31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 29: What is it about clowns?

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pennywise

I’ve never liked clowns, but wasn’t actively afraid of them. As a kid I watched Denver Channel Two’s kids’ show, Blinky the Clown, and didn’t particularly like him. I always had the feeling he wasn’t crazy about kids. I remember his honey-dripping voice when he talked about birthdays, and he was frequently shown visiting kids in hospitals, so I’m sure he was a wonderful guy. But he was a clown. He had makeup all over his face and you couldn’t read his emotions because of it.

The clowns at the circus jumped around a lot, filling up cars, tumbling over each other like maniacs. Little prig that I was, I couldn’t figure out why what they were doing was supposed to be funny.

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As you can probably tell from the pictures here, I underwent a change in attitude toward clowns thanks to reading/seeing some highly disturbing stories about them. And I’m not alone. Many adults dislike clowns now. Just the other day I read an alert about clowns being chased out of neighborhoods. My first response to that was, What the hell are clowns doing in neighborhoods?

For me, the drawback to clowns is the same I felt as a kid: you can’t assess their intent because they hide themselves behind makeup and costumes. Call me paranoid, but that’s a deal-breaker.

I’ve attached a link to an interesting article from The Washington Post titled “Why Clowns Creep Us Out.” Author Frank T. McAndrew, psychologist, gives plenty of reasons why those of us who are creeped out by clowns can make our cases for it. The portion about “The Phantom Clown Theory” is especially interesting.

https://www.google.com/search?q=Why+Clowns+Creep+Us+Out&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 Frank T. McAndrew

Have you ever noticed how few children have clown costumes for trick-or-treating? They know what they know.

To enter the amazing drawing to be held on Halloween, comment on this post. The prize will be signed copies of the Wisdom Court novels: Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 28:Halloween Blog Hop from CR Richards

Halloween Blog Hop – Oct 28th

Today’s post comes from author extraordinaire CR Richards. with thanks.

My Favorite HAUNTS

Once a year, I take a trip to some place I’ve never been. I usually spend the day sightseeing or lounging at a day spa. The nights I save for my favorite hobby – Ghosts! In the Spirit of Halloween, I’ve listed my favorite Haunts.

Old Alexandria, VA

 Do yourself a favor and visit King Street. The shopping is phenomenal and the food is scrumptious! Then take a walk to the Alexandria Visitor’s Center. It’s here you’ll begin the ghost tour. Get ready for a spooky walk by lantern light. Your guides are dressed in their best Colonial garb and are ready to spin tales of betrayal and tragic death.

New Orleans, LA

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – Photo by C.R. Richards

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What can I say about the Big Easy? Death has been a part of its history from the beginning. I think that’s why there is so much celebration of life, music and food. Way too many tours to pick from in New Orleans. I like the French Quarter (Bourbon Street and the famous cemeteries). Be prepared to practice “Safe Tourism” though. Walking around at night on your own is not encouraged.

Santa Fe, NMloretto

The Loretto Chapel: Beware of ghostly nuns – Photo by C.R. Richards

Santa Fe is an eclectic town full of historical sites and amazing art. I went there for some healing time, but soon found I’d chosen a haunted hotel! Julia Staab, original and eternal owner of La Posada, is said to wander the rooms making certain her guests are comfortable. I made sure to spend time in the Rose Room (dedicated to Julia) where tales of a spectral torso is supposed to float.

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San Antonio, TX

 

Zombie by the Alamo – Photo by C.R. Richards

And now for my favorite! San Antonio has it all. The River Walk. Mexican food. Music. Mexican food. And tons of ghosts. Treat yourself to a stay at the Menger Hotel. It’s right across the street from the Alamo. The last two times I’ve attended a writer’s conference in the hotel, the group and I have experience paranormal occurrences. Locked windows opening on their own. People being touched on the stairs. Dark spots in the elevator and halls. Love it!

These are my favorites so far. I have plans for more ghost tours in the near future.

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Denver Botanic Gardens
  • Tombstone

Happy Haunting on your own adventures and Happy Halloween!

My Latest Release

thelordsofvaldeon_cover

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About the Author

A huge lover of horror and dark fantasy stories, C. R. Richards enjoys telling tales of intrigue and adventure. Having began writing as a part-time columnist for a small entertainment newspaper, Richards has worn several hats: food critic, entertainment reviewer and cranky editor. She has now published a handful of novels, including Phantom Harvest – book one in The Mutant Casebook Series – which took home the EPIC eBook Award for Fantasy in 2014. Richards beat out entries from the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and other English speaking countries.

Her most recent literary projects include the horror short story, Lost Man’s Parish and the newly-released dark fantasy thriller, Pariah. She is an active member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Horror Writers Association.

In January, Richards releases her epic fantasy novel The Lords of Valdeon, the first installment in the Heart of the Warrior series. Through her storytelling, Richards aims to reach lovers of fantasy who are exploring alternatives to the traditional status quo. Her message is simple: One person can be a catalyst for change.

Author Website – CRRichards.com    

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorcrrichards/

Twitter – @CR_Richards

richards-bio

Author Website – CRRichards.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorcrrichards/

Twitter – @CR_Richards

Many thanks to CR Richards for her blog post today. Remember, to enter the Halloween drawing, comment on this post. The prize is signed copies of the Wisdom Court Novels: Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 27: All Hallows…

Halloween

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows                death-sm

by Jack Santino

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons–all part of the dark and dread.

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.

As a result of their efforts to wipe out “pagan” holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.

In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John’s Day was set on the summer solstice.

Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion’s supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.

The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches.

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions.

The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day–a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.

All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en–an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year’s Day in contemporary dress.

Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called “Allison Gross” tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch’s spell on Halloween.

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower
the ugliest witch int he North Country…
She’s turned me into an ugly worm
and gard me toddle around a tree…                              997995-097

But as it fell out last Hallow even
When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,
the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank
Not far from the tree where I wont to lie…
She’s change me again to my own proper shape
And I no more toddle about the tree.

In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went “a’ soulin'” for these “soul cakes.” Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day.

Today Halloween is becoming once again an adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o’lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.

September 1982; updated 2009

reprinted from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center

Enter the  10/31 drawing for a signed copy of the three Wisdom Court Books: Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff; October 26:The Lost Boys

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lostboy3Adolescence is bad enough…and when you add vampires? All hell breaks loose.

lostboy1

Brothers Michael and Sam move with their mother to a little town in northern California. Everything seems cool until, little by little, it becomes obvious that vampires are lunching off some of the teens who hang out at the boardwalk.

Kiefer Sutherland is their leader and he can feel the alpha waves emanating from Michael. And the girl Star is so pretty. It’s going to get ugly, and spooky, too.

lostboy2

Dance to the music a little bit. Then enter the Halloween drawing to win signed copies of the Wisdom Court books.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 25: They’re coming to take us away…

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,

…and not to the funny farm. To the place where broken, coughing bodies await release.

historythingscom

They say we’ll get better here, but I have my doubts.

[historythings.com]

norwichstatehospitalbyalicehughes

Room 745? Are you sure?

When are visiting hours? What do you mean, what visitors?

[dailymail.co.uk]

Stay away from the germs…

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To enter the Halloween drawing, post a comment. You’ll be notified if your name has been chosen. The prize: the Wisdom Court books, signed.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 24: Owls and Superstition

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 Today I am reprinting a post by Rose Smith, appearing in The Aviary at Owls.com.

Owls and Superstition.

Superstitions surrounding owls have a long and ancient history. These nocturnal creatures often appear in horror mystery films, have been associated with dark, haunting night themes, and grace our Halloween decor each fall. Their wide staring eyes give them a wise appearance, while the ability to turn their head around makes them fascinating and mysterious creatures. Tufts of feathers on the top of an owl’s head gives them the appearance of horned devils and their piercing cries add to the spook effect found in the ancient folklore of many countries.

Robert Strickland, The Owl Pages

Robert Strickland, The Owl Pages

In many cultures owls were symbols of magic. In England, it was believed that if you cooked an owl’s eggs until they were ash, it could be used as a potion to improve eyesight. In India, if you ate an owl’s eyes you would get the same result.Witches were often linked to owls. One Greek & Roman superstition believed that witches could turn themselves into an owl and then they would swoop down and suck the blood of babies. Other superstitions related to witches and owls were: that the owls were messengers for sorcerers and witches, that they danced together on the graves of the dead and that if you hear the hoot of an owl, then a witch approaches.

In today’s world, we have learned that most of these owl superstitions are just stories, born in a time when people were fearful and trying to find answers to their lives and environment. However, many of these legends survived over time. Here are some other interesting and somewhat strange superstitions that are linked to owls.

  • An owl hooting or screeching at night could result in the death of a newborn baby, will cause the child to have an unhappy life, or possibly that the baby would become a witch. If the owl was heard screeching during cold weather it signaled that a storm was coming.
  • Owls apparently are the only creatures that can live with ghosts, so if an owl is found nesting in an abandoned house, the place must be haunted.
  • Death is often associated with owls such as if: an owl perches on the roof of your house or hearing an owl hooting constantly nearby.
  • If a traveler dreamed of an owl, then that meant he would be robbed or possibly shipwrecked.
  • A silly owl superstition is that if you see an owl perched in a tree and you walk around and around that tree, the owl will follow you with it’s eyes, turning his head around until he wrings his own neck. (The reality is that an owl cannot turn his head completely around).
  • Not all superstitions were bad. Owls were also believed to bring good fortune in some cultures. An Afghanistan legend states that it was the owl that presented humans with flint and iron so they could make fire. In exchange, man gave owls their feathers.
  • The Aborigines of Australia believe that owls are the spirits of women and are therefore sacred, while in Brittany is was a good sign to see an owl on the way to the harvest as it meant that it would be a good yield that year.
  • The owl is a symbol of guidance and help by the Inuits of Greenland, while the people of Indonesia saw them as wise beings using the owl’s different calls to determine whether to travel or not.

There are many, many more legends concerning the owl. The reality is that owls are very helpful to us as they are excellent at pest control, especially Barred Owls. They control the population of mice, voles, moles, rats, skunks, snakes, insects and slugs to name a few. So this Halloween, put together an owl superstition trivia sheet for the guests at your Halloween party and add a friendly wise old owl to your decor. It’s the perfect “night watchman”.

Laura C. Williams, The Owl Pages

Laura C. Williams, The Owl Pages

About the author: (c) 2005. Rose Smith is the owner of HalloweenHowl.com a website filled with Halloween party ideas, costumes, decorations, games, graphics, crafts and more. It’s Halloween fun for all ages! Come visit us at: http://www.halloweenhowl.com


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comment on this post.


31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 23: Pestilence has descended over the house…

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halloween-pumpkins-pdThe ongoing respiratory junk I’ve been fighting has gone nuclear. I now sound like an out-of-work air raid siren and am coughing billions of germs throughout the house. Of course, the rest of the family is doing so as well. Pestilence has become the way of the world. So today I’m posting  pictures for you to peruse while I continue to get caught up with the coughing I’ve suppressed to write these deathless words. Gack.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is another day.

book-of-souls-pd

from the El Paso County website

To enter the drawing on Halloween, comment on this post. The prize is a signed copy of the Wisdom Court novels: Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time

 

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 22: Werewolves a deux…

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,

were1I first saw The Wolf Man as a kid, watching it on one of Denver’s TV channels, probably presented as a “Fright Night” special. The story is basic, about a man newly returned  to his British home, at odds with his father, the lord of the manor. Lon Chaney, Jr., son of silent movie acting sensation, Lon Chaney, plays the son, Larry Talbot, as a sad outsider who soon falls victim to a nasty malady in the county: a werewolf bites him and thereafter he is forced to terrorize the area each month in search of blood. He searches for information–from the doctor, from the villagers, including the old Romani woman who finally tells him the truth. He is now a werewolf and there is no cure but death. His personal horror at what he’s become is what I best recalled  from my early viewing of the film. He fights to avoid hurting anyone, particularly the young woman who’s interested in him. He can’t connect with his father, leaving him alone with his terrible secret. It was that existential loneliness I remembered, heightened by its being filmed in black and white. Though the special effects were low-tech, the movie continues to have an emotional impact on me to this day.

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In the eighties, another werewolf movie was hot and happening: An American Werewolf in London. Two American students are backpacking across England, stopping at a Yorkshire pub for a pint. When they ask about the pentagram on the pub’s wall, the pub customers become hostile and the two leave. Warned to stay on the path across the moors, they are attacked by what appears to be a wild dog, and one of the boys is killed, the other mauled before the creature is shot. Of course, the wounded man is now a werewolf and will transform at the next full moon. Despite warnings from the shade of his dead friend, he ignores the danger. And when the full moon rises, he ends up killing six people.

Directed by John Landis, the film’s colors were garish and its special effects brilliant, especially the makeup by Kenny Baker, particularly in the transformation of the bitten man from human to werewolf. That sequence was almost nauseating in showing the biological details and the pain such a change would require. That was the most horrific thing about the story for me, the gag-inducing reaction to the sheer physicality of the process.

were5So, emotional horror as opposed to physical horror…There’s a place for both, no doubt, but I was struck, as I compared the two films, at how much more affected I was by the old black and white movie over the shiny, bloody one. I’m sure it says something about my esthetic state, but I’m damned if I know what. Both films are worth watching, especially during the month of Halloween.were3

 

Enter the Halloween drawing by commenting on the post. The prize: a signed copy of the Wisdom Court books, Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time.

31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 21: Halloween Jack

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This is a wonderful Halloween post from Christine Valentor at witchlike.wordpress.com Enjoy!

Halloween Jack

halloween-jack

I first met the Devil in a pub called the Boar’s Head on Old Cork road.  The night, as I recall, was all hallows eve.  Having spent my last farthing on ale I tried to barter the barkeep for  one last drink.  My mouth watered but he refused me.  “Go on home boy,” he ordered. “Get you a good night’s sleep. Come the morrow all the world will be brighter.”

He was wrong. My world was darkness. I had no intention of retreating home to my bare and filthy hovel where paint peeled off the walls, rats basked in the waste bins and I had drained every ounce of my whiskey bottles dry. I knew not where I’d wander, yet the barkeep bid me leave.  And so it was to my great fortune that before exiting through the pub’s swinging door I encountered Lucifer himself.

undead 2 pd

There he stood, hands crossed at his chest, a blithe smile on his face. He was oddly graceful, a strange dignity about him.

“Your days are numbered Jack,” he told me. “A life of thieving, gambling, drinking and whoring. What have you to show for yourself?  Well now. It seems time has expired and I’ve come to take you to the iron gates.”

The Devil. He may think himself wise, but I, Sneaky Jack Skrumpington, was much wiser!

“You don’t look like the Devil to me,” I challenged. “If you are true, then prove it. Change yourself into a shilling!”   One shilling, I reasoned, would buy me a fresh pitcher of ale.

Lucifer scowled. He laughed at my challenge, and yet, he could not resist a good dare. In an instant he transformed himself into a shiny silver coin which I did not hesitate to snatch. I quickly hid it in my pocket, right next to my rosary’s shiny cross.

rosary-pd

Everyone knows the Devil cannot abide a cross. He was thus under my spell. Yet I was not entirely unmerciful. I  made a bargain with him. In exchange for his freedom he would give me the sum of one million ducats and another ten  years to live upon this earth.  He agreed. After all, he had no choice.

During my next ten years I lived a life of decadence.  I dined at the finest of inns, drank wine under crystal chandeliers. I slept in silk sheets upon feathered beds, beautiful women accompanying me at every turn.  I spent much of my time gaming, cheating and winning, caring not a fig for those I left in debt.  I steadily increased my ever growing fortune.

gambling-pd

Finally it all came to an end.

It was upon all hallows eve, ten years later when the Devil returned to claim my soul. He found me sprawled beneath an apple tree, sleeping off a long drunk.

“Skrumpington!” he barked. “Your time has expired.”  His lips formed a wide smile, green teeth reflecting the light of the moon. Although he attempted his best of horrifying theatrics, commanding streaks of lightning across the sky and claps of thunder, he did not scare me. I knew better.

“Lucifer,” I pleaded, kneeling before him. “Can you not give a damned man one last request? Do it!  Do it, so you prove yourself a creature of mercy, not the evil demon they paint you!  Do it, so you prove yourself a being of justice, not the slithering snake they claim.  Forget not, Lucifer,  you were once a son of light!”

He stared at me. This remark had struck a chord.  I moved my face close to his. “Aye,” I whispered in his hairy ear. “Once, dear Lucifer, you sat at the right hand of the Father. You were his favorite, were you not?  The brightest star of the heavens, Luz the light. Oh, but  that was long before your great sin of pride, wasn’t it? You banished yourself from the heavens, fell from grace into your own lonely cavern of hell. Surely you remember?”

I stroked his neck, moved my hand across the small of his back.  He quivered at my touch.  “Show me now you have not lost all your goodness,” I urged.  “Grant  me but one last request.” I moved my lips to his cheek, kissed him gently and tasted the salt of a single tear that fell from his eye.

He nodded, for even the Devil had some shred of decency.  Besides, he knew a pacified soul would be more useful to him. He clutched my hand.  “What then would you have from me Jack Skrumpington?” he asked.

“Only a simple apple,” I answered. “Ripe and sweet, picked from this very tree.” I pointed to the top bough, heavy with fruit.

apple public domain

Lucifer nodded and like a lizard he shimmied up the bark, entrenching himself between the branches. He reached up to pick the largest, reddest apple the tree bore.

I wasted no time! In one instant I pulled my knife from its scabbard. Quickly I carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. Lucifer’s eyes widened in terror. He was now stuck on the branch of the tree, unable to descend, for everyone knows the Devil can never approach a cross.

I grinned up at him. He spat down on me. “Skrumpington,” he hissed. “You have deceived me again!”

“I will release you,” I said. “If you make me but one single promise.”

His body writhed and wrinkled, now blending into the wood of the tree. He wheezed, struggling to breathe as the tree’s tentacles closed in around him. His eyes were frightened and white. A knot in the bark swallowed him whole, then spit him out again and he hung like a folded fish on the branch.

“Very well Skrumpington!” he gasped. “What bid you this time?”

“This time…” I sighed a sigh of deep satisfaction, strolled grandly in a circle, watching him the whole time.  “This time you shall agree to never take my immortal soul, regardless of whatsoever evil deeds I may perform.”

He nodded slowly.

“Swear it!” I commanded.

“I swear it, Jack Skrumpington. I will never take your immortal soul.”

He was a defeated thing, weak and gray, his body now sliding like a stretched lump of clay . I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

For what remained of my life I continued my ways of debauchery, drinking and whoring myself  into an inevitable grave.  I was a liar, a user and a sycophant. I frequented gambling dens and houses of ill repute.  I lived only for myself and my own gain. It would later be said of me “Jack Scrumpington  never once performed a selfless act nor did any kindness toward his fellow man.”

Yet time waits for no one and even I was not immune. My body grew old.  My back bent, my bones ached with arthritis. Finally my unbridled whoring caught up with me and the syphilis pox set in.  My hands shook.  My walk became a staggered, struggling gait.  My penis withered like a crumpled twig.  My liver became diseased, bloated with cirrhosis, swollen from years of hard liquor. Yellow jaundice enmeshed my flesh.  Death, when it finally came, was a mercy.

I then found myself at the gates of Saint Peter.

pearlygates-pd

The Saint shuffled his feet, looked at me and  shook his head. “Can’t take you Jack,” he said sadly, “for never in your life have you performed a single selfless act. Not once have you done any kindness toward your fellow man.” Peter leafed through his book of souls, double checking as if there might be a chance he would still find my name.  But no. He closed the book.  “Sorry Jack.” He shrugged.  “Not once.” He caught my eye with a look of genuine sympathy as he locked the white pearl of the deadbolt.

book-of-souls-pd

The wind gusted. I felt a chill up my spine. Winter was coming and it would be a long, merciless one.  Ice formed on the pavement beneath me.  I wore only the sack cloth I had been buried in.  My teeth chattered.

What to do?  What to do?  I’d go to the Devil! Of course I would!  At the very least, it should be warm in hell. Yes, it would be an eternity of misery, the lake of fire, but I’d embrace it, punishment for the damage I’d done in my waking life.

Lucifer peered through the gray mist that surrounded his iron gate. Upon recognizing me, he furrowed his brow and shook his head. “Oh no,” he said. “I’ve no want for you here, Jack Scrumpington.  I promised I’d never take your immortal soul and I’ll not take it. A promise is a promise.” He clasped his hands together and bowed his head.  “I may be a lot of – er – unsavory things.  But Lucifer Luz is a man of his word!” He stomped a foot and pounded his own chest.

Not fit for heaven, not welcome in hell.  I was the lowest of souls, left to wander on the brink of nothingness. I turned away from Lucifer’s gate. The thick mist clouded my eyes. I stumbled like a blind man. The night was black as pitch. I could see not one outline, not one shadow.

Just then I felt Lucifer’s warm touch upon my shoulder.

dark 9

“You’ll need something to light your way,” he said, not unkindly.  He then handed me a hollowed out pumpkin.  A lone candle burned at its base, blackening the inside rind.

“Take this lantern, Jack,” the Devil said. “May it guide you through the darkness.” He then handed me a knife.  “You may want to carve some designs in it. Allow extra light.”

It was an act of unmerited kindness, considering what I’d done to him.

In that moment I felt guilt for the first time. I was sorry I had treated him so badly.  I realized my skewed values.   But alas, it was by then, too late.

With Lucifer’s knife I carved a face in the pumpkin, triangle eyes and nose, even a smiling toothless mouth.

From that day on I was left to wander through the land of spirit. I am usually unseen but sometimes, upon all hallows eve you might find me. It is then the veils are lifted and humankind may enter our realms. Look for me in the alleyways, in your dark streets of trick-or-treaters.  I am the ghostly figure who carries a lone pumpkin of candle light to brighten my sad path.

They call me Jack of the Lantern.

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I first met the Devil in a pub called the Boar’s Head on Old Cork road.  The night, as I recall, was all hallows eve.  Having spent my last farthing on ale I tried to barter the barkeep for  one last drink.  My mouth watered but he refused me.  “Go on home boy,” he ordered. “Get you a good night’s sleep. Come the morrow all the world will be brighter.”

He was wrong. My world was darkness. I had no intention of retreating home to my bare and filthy hovel where paint peeled off the walls, rats basked in the waste bins and I had drained every ounce of my whiskey bottles dry. I knew not where I’d wander, yet the barkeep bid me leave.  And so it was to my great fortune that before exiting through the pub’s swinging door I encountered Lucifer himself.

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There he stood, hands crossed…

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31 Days of Spooky Stuff, October 20: The Night of the Hunter

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This 1955 film is a strange, nightmarish depiction of evil loose in the land. As the Criterion Collection describes it,

The Night of the Hunter—incredibly, the only film the great actor Charles Laughton ever directed—is truly a stand-alone masterwork. A horror movie with qualities of a Grimm fairy tale, it stars a sublimely sinister Robert Mitchum as a traveling preacher named Harry Powell (he of the tattooed knuckles), whose nefarious motives for marrying a fragile widow, played by Shelley Winters, are uncovered by her terrified young children. Graced by images of eerie beauty and a sneaky sense of humor, this ethereal, expressionistic American classic—also featuring the contributions of actress Lillian Gish and writer James Agee—is cinema’s most eccentric rendering of the battle between good and evil.

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I first saw this film at the recommendation of a friend who’d seen it decades earlier, and who shivered when she told me about it. The memory of it still scared her after all those years. While I watched it, my critical side noticed the slow pacing and wondered at some of the artificial-looking sets, but as the story deepened, the film took on the quality of a dream. The children couldn’t run fast enough to escape the evil man pursuing them. No matter what they did, he was still close behind them. The shadows darkened, my heart beat faster, and I couldn’t tell how the horror would end.

The Night of the Hunter is a spooky movie and I hope you like it.

(I’m including a link to Roger Ebert’s review of The Night of the Hunter because I always liked his film criticism, and because I miss his work.)

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-night-of-the-hunter-1955

Comment to enter the drawing for a signed copy of each of my Wisdom Court books: Edge of the Shadow; A Signal Shown; All In Bad Time. The drawing will occur on October 31.