whatever it was must have fallen off, because now there wasn’t anything protecting her body, neither from my sight nor from the blistering cold of the water.

When the girl suddenly started to run toward me, I chose to get the hell out of there. I walked firmly ahead, then started jogging, as I saw her approach in the corner of my eye. When she had come halfway toward where I had stood, she suddenly stopped. I slowed my pace and saw her turn back toward the ocean, and with the same gentleness as before she waded farther out and was hit by a wave. Only this time she didn’t reappear.

I’m now sitting in my hotel room, not knowing what to think. It’s been almost an hour since it happened, and I’ve had some time to let it all sink in. But the fact remains: I’ve seen a girl take her own life. And I could have stopped it. I blame my cowardice, and tomorrow morning I will report this to the local police. But I have a creepy feeling that I don’t need to report it. I can’t really explain what I mean, but… I’m not so sure that any of this actually happened. I’m not saying I’m crazy or hallucinating – no, I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong with my head – but, well… I feel like it’s already happened. A long time ago. Forgive me for saying something this silly, but I think I’ve encountered some kind of specter. Not only that, since I saw the girl disappearing beneath the waves I’ve had the sensation of being watched. Wherever I walk, wherever I look, whatever I think… I feel that someone’s around. You must think I’m crazy. But if you were me (that is, if anyone is reading this) you would understand. In any case I’m going to do some research in the local library tomorrow morning to see if my suspicions are correct. Now I need to sleep. Hopefully not for the last time.

June 3, 1986 – 06:31

It feels like a morning entry is necessary. I will try to sound as calm and settled as possible, even though it will be hard. You will soon understand why.

I dreamed about her last night. The girl in the water. I almost wrote ghost… I sat on the balcony and looked out at the sea, where the waves were still high and thundered into each other, creating the kind of seaside utopia I talked about earlier. The sky was starry as in the most benign of June evenings. In my lap was a newspaper. Not today’s, and not yesterday’s either. No, this newspaper dated way back to June 3, 1886! The front page had a picture of a young girl – her eyes looked really sad and a tear was discernible on her left cheek. The headline said: “Girl found drowned in suspected suicide.”

I picked the newspaper up and halfway through reading the article I felt a gust of wind to my right. I turned around, and there she was! Her brown eyes stared into my green-blue, as if waiting for me to do something. I was neither afraid nor did I panic (it was only a dream, after all!) and I answered her look with a question. “Why?” She stroked her lean hands gently through her straight, black hair before answering. “I couldn’t bear it anymore.” I looked her up and down and noticed that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. “Aren’t you cold?” I asked cautiously, not sure why I asked such a thing instead of “How the hell did you get up to my balcony all of a sudden?”

“Not as long as you are here beside me,” she said. I blushed and noticed her getting closer. “Shall we go inside? That should heat us up a bit.” I answered in the affirmative, and before I had time to blink we were lying together in my bed. Soon I wasn’t wearing any clothes either. We made love, and the weird thing about it was that it felt real. Frighteningly real. And all of a sudden she was gone.

A moment later I woke up from my dream and made a remarkable discovery – I was naked! And now I definitely wasn’t dreaming. I laughed at the thought that this had actually happened, but as I went out to the balcony (after putting on a bathrobe) the laughter suddenly turned to shivers. There stood two chairs, and underneath them was a newspaper. The shock was complete when I picked the newspaper up and saw its date – June 3, 1886! The same newspaper as in the dream! As you can tell from my handwriting, my pen is shaking at the moment. I hope you are still able to read this. Because I’m afraid that this might be the last thing I ever write. And you haven’t even heard the worst thing yet…

After having seen the date on the newspaper, I immediately looked down at the main article about the drowned girl. But it wasn’t there anymore. In its place was another article, saying: “Man found dead at hotel – heart attack most probable cause.” To the right of it was a picture… of me! I looked up at the date again, and now it had a different one. Tomorrow’s. I don’t know if I’m able to write much more. I’m already shivering. Besides, I’m starting to feel dizzy. Dizzy and nauseous. I think I need to throw up. Hold on a second –

——–

Those were the last words. The rest of the diary was empty. The chest also contained a newspaper clip, crumpled up with some old insurance documents. It read:

Gloucester Press, June 4, 1986

A 34-year-old man was found dead in his room of a Long Beach hotel yesterday. The cause of death is still unknown, but according to Dr. Barnaby Crest at the Gloucester municipal hospital it appears to have been a heart attack. Further investigations as well as an autopsy will be performed tomorrow. There is no suspicion of foul play at the moment, but the police wants to keep all possibilities open. It should be mentioned, however, that the hotel owner, Mary Frankwell, heard strange noises from the man’s room around three in the morning. It was Frankwell who reported the incident to the police around two in the afternoon. Perhaps even more interestingly, the couple who occupied the room next to the man said they heard voices from the balcony earlier that night, despite the man staying alone and there being no traces of another person having visited it. The couple has asked to remain anonymous but promised the police their full co-operation. It is worth noting that this is the first report of a death on Long Beach in exactly 100 years, when a young girl on the run from Salem’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane was found drowned. The same morning a man was discovered dead as well, at Seashore Inn – what is today Cape Ann Seagull Inn. A connection between the deaths was never found.

Dutch Crypton, GP

 

Copyright: Dan Asenlund, 2000.

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