All Hallows Eve

We’ve talked before on this blog about attempts to recapture, as adults, those visceral feelings of excitement and anticipation we had as kids on the night before Christmas, lying in our dark bedrooms . . . or before our birthdays . . . or at the notion of school letting out for the summer or even for the weekend. I remember getting some of that feeling in the darkened movie theater, waiting for the feature to start.

Well, one time I’ve discovered that I experience that shivery, excited, tingly-stomach feeling as a grownup is in the few days before the World Fantasy Convention. I leave for San Jose on Wednesday the 28th, and I get back on November 3rd, so be advised that there won’t be a blog post during the Hallowe’en weekend. That very night, the 31st (Lord willing), I’ll be having dinner with my agents and some other clients of JABberwocky, the agency that represents me. (That wasn’t a typo in the name, by the way: the first three letters are the initials of the agency’s owner.) So this weekend I’m battening down the hatches, preparing lessons, packing, and timing & practicing the public reading I’m scheduled to do at 8:30 Thursday night, California time. Please hold a good thought for me — I’m desperately hoping even a few people will come to my reading. It’s awfully hard to draw a crowd when you’re an unknown writer, at a Con where so much cool stuff is going on. And I know none of my usual friends/loyal reading-supporters will be there this year. . . .

Anyway, I’ll take my camera along, and I hope to have a bunch of pictures to post next time.

If anyone wants to take a look at what the convention is all about, here’s the website: http://www.worldfantasy2009.org

And here’s a nice grid they made of what’s happening where at what times:

http://www.worldfantasy2009.org/wp-content/uploads/GridTable.pdf

But anyway. . . . here we are in Hallowe’en week, and I hope everyone has been enjoying the season! One thing I did to celebrate was to rewatch the Buffy Season 2 episode “Halloween” — one of the classics. And I’ve been reading a couple things by the old-time horror writer Arthur Machen, who greatly influenced H.P. Lovecraft. More about that in the future. . . .

But for now, we need a Hallowe’en story, and here’s a true one, courtesy of my dad. This actually happened to him. He told and retold this tale throughout his life. There are no ghost stories like old family ghost stories, because you get to grow up with them; you get to hear them over and over, spanning different ages of your life. You internalize them, as the trees swallow the leaning fences.

When he was a child, the family moved from within the city of Taylorville to an old, two-story farmhouse in the country. It stood alone among the fields, isolated and dark against the sky, far removed from the homes of the nearest neighbors. Such houses still stand today; I’ve seen hundreds of them, lonely patches of human habitation amid the endless acres of whispering grain.

We’re talking about the end of the 1930s. This was an era when electricity was still somewhat tenuous in the countryside, and when they moved in, the power had either not yet been hooked up or not yet turned on. The family used oil-burning lamps for the first stretch of nights in the house. During the sunny Illinois day, they hauled in loads of furniture, clothes, and cookware, placing things as best they could in the rooms where it all belonged.

In the kitchen, they discovered a huge, heavy wooden cupboard that had come with the house, left by the previous owners. It towered from floor almost to ceiling in one corner. My grandma was delighted by its charm and solidity, and she gratefully loaded it up with her best plates and cups to get them out of harm’s way. The rest of the dishes would require more careful sorting. For the time being, they were left in some big metal washtubs set on the table . . . and perhaps in some boxes on the counters, on the floor.

Exhausted by the day of hard work, the family retired to the living room, carrying their flickering lamps. The adults sank into chairs and onto the couch, bone-weary. The children played on the floor in the reddish glow. Beyond the little circle of light, the prairie darkness closed in, filling the empty rooms, covering the fields. It was an era such as we can scarce imagine today, in our neon age, when the world is brightly lit 24/7. It was an age of quietness and impenetrable shadow.

Suddenly, to the shock and horror of all, pandemonium erupted in the black kitchen. There came the sound of the tubs sliding from the table, clanging and ringing on the floor — the sound of dishes shattering, silverware bouncing, glass breaking into shards.

The adults sprang to their feet, hearts pounding. Had some animal found its way into the house? Pans crashed; boxes tumbled; the terrible destruction could only be deliberate. Some vandal — a prowler? As the final blow, there came the shuddering impact of the great cupboard toppling onto the table, smashing its own glass doors and the table’s wooden legs, everything collapsing to the floor. Panes and lattices flew apart. Shelves splintered. Grandma’s best dishes — such as they were in that time when the Depression had been deeply felt — were now junk to be swept away. But why? What? Who. . . .?

Summoning their courage, seizing anything that might be wielded as a weapon, the adults raised their lamps and ventured into the kitchen, eyes wide, faces colorless, breath held. I can picture them as they must have approached that kitchen, a row of sheet-white faces peeping around the door frame at various heights.

As the wicks’ flames pushed back the darkness, the kitchen slowly became visible. And there . . . there in the unfamiliar belly of the ancient house . . . nothing was amiss.

The tubs remained on the table, stacked high with plates. The boxes rested on the counter and on the floor, still intact, still packed. In the shadowy corner, the grandfather of cupboards stood unperturbed, the glass doors secured, the rows of dishes guarded within. No damage at all had been done. There were no TVs, no radios blaring; no other houses nearby, from which a sound might have emerged. Nothing. Just a kitchen in a worn, brooding farmhouse, steeped in silence and memory. If it was a hallucination, then the entire household had the same one at the same time.

It was the first strange incident in the old house, but certainly not the last.

So Happy Hallowe’en to all! If anyone has a ghost story (or any creepy story) to tell us — whether it be true or not — please do so!

And here’s an idea: why doesn’t everyone stop by here on or around Hallowe’en night and tell us how you spent the evening — did you do anything seasonal? I’ll be away that night . . . the blog will be empty, and full of echoes. But that shouldn’t discourage you, on this night of all nights!

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17 Responses to “All Hallows Eve”

  1. Xenorama Says:

    well, it’s not really an experience of ghosts, per se, but I grew up in an old school house that had been converted into a regular type house in the 1950s. being as old as it was, it creaked and groaned all the time. it was a standing joke with my mother and my younger brother Eric and me that any odd noises were the result of the “ghost of the old principal” from the school.
    entire my cousin Ron-Bill in about 1979. he was from Kansas, and came out to visit us every summer for about a year or so (no, really, it was only about a week, but at that time…). at some point the first night he asked us about the noises so Eric told him it was the “ghost” and I backed him up. he apparently didn’t sleep well that night.
    in the morning, he asked my mother, who didn’t know we had been tortur- er, telling him stories, and she innocently confirmed it was the “ghost”, thinking no reasonable kid would believe that malarky.
    apparently he didn’t sleep the following two nights either. finally we told him at some point there were no ghosts in the house and with the aid of a benedryl pill he crashed for 18 hours.
    some might think we set him up like that, but my brother and I weren’t quite that clever.
    David

  2. Marquee Movies Says:

    Boy, David, I feel sorry for your cousin! I picture him going through the rest of his life with dark circles under his eyes….
    Anyway – I’m assuming no one’s posting because Dad’s not home, and they figure they don’t have to do their homework. Well, that may be so – but I don’t want to leave David out here all alone, so I’ll recommend some great scary movies.
    First of all, a story and recommendation for a TV show. Nine years ago, I was dating the woman who would become my wife. Back then, when I told her I was going to be at her house at, say, four, I really tried to be there at four. But once, as I was getting ready to leave to make it to her place at four, the TV happened to be on. And an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was playing. Now, I had already seen the first three episodes, their very first nights when they were on in the Spring of 1997, but because I had missed the next few episodes, I stopped watching, because I HATE watching anything out of order. But I knew the show was amazing just from those first few I saw. Well, this episode, which I was kind of trying not to watch, was SO interesting, SO funny, SO inventive, that I ended up sitting down and watching the whole thing, which ended at 4:30. When I finally got to the girlfriend’s place, I apologized, but in the same breath, went on and on about this AMAZING episode of this GREAT show….she forgave me, of course, and has been forgiving me and sharing great stories with me ever since. The episode in question was the Halloween episode from Season Two, when, because of an evil character in town, all the characters on the show who dressed up in a costume REALLY became what the costume was. The way it was handled was so clever, because many of the characters had to act in a way that was against their true selves – but it may have been revealing their true selves at the same time. It was magnificent fun to watch. So – first recommendation – if you’ve never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, start now. (The movie’s not nearly as good – I saw it opening night, and (I swear this is true), the movie theatre was handing out Buffy the Vampire Slayer band-aids as a gimmick. I still have mine…..somewhere.) If you HAVE seen the show, but haven’t enjoyed it in a while, why not rent the second disc of the second season – the second episode on that disc is the Halloween episode, which is an absolute treat. (Pun intended.)
    OK – a few movies – if you love the shake-you-up-and-down thrill rides like Poltergeist, then rent the brand new Sam Raimi film, Drag Me To Hell. It is a VERY intense film, far more than Poltergeist, but it’s also a film that never lets you forget the movie-ness of it, like Poltergeist. Genuinely scary, but deliriously and delightfully so.
    The Dead Zone – David Cronenberg directs Christopher Walken in this lovely, sad, powerful story.
    Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland – horror for grownups.
    The Devil’s Advocate – VERY dark, VERY fun –
    Some classics –
    Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – fun and scary –
    Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein – just beautiful and tragic.
    Cat People – the lead actress is Simon Simone…..
    And some more, just for fun –
    Little Shop of Horrors (the musical, of course – Suddenly Seymour is one of the greatest performances of a song in film history.)
    Fright Night –
    Arachnophobia –
    Manhattan Murder Mystery – this underseen Woody Allen picture is actually one of his most enjoyable, and there’s not much scary, but it’s all fun, with a few moments of genuine thrill –
    Sleepy Hollow –
    The Thing –
    Interview With A Vampire –
    Christine –
    Halloween – (Still some of the greatest and scariest movie music ever, written and performed by director John Carpenter! Make sure you’re seeing the WIDESCREEN VERSION of this and any film on this list that was made after 1954.)
    The Cell – ALMOST crosses the line of being a little too disturbing, but the imagery is so astounding, it stays on the side of movie-for-movie’s-sake.
    The Shining – again, almost too much – but it’s SO good in so many ways, can’t not mention it.
    OK – I’ll stop – I pray that Fred is having the time of his life, and that he’s making all sorts of connections that will let the world see what we know, which is that he’s a writer ready and waiting to set the world on fire!
    God bless the storytellers, and those who love them.

  3. Xenorama Says:

    i’ve been writing about various scary movies over on my blog (click the link) and am going to watch a great one tomorrow-
    “Curse of the Demon” (AKA “Night of the Demon” in the UK). it’s awesome and scary.

    David

  4. Daylily Says:

    I celebrated a day early (October 30) by attending the Pipe Screams concert in Worcester, MA. Of course, we had the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J.S. Bach. (Remember this from “Fantasia”? It’s even better on an Aeolian-Skinner organ with over 7000 pipes!) “The Ride of the Valkyries” featured two people running around in blond braids and hats with horns. One of them was a guy; he had a pair of cymbals which he clashed at appropriate moments. After the concert, we were invited to tour the organ chamber. They have two keyboards in there, hooked up to some of the pipes. I’ve never played a pipe organ from the inside before!

  5. Marquee Movies Says:

    Daylily, what an interesting experience! What if you had been trapped in there, and had to communicate your needs only through the pipes…..
    Xenorama, I went to your blog – it was fun reading! I remember those Goodtimes videos, they bought so many titles and recorded them at the six hour speed, so they only needed about four feet of tape for each two hour films. That’s how they could sell these movies for 99 cents or whatever. The only Godzilla films I’ve seen are the ones featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which I watch over and over. (Brown Snowflake, I agree wholeheartedly that Joel is and forever will be the host for me.) But Xenorama, I chuckled at your bitter disappointment that that bible of programming, TV Guide, lied to you about the FOUR monsters in Godzilla Vs. the Thing! And yes, I remember the special card they’d put up before showing a special on CBS – it said “A CBS Special Presentation” about five times in a row, each line a different color, and it rotated into position while a drum rat-a-tat-tatted. And good call on one of the reasons why the Charlie Brown cartoons are so effective – the facial expressions are so perfectly realized – very simple yet terrifically well-told stories! Nice blog!

    • Daylily Says:

      Being trapped in such a situation could be truly horrifying for a musician. You see, large numbers of people had availed themselves of the opportunity to tour the organ chamber. People were trying out both keyboards at the same time, playing who knows what. A few minutes of this was okay. Sort of a Charles Ives effect. But I was glad to put some distance between myself and the cacophony of voices and random organ sounds I experienced within the room!

      If it were just one person locked in the chamber, I suppose that he/she could halloo through the organ grille. One can see down into the church from among the pipes. (With pipe organs, the best idea is to allow the pipes to speak as freely as possible and not to muffle them with fabric grille covers.) If the trapped person were unable to halloo, he/she could try playing appropriate music, such as, “Please release me, let me go”! 🙂

      • I love Oct/Nov Says:

        or perhaps “Sing for me, my angel of music!”

      • Marquee Movies Says:

        Ooh, Brown Snowflake – you know, Fred’s previous posting was “Masquerade,” and every time I logged onto it, I heard the faint chorus of “…paper faces on parade…” echoing in my head. In fact, it kind of planted itself in there, on a loop. (Fortunately, I enjoy the musical.) Then (really!), the Sunday night after Fred posted his Masquerade blog, TCM was showing the 1925 masterpiece “The Phantom of the Opera,” starring the brilliant Lon Chaney. As it so happens, the very moment when I happened to turn the channel on was when the Phantom descends the staircase during the party given to celebrate the reopening of the Opera House after the Phantom brought the chandelier crashing to the ground. The sequence is startling to see, because the entire scene was filmed with the then VERY rare technicolor process, and it is still terribly beautiful and unnerving to see. In the Webber musical, the song that is played during that scene? “Masquerade, paper faces on parade….” How about that? What a great movie! (And a fun musical, too. Thanks Daylily and Brown Snowflake!)

  6. I love Oct/Nov Says:

    Mr. Movies — I, too, had to restrain myself from commenting on Masquerade! ha ha.
    I love the Lon Chaney Phantom and have seen the Webber production twice on the stage, once in Chicago and once in Des Moines. (I know Webber is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Phantom and Superstar rate highly with me).
    What is so eerie is that just the other day (Oct. 29 to be precise) I watched my DVD copy of the movie (with Gerard Butler) with a friend who had never seen it. She enjoyed it nearly as much as I did/do. I particularly enjoy the stark use of color in the production, especially the sharp contrast between Christine’s alabaster white and the beautiful sable of the phantom when they first meet. I could go on and on …
    Shieldmaiden, do I correctly recall that you are a big Phantom fan, or am I mistaken?

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      Brown Snowflake: You are not mistaken, I love Phantom. The soundtrack kills me. I used to drive a lot for one of my jobs and I kept the cassette in my car, I never got tired of listening to it. My husband and I recently watched a program on the making of Phantom, it might have been an anniversary or something like that… it has me wanting to see it again for sure!

  7. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I am almost sure a new post is about to go up. It usually takes me that long to get around to leaving a comment on the last one. I don’t have any good ghost or creepy stories to tell you and scary movies freak me out completely! I’m no help in recommending any, but have sure enjoyed reading about them on your list Marquee Movies and on your blog David (also, your story about the ghost-principal was hilarious!). I tried to stop by here on Halloween, but let my kids stay up till midnight and I never made it to the blog that night. I’m hoping it’s still considered around Halloween, and not too late to tell you how we spent the evening.

    My 12 year old son was Zorro, he made his own costume (except for the mask, which I made) and he looked fabulous! My 5 year old daughter was a witch. She looked more like a princess in a pointy hat, but she insisted she was a bad witch and she laughed an evil cackle for everyone who put some candy into her bag. They both brought home a pillowcase full of sugary booty. We carved our jack-o’-lantern on Halloween night (the five year old did most of the scooping and she picked out all the seeds so they could dry). We lit and set the huge wrinkly pumpkin named Harold in front of our door, where he continues to smile his toothless smile.

    We actually weren’t very into Halloween until we moved to Pennsylvania two years ago. The kids always dressed up and passed out candy, and we always had a kids Halloween party; bobbing for apples and playing all kinds of games (which was terribly fun) but Halloween never felt magical or like I remembered it as a child. Now we live in a little town without sidewalks or street lights, surrounded by corn fields. And here, Main Street in October is something that looks like it jumped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. There is only one strange rule here; you go trick-or-treating on the Thursday before Halloween. I know it is odd, but it works out well, the rule was made to protect children from cars. The entire county does it, so you kind of get two Halloweens every year. And since our trick-or treating was finished, this was how we spent the 31st.

    Although most people wouldn’t think of The Wizard of Oz as a Halloween movie, it worked perfectly for us. Marquee Movies asked if I would let him know when we had our home movie-night after the tickets sold out for the 70th anniversary showing. So here you go: After dinner I went through all the kids’ candy, picking out all of the movie theatre kinds. I found the little boxes of Milk Duds and Jr. Mints and some small bags of Twizzlers, Skittles, and M&Ms. It was unbelievably cool! Then I popped a ton of popcorn! We turned the living room into a movie theatre; pushed the couch up closer to the T.V. so it would feel like a big screen, turned out every light, and hit play. At one point I heard my son (who had begun to protest the idea on the grounds that it was a kids movie) whisper, “Ah, this is the life.” And it was! All the way through it we (even the 12 year old) quoted all the lines and laughed and sang the songs together. The kids ate more candy than they ever have in their lives… pretty much a perfect night!

    The next day we roasted the seeds and made a pumpkin pie. Hope you all had a WONDERFUL pumpkin day!

  8. fsdthreshold Says:

    I am completely loving all your comments, everyone! And, Shieldmaiden, you are so right that a new post is about to go up! An account of the convention is coming very soon. I just need a day or two to collect myself. I had to jump right back into teaching the day after I got back, and I have a ton of papers to correct this week/weekend . . . but a new post is coming!

    Thank you all for celebrating Hallowe’en here, and so eloquently, even though the blog was a quiet place on Hallowe’en!

    Very soon!

  9. Marquee Movies Says:

    Goodness gracious, lands sakes alive, Shieldmaiden, that was SUCH a cool way to celebrate Halloween! I agree with your son – This IS the life! That sounds so cool, with the assorted movie candy (provided for free by the neighbors!), all that popcorn, and the couch pushed up close – THAT’S the way to do movie night! Your description made me very happy, as that’s what the greatest movies do – bring families and friends together, so they can share a lovely waking dream together. Oh, and if I had been giving out candy, and heard your five year old give a nasty cackle after receiving candy, I would have laughed merrily myself, and insisted on giving her more candy. What a wonderful memory you’ve created for your children – thanks so much for sharing it! (By the way, the wife and I have been happily revisiting our Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD’s, and we have found that turning off every light in the house before watching makes the episode so much more thrilling, and emotional, and all that jazz.
    Two movies I’m irked I didn’t mention before – Meet Me In St. Louis, which has a FASCINATING look at how little kids celebrated Halloween a hundred years ago, and also Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire flick that Fred’s been talking about for several months now. Now remember everyone – keep your hand at the level of your eyes!

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      OMGness Marquee Movies, I totally meant to mention Meet Me In St. Louis but when I wrote about things I do on and around Halloween my comment was already too long, so I didn’t. Most people probably think of it as a Christmas movie but I always watch it in late October… it really is like a Halloween time capsule! Thanks for bringing it up Mr. Movies!

      OK. So sooo many people have talked about Buffy that I think I have to rent the seasons and watch them. And I want to ask those who have seen Let The Right One In just HOW unnerving is it? Like on a scale from zero to scary where does it hit?

      • Marquee Movies Says:

        Meet Me In St. Louis is a movie masterpiece, the closest thing we’ll ever have to a time machine to the Midwest in the early twentieth century. Don’t get me started on how ground-breaking the film is, either – it’s the movie that showed audiences and other filmmakers that the music could spring organically out of the story – instead of stopping the story to do a song, then going on with the story. Also, the songs are NOT set on a stage, or performed by stage people – just average youngsters in an average setting. Stop me! OK – Shieldmaiden, I am totally jealous that you have 7 glorious seasons of Buffy ahead of you. PLEASE start with season one, episode one, and go in order. These characters are so wonderful – I’m excited for you. Fred and I had a professor in college (Dr. Henry Lettermann) who was an absolute favorite of ours. One of the most beautiful things he ever said was that he had a friend who, whenever anyone would ask him what his one wish in life would be, he’d say, “I would love to be able to read Romeo and Juliet again for the first time.” So jump in, and enjoy Buffy. You will love these characters, the storytelling, all of it. As for “Let The Right One In” – if, as you’ve said, you’re not much for scary movies, I might steer clear of this one. It’s beautiful, but it has disturbing images – it’s tragic, even romantic, but intermingled with the love is much death.
        P.S. Sally Benson, who WROTE the true life stories that Meet Me In St. Louis is based on was THERE on the set, so they could ask her, Were the tables set like this? Did the curtains look like that? Also, in the song The Boy Next Door, when Judy sings, “Even though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue, and he lives at 5133….” That was their actual address in St. Lous. Sally Benson’s real life counterpart is Agnes, the second youngest girl, who goes out on Halloween night with Tootie. STOP ME!

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        I totally agree that you have to watch Buffy, in order — I’ll say flat out that it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen on television, and there have been some great things. It’s a life-changing show.

        And I think Marquee Movies said it best about Let the Right One In. It’s certainly not for young children, and it is pretty dark. It didn’t bother me at all, but remember, I don’t think Jaws is a horror movie, and I’m constantly amazed when people say Dragonfly is scary. But at Gabe’s recommendation, I did just order the novel of Let the Right One In, on which the film is based.

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