St. Simon’s Island is beautiful. Anyone would love it. Friendly people, amazing restaurants. I mean shit, it’s a beach town and, unlike the dumpy ones in Florida, the people here rock year round.

Alan knew I’d love it. But still… I don’t know. Maybe we moved too soon. Before I could really get a chance to visit the island more. But I guess I can’t blame him after what he went through back at Lake Blackshear. Obviously, we had to get the Hell outta there. Especially with our baby boy Michael.

Since we moved, things had been going great. Alan was still paranoid, but as we indulged St. Simon’s, we both got back to our normal lives. Our normal routines.

Besides having a pretty house, we also had actual neighbors for once! Yeah, most of them were old, but hey, they were friendly. And most importantly, they were there. I didn’t need The Real Housewives Of St. Simon’s anyway. Just some sense that we weren’t totally alone. That we weren’t quarantined in the middle of nowhere… you know, like our old home.

Our new house was located right by the village. Literal walking distance to all the shops and restaurants. I could walk a few blocks to Dairy Queen whenever I wanted. Not that I needed to in between all the workouts… I hadn’t lost this beach ball mama belly for nothing.

So we’d basically swapped our isolated country estate for suburban comfort. And I couldn’t be happier. Judging by Michael’s constant smile, neither could he. St. Simon’s was perfect for raising a family. This wasn’t a beach preparing for MTV outtakes. The island was pleasant. And clean.

Considering how awkward and tough the move could’ve been, I gotta say St. Simon’s Island welcomed us with open arms. Maybe it helped I was a pretty 30-year-old mother. A green-eyed Southern Belle charmer with the heart of a lion. One who was warm and approachable even when constantly dropping f-bombs. But the people here seemed to genuinely like us. They were all like friendly sitcom characters minus the cheesiness. And I was pleasantly surprised by the island’s diversity! Well, diversity in everything but age.

I still got homesick from time to time. There was some adjusting… for one thing, I had to get used to Alan working long hours at the island hospital. His shifts were so unpredictable. Sometimes, morning. Sometimes, night. Of course, sometimes, they’d even call him in without warning. I knew that routine from my days as a nurse. Trust me, that shit sucks! Being a stay-at-home is about a hundred times better. Even if it did get lonely.

So yeah, I had to get used to the housewife life. I know, poor, pitiful Holly, right? Well, you try fucking breast-feeding, changing diapers, and taking care of four damn dogs all day! Not to mention Michael’s constant farting was smelling up the house like damn stink bombs. Yeah, it wasn’t miner’s work, but still, this shit ain’t easy, man.

Still, before I knew it, I’d become real acclimated with the house. I had our shit arranged. We got cable on our flatscreen. Michael was sleeping well (and yes, still passing gas). Even the dogs got used to their cozy (but smaller) backyard.

Our old house was much bigger. The yard was bigger. And of course, we had Lake Blackshear for eye candy. But our new house felt more like a home to me. The walls more appealing. The rooms more spacious. I didn’t even mind the staircase that led up to the guest rooms. Everything was comfortable. Like the house had been transplanted from 1950s Small Town Americana into a beach community. Plus, the yard had a fence and tall hedges. So we had privacy. And Alan’s paranoia led him to install cameras all around the house for safety.

The only issue we had was with one particular neighbor. Our house’s former owner at that: Mrs. Mary Kellerman. Mary and her husband John had lived at the house since the early 90s. Both of them weren’t particularly old or anything. If I had to guess maybe mid-late fifties. Both of them were still attractive. Tall with athletic frames. Not a touch of gray on their heads. Their faces friendly, their dark eyes captivating. Their northeast accents were obnoxiously thick, but then again, John always teased me about talking like Scarlett O’Hara.

I think John was an architect and Mary a former schoolteacher. Both of them had moved down here from New York. John was very friendly. I’d often see him during his afternoon jogs when I was out pushing Michael in his stroller. Shit, he ran more than Alan. And for such cool weather, John didn’t wear much on those runs… I guess he liked showing off that sexy physique. Not that I was complaining…

But Mary was just fucking weird. I never really got the whole story, but according to the neighbors, she had a breakdown just a year before me and Alan bought the house. She definitely looked the demented part. She never seemed to wash her long stringy hair. She wore no make-up. Outside of the name-brand clothes, I would’ve mistaken her for a homeless woman. Like an actress unaware her fame and looks had long since bypassed her. But John took good care of her. They had money after all. In fact, they owned several other houses in the neighborhood and lived in a mansion just down the road. A mansion that was older than our house and looked more fitting for 1920s Hollywood than the island.

No one ever seemed to worry much about Mary. She was just a charming head case to them. She meant no harm, they’d tell me. Well, she gave me the fucking creeps… And it was more than just her eerie appearance. Or odd mannerisms. She never would go jogging with John. Instead, she’d always track me down on my walks. Like she was waiting for me.

I was always polite. She did have a nice smile after all. But she sure zeroed in on Michael a lot. In that grating accent, she’d always joke about how she wanted him all to herself. I figured she was joking but if Mary wasn’t twenty-plus years my senior, this mama bear would’ve straight-up kicked her ass to protect her little Mikey. But I kept my Southern fiery in check. Instead, I’d let Mary coddle Michael. Of course, he smiled. My baby just liked the attention.

What creeped me out the most about Mary was that she’d always carry around this baby doll. I couldn’t figure it out. Yeah, the neighbors and even John would joke about it just being her eccentricity, but shit, man. This wasn’t even an old Raggedy Ann doll or an older memento from Mary’s youth… the doll looked brand new. Spotless and clean. As if Santa had brought it to her just last year.

And Mary carried it everywhere. Like the doll was her own child. And shit, given how advanced and heavy these toys were nowadays, the damn thing looked real enough. Judging by its blue pajamas/outfit play clothes, I figured Mary considered the thing her surrogate son.

Probably our most cringe-worthy Mary encounter was when she introduced “Edward” to Michael. For once, Michael didn’t smile. Just uneasy confusion swept over my baby’s face. Much like my own disturbed expression. After all, Edward was an uncanny nightmare. With a plastic smile that never left his lips. I know I always dreaded when Mary ask me to hold him… the damn thing was even heavier than Michael.

“Just look at Edward, look at him,” Mary would gush at Michael, her harsh accent unable to ever make her voice cute and cuddly.

But I was always polite. Usually telling Mary I was in a hurry helped me get away from her. Sometimes, even John would stop by like a devoted caretaker and escort Mary back to their mansion. I noticed his promise of helping her give Edward a bath usually helped.

However, the few times Mary caught me with Alan… well, let’s just say Alan was a little less patient than me. Often, Alan would take command of the stroller himself and lead us away from Mary before she could even make her inevitable move toward Michael. I felt bad since Alan’s rudeness would make Mary cry like a neglected grandmother. And of course, I’d be left alone to console her. Mary would just beg me to let her watch Michael at some point. That we could even swap children for a night. I know… she said all sorts of fucking crazy shit like that. But before Mary could unleash a dramatic outburst, I’d have to agree.

All the way through early December, Mary made her presence known to us. Like a neighborhood specter. I’d see her on those cold evening walks. I’d look out the window sometimes and see her lurking across the street. On the few occasions, she didn’t stop me and Michael, I’d see her standing behind her living room window when we walked past the mansion. Her brown eyes always focused on Michael. Her muscular hands always clinging to that damn doll.

One of the scarier incidents occurred just a few nights ago. Me and Alan heard the dogs barking like a howling chorus outside. This was right before we brought them in to put them in their cages. So Alan and me went outside and found the mutts going crazy. Even our smallest dog Cannon was acting possessed by rage. And she was always the first one in! But that night, they were all snarling at the woods out back. Me and Alan investigated but saw nothing. Then again, those woods did host a variety of critters like possums and raccoons.

Anyway, the following morning, after Alan went to work, my curiosity got the best of me. I played the cameras. To my horror, I saw the dogs weren’t barking at any animal. They were barking at Mary. She’d been in our backyard. All night.

Through the footage, I could see her emerge from the woods like the creepy specter she was. The doll held in her hand like she was the ghost of a lost schoolgirl. She must’ve stood out on our lawn for hours. Out there in that forty-degree weather. Her haunting eyes stared right at the house. I don’t think I ever even saw her shiver once. She was comfortable. Right where she wanted to be. Close to Michael.

Horrified, I told Alan everything. I played him the eerie footage. Without letting Mary know, we ended up showing it to John. Not to alarm him or to be asshole neighbors, but just to warn him about Mary’s unstable behavior. He was very nice about it. Somehow, his accent had a warmth to it that Mary’s guttural voice never did.

In the following days, I didn’t see Mary at all. I hoped John was keeping an eye on her. Sure, she was fucking weird, but I didn’t want her to freeze to death. She probably just needed help… after all, I’m not even sure if she ever even had children? That could’ve weighed on her fragile mind after all these years. Who knows, without Michael, I might’ve turned out the same.

By the time Thursday night arrived, it’d been raining for the past twenty-four hours. One of those ugly December rains too. Cold and wet.

With the incessant rain providing a rhythmic soundtrack, Alan and I got ready to watch the Falcons game. All the while, I held Michael close. The thunder and lightning always freaked him out. And judging by how close Cannon had curled up by my feet, the weather was scaring her too.

But sadly, our Thursday Night Football watch wasn’t meant to be. Like thunder, a shrill ambulance siren startled us from the pre-game show.

Me and Alan peeked out a window. Just in time to see an ambulance hurtling straight down our road.

“I wonder what’s going on,” Alan said.

As if on cue, Alan’s phone buzzed to life. Always a bad sign this late on a weeknight…

Sure enough, Alan was called in. He apologized profusely to me, and I could see the genuine sympathy in his eyes. But I understood. Dr. Brooks took his work seriously. Even if it meant missing a primetime Falcons game.

Me and Alan shared a kiss before he headed out the door. And on this rainy Thursday night, I was home alone. With only my son and the mutts for company.

Together, we all watched the game. All of us snuggled together in that living room. The steady storm helped Michael fall asleep in my arms. But he didn’t miss much. The fucking Falcons lost. Again.

I texted Alan off and on throughout the night. He was really busy. I figured storms this bad probably drove the town into a frenzy. Maybe hurricane PTSD caused the panic? I guess at this rate, I should be glad we still had electricity.

Regardless of the ferocious storm, I felt safe. Even without Alan, we had the dogs and cameras. Our neighbors. And I had Michael. In such an old house, the raindrops sounded so loud. Like they were being played through speakers. But hey, whatever helped Michael get some sleep was fine by me.

Near bedtime, I let the dogs out into the backyard to piss. I usually gave them a few minutes. Even in the rain, they’d find their zones and come back to the patio door in no time.

As per usual, I carried Michael into our bedroom. I had his crib positioned about ten feet away from me and Alan’s bed. He had a mansion of a crib. For a baby, he’d sleep pretty damn peacefully. No wonder considering he had a better “bed” than most adults. Not to mention a nice view of our large flatscreen as well.

I laid Michael down. He didn’t react at all to the soft touch of all the blankets and pillows. His eyes stayed shut. The boy was out for the night.

Gentle, I gave him a kiss on the forehead. Then I turned off the bedroom light. I kept my nightstand lamp on for my reading. Then again, the rain would probably knock me out before I could even finish a page from the paperback.

I went out into the backyard to corral the mutts. From the patio door, I could hear them barking at the edge of the yard. Right near those woods. Right where I last saw Mary.

“Come on, Cannon!” I yelled.

With the rain hitting them like snow, the dogs refused to listen. Their sole focus was on the woods. Like adamant soldiers who refused to give up.

Nervous, I kept calling their names. Over and over. If Mary’s crazyass was behind the trees so be it, I just wanted to get the fuck inside.

My loudest yell yet finally got the dogs’ attention. A yell that’d rival Mary’s voice for obnoxious unpleasantness.

Like a train whistle had gone off, all four of the mutts ran past me and went straight inside. Thank God…

I entered the house. Turning real quick, I stole an uneasy look toward the woods. Through the stormy darkness, I didn’t see shit. But I listened closely. And all I heard was rain. Steady, consistent rain.

Before closing the door, I thought I heard a voice… like a harsh whisper. There was no Southern warmth in that tone either. Just a bitter Northern sneer.

In a fearful frenzy, I slammed the door shut and locked it. I closed the blinds. I didn’t even wanna look outside. I didn’t wanna risk the chance of hearing or seeing that creepy bitch again. I damn sure wasn’t checking the cameras either. Not until morning at least.

Like a makeshift barricade, I even placed a chair up against the patio doorknob. Mary The Monster wasn’t getting in. Not on my watch.

Cannon’s loud bark distracted me toward the bedroom. I put the dogs up in their cages in the kitchen. All except Miss Cannon. I considered her Michael’s canine nanny at this point. Besides, she was used to sleeping with me and Alan anyway. And on lonely nights like this… well, I cut her some slack.

I entered the dark bedroom and glanced over at the crib. Michael was still out on those blankets. Still sound asleep. And hey, the room smelt nice for a change. At least, he wasn’t farting up a storm while I was away… I swear they were worse while he was sleeping.

To my surprise, I saw Cannon standing on the edge of the bed. As if she was on alert. Restless doggy patrol.

“Hey there, Cannon,” I said. Grinning, I rubbed her head.

Like a belligerent asylum inmate, Cannon lurched forward and barked. Her bark about as shrill as a siren. Or Mary’s voice.

“Whoa, Cannon, what is it?” I asked through my grimace.

She just continued, her next bark even more brutal and loud than the last. An assault to my ears.

“God, Cannon!” I said. Annoyed, I looked over at the crib. Somehow, the baby’s cries hadn’t joined in on Cannon’s crude “performance.” Not yet at least…

Cannon’s next bark made me confront her in anger. “Cannon, stop!”

But of course, Cannon didn’t. She wasn’t letting up.

Like a scolding mother, I reached toward her. “You’re not staying in here if you-”

Before I could spank her, Cannon jumped off the bed and rushed out the room. Like a shifty child avoiding punishment.

I cracked an amused smile.

Ferocious thunder made me jolt. Startled, I looked back at the bed. My paperback sat on the nightstand and awaited my eyes.

Ready to relax, I grabbed 50 Shades and sat on the bed.

Using the bookmark for a guide, I opened the novel back to where I’d left off. Only what greeted me wasn’t E.L. James’s lurid prose. Instead, a ripped scrap sheet of paper covered up page 200.

On it, letters scribbled in black marker spelled out a crude message for me: MICHAEL’S SUCH A CUTIE PIE

Another burst of thunder sent shockwaves through my terrified state. But I didn’t jump. That was impossible when I was already this fucking scared. When my stomach was this conquered by sickening dread.

Alan’s handwriting wasn’t this clear. And this note sure as Hell wasn’t here when I snuck in a Grey break earlier in the day. Mary had put it here. She’d been in my house. And deep in my twisted gut, I knew she was still here.

I flung the book back on the nightstand. Raising my phone, I walked toward the bedroom door and called Alan.

Stopping at the doorway, I peered around the dark house. Besides the sleeping mutts, I saw nothing. Not even Cannon. All I heard was buckets of rain. Not a noise was in the house. Not even the creaks and groans you’d usually hear in such an old home.

And the phone just kept ringing.

“Come on, Alan,” I muttered. My frantic eyes looked back at the crib. Michael was still in there. For a moment, I was jealous of how at peace he was. How oblivious he was of the horror his mommy was currently enduring.

The call went to Alan’s voicemail.

“Goddammit!” I exclaimed in anger. I hung up. Immediately, I sent him several frenetic texts: That crazy bitch is in the house! Come home!

I looked out the room once more. But nothing had changed. I figured only me and Cannon were awake right now. And Mary.

More thunder shook me to the core. Clinging to my phone like it was Michael, I shut the bedroom door. Hesitant, I looked around the bedroom. A fucking weapon would be nice…

My eyes drifted over toward the flatscreen. And then I saw it. A small piece of paper tucked away next to our behemoth television.

Somehow, my heart sank even deeper. My trembling hand grabbed the piece of paper.

It was the same type of scratch sheet I’d found buried in the book. And the same harsh handwriting greeted me. A crooked handwriting that matched the unattractive rasp of Mary Kellerman.

She’d left me another note: TAKE GOOD CARE OF EDWARD

The rain may as well have crashed through and drowned my spirit right there on the spot. Panicking like the overprotective mama I was, I ran right toward the crib and ripped off the blankets.

Plastic dark eyes stared back at me. The doll’s eyes. Edward laid right where my baby should’ve been. His eternal smile taunted me.

Mary must’ve made the switch while I was getting the dogs. She made her move to care for Michael… while I cared for her stupid fucking doll.

“No!” I screamed. Tears fell down my face faster than those raindrops. “Michael!”

Simultaneously angry and saddened, I grabbed “Edward” and smashed his fucking grin into the edge of the crib. The child’s face burst into smithereens. What was once Mary’s “child” now resembled a mannequin’s fetus.

Cannon’s ferocious barks echoed toward me. Then like a hypnotic chant, all the other dogs took her lead in a chorus of barks and growls.

Alarmed, I threw the doll and paper to the floor and took off for the living room.

“Michael!” I yelled.

In one frantic hit, I flicked on the lights. Like a furry army, the dogs continued their barking and growling. But there was no sign of Michael.

I could feel the tears sliding down my face at a rapid rate. Tears of agony.

The front door was wide open. Cold air seeped into the house like wind off a cemetery.

Still snarling, Cannon ran laps around the doorway.

Amidst the barking and raindrops, I called the police and ran outside. Out into the dark and stormy night.

“Michael!” I screamed.

I stopped on my front lawn. Like I’d fallen through a frozen pond, I felt the cold rain slice into my flesh. But I didn’t care. Weeping, I kept searching the scene. “Michael!” I yelled over and over again in a panic.

The intermittent flashes of lightning offered me no hope. No glimpses of my only child. My son. My joy. My life.

Once the police arrived, a happy ending did come through. A real miracle.

After I told the police everything and showed them the creepy notes, they immediately went over to Mary’s house. It turned out they’d been looking for her all along. She was the main suspect in John’s murder. For stabbing him to death just hours earlier. Just moments before the TNF game.

There were countless stab wounds to his face in addition to a rough dissection of his entire stomach. As if Mary was cutting a baby out of her husband, I thought.

Then I realized the ambulance went to their mansion earlier. That’s where they found John’s body. But no Mary.

In a sickening epiphany, I realized John was the reason Alan was called in. A last-ditch effort to save one of the community’s most beloved men. But it was too late. John Kellerman was pronounced dead near midnight.

The police ended up finding Mary at the mansion. In her bedroom rocking chair, she was discovered holding Michael in her arms. Rocking him to sleep. Blood all over her like she was a psycho mom.

Police told me Michael was sound asleep like always. They said he’d never know what happened. That he wouldn’t remember being kidnapped. Or all the sticky blood Mary’s hands left on his soft skin. To my twisted amusement, I realized my child must’ve looked like he’d been literally born again with all that gore on him.

The security footage from our house showed Mary had made her way into our house right after Alan left. Then she waited for the perfect moment to strike. The right moment when me and Michael weren’t in the same room. I was proud of myself for making that crazy bitch wait a very long time.

So now things are getting back to normal around here. We’re getting closer to Christmas, and the last I heard, Mary Kellerman will be spending the rest of her life in a padded cell up in Lawrenceville. With plenty of dolls from what I hear. One of them’s even named Michael. And with all my furious maternal might, I’ll make sure that’s the only Michael she’ll ever have.

But I’m still not over all of it. Not when I could’ve lost Michael. Ironically enough, I’ve now become more paranoid than Alan. I made him install more cameras. Put in a bigger fence. New locks. I even convinced Alan to let my mom Peggy move in with us. Of course, Alan understands. That’s why I love him. And considering how bad my parents flipped out when they heard all this… well, it’s less troublesome to just have them come up here than deal with them calling us every thirty minutes. God knows, it was bad enough when they heard about Alan’s ordeal. Now their neurotic worries have only intensified when they found out their own daughter and grandson were in danger.

With mama here, I’ll now have some help with the dogs too. And with taking care of Michael. And with comforting me and my blossoming paranoia.