Jim saw the sign tacked to the telephone pole on the corner, and put on the directional. He turned onto the street, and spotted a sedan pulling away from a parking spot in front of the house.
“Oh look, they’re leaving.”
“Yep, I see it…I’ll grab the spot.”
Jim slipped the SUV into the spot being vacated by the ladies leaving the yard sale that his wife Carol wanted to check out.
Carol strode into the driveway, saying hello to the lady sitting on the lounge chair, and Jim hung back by the end of the driveway. He scanned the tables quickly, and saw the typical collection of clutter that he’d just toss out.
“You don’t look as interested as your wife does,” came a voice from his left. Jim turned, and saw an older man had come out of the neighboring house, and walked over to where he was standing.
“No, it’s not for me, but my wife enjoys browsing these things.”
“My wife was the same way in her time, but I generally waited in the car while she looked. Bum leg from Nam.”
“Hey honey, I found a nice jacket, and it’s my size. Can I have some cash? Hi there!” Carol had come over while Jim was talking to the old timer, and he pulled out his wallet.
“Well hello, young lady. Looks like a good day for you.”
“Yes it is,” Carol smiled as she took the bills from Jim, and turned to walk back over.
“That’s a smart looking wallet you have there,” the old timer said. Jim held it up so he could have a better look.
“It was a lucky find. I have a thing for distressed leather, and this was perfect.”
“Give me just a minute. I want you to see something,” he said, and walked back to his house. Carol walked over wearing her new jacket, and did a twirl for him.
“So? What do you think, Jim?”
“It really looks good, babe. Good find for you.”
“I love it too, and thanks,” she flashed her brilliant smile.
“Well that looks marvelous, young lady,” the old timer said. He’d come back over, and held a very old looking leather bound book in his hand.
“Here’s what I wanted you to see,” he said, handing the book to Jim.
Looking closely, Jim could see that the thick leather cover appeared to have been trimmed and sewn by hand. He opened it and found pages of heavy vellum paper, also bound by hand. The paper had a silky, almost creamy texture, and he wondered where it had come from.
“Wow, this is a beautiful book…but you haven’t written anything in it?”
“I’m not much for writing. Hell, I’m not much for talking usually. Oh, begging your pardon, Ma’am. Not used to having company, especially ladies around here.”
“My husband writes all the time,” Carol said. “He’s trying to break through as a writer.”
“Yeah, and keeping my day job too,” Jim laughed. “Have to keep up with the mortgage.”
“Smart man. Do what you need to do, so you can do what you want to do. Tell you what…take this book, and see what a writer can make of it.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. Besides, that looks like it might be worth some money…it looks very old.”
“Well, so do I,” he laughed, “but I’m not worth a whole lot these days. When my time comes, somebody cleaning up will just toss it out. At least, you’re a man that will appreciate it.”
“At least let me give you something for it.”
“Nah,” he waved his hand, “Here…when you write a million seller, come on back and take me out for a nice steak dinner, how’s that?”
“Well, thanks…hey, I don’t even know your name.”
“Name’s Ed, and the young Missus called you Jim, so there we are.”
“Thanks very much, Ed,” Jim said, shaking Ed’s strong, calloused hand.
“You’re welcome, Jim. You folks have a nice day now…I have to get some chores done,” Ed said, as he turned and headed back to his house.
“Hey, lucky you, fella! We both got something nice at this one,” Carol said, smiling up at Jim.
“We sure did…this book is beautiful. I’m going to have to make sure I make good use of it.”
“Yes you will. Hey, I’m getting hungry…wanna get some lunch?”
“Sounds great,” Jim said, as he put his arm around Carol, and they walked back to the SUV. They put her jacket and his book in the back seat, and headed off to find a place to have lunch. They chatted casually as Jim drove, but his thoughts kept returning to that book. There was something about it, something that compelled him to write.
Neither of them noticed the old man watching them from his window.
That evening, Jim sat in his recliner, oblivious to the news program Carol was watching on TV. He had the book in his lap, and had brought one of his mechanical pencils along, which he tapped against his chin.
“Somebody’s deep in thought,” Carol said, as she muted the sound of the commercials coming on.
“Yeah…I think I’m going to write out some ideas for a new story longhand, and see if it might help the outline process.”
“I thought you might save that book to write your first novel in.”
“Don’t I wish,” Jim said ruefully, “but the magic muse hasn’t stopped by yet, babe. I’ve got some ideas going, but they’re for short stories, not a complete novel.”
“Don’t worry hon. It’ll come when it comes.”
She put the sound back on, as her show was coming on, but lowered the volume so Jim could concentrate better.
He opened the cover of the book, and clicked the pencil to advance the lead. At the top of the first page, he wrote the title for the story he wanted to do next, and then a paragraph below to outline the general idea.
He was surprised at how smoothly the pencil would glide across the page, feeling no friction in his fingers at all from writing. If he didn’t see the words on the paper, he’d have thought the pencil wasn’t even touching the page at all.
By the time Carol’s show ended, he’d written far more than he intended, a complete outline of the story, and thumbnail sketches of the characters that would be in it. He was surprised at how easily the whole thing flowed, almost of its own doing.
“End of day, Hemingway,” Carol laughed. “We have work tomorrow, and we still need to clean the kitchen and set up the coffee maker before bed.”
“Yep, you’re right, honey,” Jim said, setting the book and pencil on the end table.
As they moved around in the kitchen, tending to the cleanup, they chatted about the coming week, as couples usually do.
Jim felt completely at ease, as though he’d satisfied the thoughts and idea for his next story, and could put it out of his mind completely. That was unusual, as he generally second guessed and revised his first notes over and over in his mind before starting the actual writing.
The week progressed as most do, with them comparing notes about the good days, the not so good days, and some of the more interesting encounters with customers they’d had. Friday arrived, and they went out for dinner.
When the server took away the plates from their appetizer, Carol looked up with a surprised expression.
“Oh, I meant to ask you…when did you have the time to work on your new story?”
“I haven’t, well not since last Sunday…why do you ask?”
“I had no idea you wrote as much as you did then, hon. I was dusting one day, and I moved your book and the cover opened up. I didn’t read it, but it looked like a whole story. I like the fancy handwriting too, by the way.”
Jim was confused. Fancy handwriting? He’d done his outline in block letters, and it was far from a whole story.
“Well babe, I guess I must be writing in my sleep now…I didn’t do a complete story last Sunday at all. Just an outline and some details I wanted to capture, that’s all.”
“I must have thought it was more, because you never wrote by hand before.”
Two hours later, Jim sat in his recliner with the book in his lap. Carol had turned in, as she was tired, and Jim said he was going to sit up for a bit. After kissing her goodnight, he opened the book and read the story, the whole, completed story inside.
Carol was right about the distinctive hand, and the story was his idea, with his characters, but expertly written, gripping him as he read, unable to put the book down until he came to the terrifying end. He caught himself holding his breath during the more frightening sequences, which had turned out far better than he’d originally envisioned them.
The front page he’d written his notes on was gone, replaced by the first page of the completed work, yet there was no sign of a page having been torn out of the book. The binding was completely undisturbed, no trace of a torn or ragged edge anywhere. What he was seeing was clearly impossible, yet there it was.
The thought suddenly occurred to him that the story could disappear as quickly as it had arrived, so he got up, and brought the book to his desk and opened his laptop.
He devised a serviceable stand for the book, and opened his word processing program. He typed slowly, making sure he copied every word, every detail from the notebook, and once it was completed, saved it to the laptop, then to the network backup drive, and then to his cloud account.
If this wasn’t the most elaborate dream he’d ever had, he wanted to be sure he saved that story, so he could dissect it, analyze it, and try to learn how to write that well himself. He noticed he was holding his breath again, as he typed some of the more chilling passages.
Finally satisfied, he closed the program, lowered the screen to put the laptop to sleep, and put the book back on the end table next to the recliner. He needed sleep, and felt now it would finally come.
He slipped quietly into the bed, so he didn’t disturb Carol, and fell immediately into a deep sleep, undisturbed by dreams.
Jim rolled over in bed, and realized two things. Carol was not there, and the light coming in from behind the drapes was bright, much brighter than it is on a work day. He’d obviously slept late, and desperately needed to pee. He rolled out of bed and padded quickly to the bathroom, letting out a deep sigh as the pressure backed off. He washed up, and made his way to the kitchen, where he found a Post-it note on the counter in front of the coffee maker.
‘Went to class, see you later. Love ya, C.’
He poured a cup of coffee, adding just a little Half & Half, and brought it to the desk. Taking a sip, he lifted the lid on his laptop to wake it, and saw the story file on his desktop, right where he’d left it. He hadn’t even been aware that his neck muscles had tensed up until he felt them relax once he saw that the file was safely there.
He walked into the living room, sat in his recliner, and set his coffee cup on the end table after taking another sip. He picked up the book and opened it up and gasped out loud, nearly dropping it.
The story was gone.
The pages were as blank as the day he first saw the book, not even an impression from where the pencil had touched the page.
“What the hell?” Jim’s eyes widened, and he took a deep breath. He put the book on the table, nearly spilling the coffee, and jumped up, running to the other room.
“Please, please, please,” he muttered, as he clicked on the file. It opened in his word processing program, and was exactly as he’d saved it the night before.
“Oh, thank God,” he whispered aloud. He closed the program, noticing that his hand was shaking, making the mouse miss its target twice before it finally closed. He walked back into the living room, sitting back in the recliner. He picked up his cup carefully, and sat back as he drank.
None of it made any sense at all. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the book would make as good a story as anything else he’d ever read, and he was living it. He glanced at the clock on the DVR, and guessed that Carol would be home soon.
Jim decided to try something. He put his cup down, picked up the book and his pencil, and again wrote down a short synopsis for a story, a couple character ideas, and a working title, much like he’d done before. And again, the pencil flowed so smoothly that he expanded on his original ideas without even trying, as though he’d become a conduit for the words that flowed onto the sheet.
Satisfied, he put down the book and pencil in their accustomed spot, and got up to get another cup of coffee. His had gone as cold as the chill he’d felt when he found the blank pages in the notebook. He had to go back to that house, to talk to Ed, who gave him the book. If anyone had any answers, he’d be the one.
As he sipped his coffee, his cell phone rang. He picked it up, saw it was Carol, and pressed the icon to answer.
“Hiya beautiful. How was your class?”
“It was awesome! I feel like a million bucks.”
“That’s great, babe. Heading back now?”
“Well, that’s why I called. I ran into Judy at the class, and she’s having a demonstration at her house this afternoon. Would you be really upset if I came home to shower and change, and then took off again?”
“Tupperware party, huh?”
“No, you dinosaur. It’s jewelry, not Tupperware. They don’t even make that anymore.”
“Just kidding, babe. No, it’s fine. I have a few things I can get done, so sure.”
“Thanks honey. I’ll tell her, then I’ll be home soon.”
“Drive safe. Love ya.”
“Love ya back,” she said, hanging up.
Jim smiled, setting the phone down. This would give him some time to go back to Ed’s house and ask some questions about the book. Speaking of the book, he walked over to the end table, and opened the cover. Still his own notes, in his own handwriting, no change.
Not yet, anyway.
Jim got out of the SUV, noting ruefully that it was the same spot he’d parked in the day of the yard sale. The day it all started. The curtains were drawn, the house quiet.
He walked to the door, reaching for the doorbell, when he noticed the door was slightly open. He heard the voice from inside.
“Come on in. I’ve been expecting you.”
Jim stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
“If you’ve been expecting me, then you probably know why I’m here.”
“Yep. The book.”
“Where the hell did that book come from? And more important, why me?”
“Sit down, young fella. I’ll tell you what I know, but it didn’t come with instructions.”
Jim took a seat on the sofa and looked around. There was a mantle over the fireplace with only two items on it. A framed portrait of a younger Ed with a beautiful woman, and next to that, a hardcover book lying on its side.
“I wasn’t exactly truthful when we met. I don’t write anymore, but I did write back in the day. That damn book was a big part of it, and made me a lot of money, but it had a cost that I didn’t know about.”
Jim stood up and walked to the fireplace, picking up the book there. ‘Break Of Dawn’, by Ed Garrett. He remembered this book causing quite a stir when it came out.
“So, you’re Ed Garrett, and this is yours.”
“Yep. My first, and only novel.”
“Let me guess. You put down some ideas, some character sketches…”
“And found the completed novel in the book a few days later,” he finished.
“I did the same thing with a short story idea, and it also came out finished. But, once I copied it out on my computer, it vanished. The pages were all blank when I looked at it later on.”
“Yep. Did the same to me with my book. Or, its book, I should say. Did you publish your story?”
“No. I wanted to look at…”
“Don’t. Don’t even show it to anyone. Just erase your copy, and write your own story.”
“The writing was brilliant…I was going to try and put my own spin on it.”
“Let me tell you something. After I copied out my book, and the writing had gone away, I left the book open in the kitchen while I was making a salad. I cut my finger pretty bad slicing an onion, and when I reached for the napkins on the table, I spilled a lot of blood on the book.”
“I didn’t see any stains on it.”
“That’s because when I went to mop it up with a napkin, the blood was moving. It flowed to the binding, and went down those little holes where the thread holds the pages all together. It was like a kid with a straw, sucking it all up.”
“Come on, that’s impossible!”
“Maybe so, but that’s what happened. Damned thing has a taste for blood.”
“OK, if that’s all true, then why didn’t you destroy it?”
“I tried. I got a nice fire going right in that fireplace there, and set the book on top. I sat here in this chair and watched it burn to a crisp. Must have dozed off watching the fire, because I woke up later, the fire had gone out, and that damned book was back on the coffee table, none the worse for wear. Not a mark on it.”
“And you gave that to me.”
“I thought that was the only way to get rid of it. That’s how I wound up with it, and nothing else I tried worked. Like I said, it don’t come with instructions.”
“The lady in the picture. Your wife?”
“She was. Claire was the payment the notebook took in return for the sale.”
“You know how they promise payment upon publication when you sell your work? The very day the money from the publisher arrived, she had a heart attack and died right in this room. Never had any health problems, her heart just stopped cold when that damned check went into the bank.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jim said, sitting heavily back on the sofa. He realized he still had Ed’s book in his hand, and set it on the coffee table, as far away from him as he could.
“Look, do yourself a favor. You have a nice missus. Erase anything you got from that book, don’t use a word of it, and find someone to give the book to. Do your own work, and save yourself a lot of trouble.”
“Why me, Ed? Why’d you give it to me?”
“Nothing personal. Just wanted to see if it would stay away, or if it would wind up back on my table, like it did after I burned it. And it stayed with you, so that has to be the key. I got it from a stranger, and then you did too, so find a stranger and pass it along.”
“And kill someone else’s wife? No thanks. There has to be a way to just get rid of it.”
“Sure, try it,” Ed shrugged, “maybe you’ll have better luck than I did. Maybe I could have tried something else, I don’t know. With Claire gone, nothing really matters anymore.”
The despair in Ed’s voice was clear. He hadn’t given the book to Jim out of malice or fear, he’d just given up.
“Look, I get it. You didn’t mean to hurt me or my wife, but you did. If I’d have done what you did…” he couldn’t finish the thought. The thought of anything happening to Carol would be unbearable.
“I don’t know how, but I’m going to get rid of the God damned thing. Good luck living with yourself.”
Jim got up without another word, and walked to the door, stepping outside. He closed the door behind him, and returned to the SUV, clicking the remote to unlock the door.
As he started the engine, he thought he heard a bang, and wondered if the SUV had backfired, but it was idling smoothly.
“Oh damn, don’t tell me,” he wondered aloud. He thought for a moment about going back to the house to check on Ed, but decided against it. If Ed was still sitting in his chair, he’d look like a skittish fool.
And if not, if he found Ed with a hole in his head, and a smoking gun on the floor, then what? He’d call 911, of course, but then he’d have to explain why he was there, how he knew Ed, and tell them about a haunted book that writes stories for its owner. If they didn’t consider him a suspect, they’d likely have him committed.
“Nope, let it be,” he said, putting the SUV in gear and driving away. Let someone else make the discovery, if that were the case. He had other things to do.
Jim got home before Carol, and went inside. He glanced at his end table, and the book and pencil were exactly as he left them. He considered looking to see if his notes were still there, and decided against it. He didn’t want to know.
He sat at the desk in their home office and tapped the touchpad, bringing the laptop to life. He selected the story file, and hit Delete. He then went to the local backup and deleted it there, and did the same at the cloud backup.
Three copies, all deleted. Click on the wastebasket icon, and select Empty.
“Am I sure? You bet your ass I’m sure,” he muttered, sending all traces of the story file to oblivion.
That done, he had two things yet to do. First, he wanted to tell Carol everything, knowing full well she’d have a hard time believing him. Hell, he had a hard time believing it himself.
Then, with her help, he had to get rid of the book. He wanted to destroy it and insure no one else would find it, and use it.
“Timing is everything,” he said softly, as he started the coffeemaker. He heard the garage door open, signaling Carol’s arrival home. The kitchen door opened, and she walked in with a radiant smile.
“Hey sweetie! How was your alone time?”
“Oh, it was pretty interesting. How was the Tupperware party?”
“You asshole,” she laughed, “It was fun, but I didn’t see anything that appealed to me. Well, except the wine. Hey, is that fresh coffee I smell?”
“Yeah it is, hon. We need to talk.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s not. It’s nothing that either of us did, but we have a problem to take care of.”
Two hours and one pot of coffee later, he’d told her everything, fielded her questions as best he could, and they sat quietly, each lost in thought.
“So, how do you want to try and get rid of it, Jim? If what Ed told you is true, it sounds like it heals itself somehow.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. He said he saw it burn to nothing, but fell asleep. When he woke up, it was on the table, like nothing happened.”
“So, maybe Ed was drowning his sorrows a bit, and lit a fire, and thought he put the book in. And maybe he didn’t. Honestly, I don’t know, but something about his story just doesn’t click.”
“You want to try and burn it yourself? We don’t have a fireplace, hon.”
“No, but we do have a fire pit out back. And we have wood. And we have lighter fluid for the barbecue.”
“Okay…what do you want me to do?”
Jim got up, and walked behind her seat, wrapping his arms around her.
“I want you to stay in here, as far away from that thing as you can. Remember what he told me about his wife.”
“He told you that happened when he published a book, hon. You didn’t publish anything, you didn’t gain anything from it. There is no debt.”
“Maybe so, but humor me please? I don’t want to take any chances with this damned thing.”
“Jim, you’re scaring me,” Carol’s eyes were filling up as she spoke.
“That’s good, scared is good. Scared makes you more careful,” Jim heard the tremor in his voice, and knew she heard it too.
“Can’t we just call somebody for help?”
“Hello 911, we’re being held hostage by a ghost in a notebook. Babe, I think we’re on our own here.”
Carol stood and turned, wrapping her arms tightly around Jim.
“Fine. But, be careful! If something goes wrong, run like hell to get me so we can get away, okay?”
“Promise. I’m no hero, babe. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she replied, hugging him as tightly as she could.
It was time. Jim went out back and loaded kindling in the pit, adding some wood scraps on top. He saturated the whole pile with the lighter fluid, and set the can down away from the pit. He went inside and picked up the book. He held it tightly closed now, not wanting to even see what was on that first page.
He set the book on top of the wood, then picked up the can and saturated it. He took the long nose lighter from the table, put it against the kindling and clicked the trigger.
The result was immediate, and powerful. Jim jumped back from the flashback as the fluid ignited, and the entire pit was consumed in flames. His neighbor looked over from her backyard next door and yelled at him to be careful, just as they both heard the bloodcurdling scream coming from inside Jim’s house.
“No, no, no, NO!” Jim yelled hoarsely, dropping the lighter and running as fast as he could into his house. His neighbor was frantically poking at her cell phone, trying to call for help.
Jim stopped abruptly in the kitchen, staring in horror, mouth moving, but not making any sounds.
Carol was lying on the floor, burning from within. Flames came out of her eyes, her ears, her mouth. She made a horrible retching sound, trying to form words, her hands clutching at thin air. She jerked from side to side, her body reacting violently to being cooked from within. Her back arched once more, and then she lay still, as the flames continued exiting her body wherever they could. Her eyes closed, and tendrils of black smoke crept up from beneath her blistered eyelids.
Jim grabbed the cordless phone from the counter and dialed 911. As the dispatcher answered, he turned to look away from Carol, and saw that the fire had gone out in the pit. The book lay on top, completely untouched by the flames.
Jim started screaming incoherently, the dispatcher trying in vain to get him to calm down so she could get information. She already had his name from Caller ID, and knew police and fire were en route.
The aroma of burnt pork suddenly reached him, and Jim fell to his knees, retching furiously. Between spasms, he kept screaming her name over and over again.
Outside, sirens were getting louder, as the first responders got closer. Diane Peterson stood outside her house, cell phone in hand, ready to point the paramedics to the Carter’s house.
The rescue van turned the corner, a fire truck right behind it, and Diane began waving frantically.
“Help, please! They’re inside, someone is hurt, and the fire pit is out of control in their yard!”
“Relax ma’am, we’ll take care of it now. Please step away, and let us do our job,” the first EMT said to her. He and his partner headed to the house as the fire captain and a couple of firemen went to the back to survey the fire pit. A police cruiser had arrived, and a patrolman asked Diane if she could make a statement.
One of the EMT’s spoke quietly to a policeman, who began speaking into the microphone on his shoulder. Someone thought he said “crime scene”, and rumors started spreading through the crowd.
Three weeks had passed, and detectives Bannon and Perez were at their desks, catching up on paperwork.
“Dammit Felix, looks like the Carter case is going cold on us.”
“Doc Wilkins returned an open verdict on the wife. Evidence points to spontaneous human combustion, but she had none of the underlying conditions that are generally associated with that.”
“Her husband was a suicide, from what I read.”
“Yeah, no doubt about him. He took a chef’s knife and dragged it across his throat. Hit both the carotid and jugular. The EMT said he’d have bled out in a minute or two at most. He wouldn’t have lasted the walk out to the bus.”
“Guilt, ya think?”
“Nah, he was in full view of the neighbor when the wife lit up inside. Looks like he lost his mind when he went in and found her cooking like a pig roast.”
Perez grimaced. Joe Bannon was a good detective, but as blunt as a rock.
“The wife was,” Bannon squinted and pushed his reading glasses up on his nose, “not elderly, not obese, not a smoker, and not an alcoholic. Everything associated with spontaneous combustion was not present or applicable here. In other words, we got bubkus.”
“What about the neighbor?”
“Let’s see, that’s Diane Peterson. Said Carter was starting a fire in his pit and used way too much fluid. When the fire blew up, she yelled to him to be careful. That’s when they heard the screaming from inside the house. He went running inside, and she dialed 911, which gives us a time stamp for when the wife lit up.”
“Why was he building such a big fire?”
“FD found a book in the pit. Said it was a miracle that it wasn’t even singed, even though the fire blew itself out once the fluid was exhausted. They say miracle, I say weird.”
“The fireman that moved the book out of the pit said he saw the words ‘Paid in Full’ on the first page in it, but crime scene said there was nothing written inside when they bagged it for the lab. Also, the lab found no sign whatsoever of damage or stains, but the bricks at the top of the pit were still hot from the fire.”
“Okay, you win. That is weird…I agree.”
“Like I said, we got bubkus here,” Joe closed the folder, pushing it away. “C’mon, let’s get a coffee. We got other cases waiting, and this one sure as hell ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
by G.A. Miller
G.A. Miller is a new voice in the chorus of horror authors, drawing his ideas from every day, commonplace events that take unforeseen turns down dark corridors, often with horrific consequences.
Born between the original Japanese “Gojira”, and the Americanized “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!”, G.A.’s interest in horror developed early on, nourished by televised movies on “Shock Theater” (Hosted by Zacherley, the “Cool Ghoul”), Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines, old issues of the late, great EC Comics, the British Horror Invasion of great films from Hammer Studios…the list goes on.
Making a living as a technician, he enjoys stepping away from the digital world, where ones and zeros are absolute, and entering the world of dark imagination, where a single “What If?” can turn normalcy to nightmare in a frenzied heartbeat, and rules of logic do not apply.
His published tales include:
“Bequeath” – Hinnom Magazine 001, Gehenna & Hinnom publishers.
“Shower Time” – The Edge: Infinite Darkness, Patrick Reuman publisher.
“Ear Wax” – Year’s Best Body Horror Anthology 2017 – Gehenna & Hinnom publishers.
“Nightmare” – Horror Bites Magazine, November 2017 Issue
“Just A Little Bloob” – Trembling With Fear column, Horror Tree web site, November 5th update
G.A. lives where Lovecraft lived, due south of where King lives. Perhaps there’s something in the water in New England? One wonders…