“Strawberry Spring” takes place at a fictional New England college, New Sharon College. The main setting for the story is March 1968, specifically starting on March 16, 1968, when the strawberry spring, a “false” spring much like an Indian summer, arrived.
And when night came the fog came with it, moving silent and white along the narrow college avenues and thoroughfares. The pines on the wall poked through it like counting fingers and it drifted, slow as cigarette smoke, under the little bridge down by the Civil War cannons. It made things seem out of joint, strange, magical. The unwary traveller would step out of the juke-thumping, brightly lit confusion of the Grinder, expecting the hard clear starriness of winter to clutch him . . . and instead he would suddenly find himself in a silent, muffled world of white drifting fog, the only sound his own footsteps and the soft drip of water from the ancient gutters. You half expected to see Gollum or Frodo and Sam go hurrying past, or to turn and see that the Grinder was gone, vanished, replaced by a foggy panorama of moors and yew trees and perhaps a Druid-circle or a sparkling fairy ring.
The thick fog covered more than the earth. In it’s shadow, a serial killer emerged, called “Springheel Jack“. The body of a girl was found in a parking lot, the first murder in a series. Several more students were murdered during the strawberry spring. The narrator describes the reactions of the college community throughout this time, and the contradicting rumors that spread about the victims. The police arrested Gale Cerman’s boyfriend, Carl Amalara, for the crimes. Another murder was committed while Amalara was in custody, and the police were forced to release him. The investigation was made more difficult by the fearful panic of police officers, security guards (an incident is recounted in which an unconscious student is misidentified as a corpse, and sent to the morgue by a terrified security guard), and the students. No legitimate suspects were found.
‘Strawberry spring is like Indian summer,’ he said, ‘only much more rare. You get a good Indian summer in this part of the country once every two or three years. A spell of weather like we’ve been having is supposed to come only every eight or ten. It’s a false spring, a lying spring, like Indian summer is a false summer. My own grandmother used to say strawberry spring means the worst norther of the winter is still on the way – and the longer this lasts, the harder the storm.
Eight years later, a new strawberry spring arrives, and so does “Springheel Jack”, who has taken another victim at New Sharon College. The narrator can’t remember where he was the night of the murder; the last thing he remembers is that he was on his way home from work, turning on his headlights to find his way through the fog. The narrator’s wife is upset, believing he was with another woman that night. The narrator believes that he was, his anxiety made all the worse by the irrational fear he feels about opening the trunk of his car.
I can hear my wife as I write this, in the next room, crying. She thinks I was with another woman last night.
And oh dear God, I think so too.