NANTUCKET - The day tourists have vanished, the summer millionaires have retreated, and parking spaces sit vacant for hours on the uncrowded cobblestone streets.
But something new this off-season is staying on the island, where a sign in the town clerk's office reads, "Thank you for not discussing the outside world."
That something is fear, planted among lifelong islanders by two horrific rapes in which an intruder, still at large, walked into unlocked homes in the dead of night. In the first crime, in July, the rapist bound his victim and assaulted her for several terrifying hours. The second rape occurred Oct. 5.
The rapes are the most prominent crimes in a surge of violence that has startled year-round residents on this small island. In the first nine months of this year, the number of sexual assaults reported was nearly double the number reported in all of 2007. Aggravated assaults surged to 23, nearly four times the six recorded in 2007, and 100 simple assaults were on pace to outnumber the 107 tallied throughout last year.
Now, in a place where unlocked doors were the norm, residents are flocking to hardware stores for locks and deadbolts to protect themselves.
"It was almost a badge of courage in the old days that you didn't lock your doors," said Charles Tennant, hardware manager at Marine Home Center. "All of a sudden, we're getting 40 to 50 calls a week."
"It's good for business," said Huyser, a lifelong Nantucket resident. "But not for the other reasons."
The surge in crime has unnerved an island that has long burnished an image as a placid place apart, buffered from the pressures and influences of the mainland. Some blame the economy for the crime wave, or an increase in alcohol and drug problems. But also in the mix, many say, is a massive surge in population, largely because of workers who come for summer jobs but end up staying without showing up on town rolls as permanent residents.
Nantucket officials say that 10,880 residents are recorded in Nantucket, but that an estimated 20,000 people are living on the island, straining police and social services.
For police, the end of summer used to signal a respite from the full-tilt pace of watching over an island packed with tourists and seasonal residents.
"Now, instead of slowing down, it's literally been 100 miles per hour constantly," said Police Chief William Pittman.
Town Clerk Catherine Stover, whose family dates back eight generations on Nantucket, began locking her door after the second rape. Peter Swenson, who directs a social service agency here, recently moved with his wife and two small children to what he believes is a safer location on the island. And Nikki, a waitress who begins work before dawn, said she has started locking her doors and windows.
"I used to be able to walk to work with a flashlight, but I don't do that anymore," Nikki said. "Now I take a cab for $17 each way. Seriously. It's too scary."
In other violence this year, two cyclists were beaten and robbed at night on a bike path. A 9-year-old special-needs child allegedly was abducted from a playground by a landscaper and sexually assaulted in his truck and home before being placed on a bus. And reports of domestic violence have increased across a broad range of income and ethnic groups, said Kat Robinson Grieder, executive director of A Safe Place, whose staff works with victims of such violence.
Swenson, executive director of Family and Children's Services of Nantucket, sees alcohol as a continuing factor in many of the island's problems, particularly during tough economic times when the construction industry is suffering.
"The use of alcohol and other drugs has increased," Swenson said. "Mix that with stress and anxiety, and you tend to have violent acting-out."
Swenson said his staff, many of whom are women, now always leave the office with somebody else at the end of the day.
Pittman, the police chief, said there have been fewer total arrests this year, but he acknowledged that there has been a surge in violent, high-profile crime. Although the reason is hard to pinpoint, Pittman agreed that Nantucket had changed in the four years he has worked here.
"You go to a lot of neighborhoods today and people say, 'I don't know who lives beside me anymore,' " Pittman said.
Over and over, in interviews across the island, residents described an increasing sense of vulnerability and alienation, exacerbated by the population increase.
"There are just too many rats in the cage," Stover said of Nantucket, "and every one of us is a rat."
As they have for decades, laborers, landscapers, and workers in the construction trades have looked to Nantucket for quick money and entertainment. But unlike in the past, Pittman and others said, many of the transients are putting down roots and staying through the winter. A large percentage of them are foreign nationals, from Salvadorans to Bulgarians to Irish to Jamaicans, whose presence sometimes has caused what Pittman called "cultural differences and misunderstandings."
Some of that tension results in imagined threats. Police once were called about a suspected drug deal, the chief said, when the reality was an innocent exchange of packaging between two friends. In another incident, he said, a suspected attempted assault was actually an unexpected encounter between a young cyclist and a surprised Hispanic laborer.
"You've got some guy sitting in the bike path, . . . and suddenly the cops are swooping in on him," Pittman said.
Those extra residents, legal and otherwise, use the schools, seek care at the hospital, and put strains on other municipal services that Nantucket must subsidize.
"If people are here, they deserve services," Stover said. "But we also deserve, in return, to know who they are and receive state and federal funding for those services."
In the meantime, police are pressing their investigation of the rapes, which Pittman believes were committed by the same person. And as his officers work, the chief said, he understands why no amount of reassurance will allay the fears of some residents.
"We proceed as if that suspect is still among us," Pittman said.