Ooh, it’s my absolute favourite time of year again. I love it. End of September and into October, Autumn (or as my American friends call it: Fall).
“Yeah, me too,” I hear you say. “The nights pull in, the leaves turn all sorts of glorious colours before taking their final descent to a frost-kissed floor and early morning mist hangs around the hills like an ethereal spirit.” Er, no. *screeches to an abrupt halt*
(Well, yes, obviously, but not on this occasion.)
No, those aren’t the reasons that I love this time of year. I love it because I LOVE being scared. I actually like being frightened.
Whaaa? Yup, it’s true. Love it! Well, in small doses at least. I will always remember that feeling as a child when a teacher or relative told a spooky story. When you started painting and drawing scary pictures at school and planned your Halloween costume. For us, it was always the same. A black bin liner each, a tube of foil, some glue and a turnip. I think we may have depleted my ma’s talc and flour stocks too in order to make our faces deathly white; wonderful memories. We would sit for hours cutting out moons and stars and sticking them on our costumes, arguing over who was having the largest swede/turnip (obviously, it should have been me, because I’m the oldest) and begging my parents to let us go out on our own. In those days, you could – not so much now, but a host of fabulous memories that I will treasure forever. It was probably also the time that I realised I was a bit strange.
When all the other kids were crying because an over-enthusiastic dad had answered the door without a head, I used to wish that the night would last forever. I would retire to bed from a fruitful night of Trick-or-Treating, armed with sweets that had probably been hiding in the back of our neighbour’s cupboards since the Christmas before and a carrier bag full of small change, tired, with hair still spiked from a concoction of sugar and water and a smile on my face. Waiting, patiently in the shadows for the witching hour. Hardly daring to breath, wondering what would happen when midnight came. Would I see a witch whizzing past on her broom or hear the sound of a useless limb being dragged across the roof as the undead walked the earth? Hear the cry of hell-dogs braying at a full moon whilst cats stole breath from sleeping children and turned all the grown-ups into pumpkins? Well, as you can probably guess, none of that ever happened, but I felt like it might and that is the magic of Halloween. Enjoy.
Following over the next few days are some brilliant stories or posts that I thought you might like. Happy Halloween. And just remember, that stooped, hairy-faced witch with the fake wart that you thought was your Aunty Irene dressing up after too many sherries, might just not be all as she seems. 😉
First up is the wickedly funny, Nick Spalding:
The perils of trick or treating & How to alienate a million Twilight fans
At this happy time of year I’m reminded of an embarrassing episode in my childhood when I went trick or treating dressed as a Knight Of The Round Table. I was going through a stage of loving everything related to King Arthur, so the idea of sallying forth in my own set of armour delighted me immensely.
Lacking the skills or materials of the average thirteenth century blacksmith I spent the best part of a month putting together the costume, which was entirely made out of cardboard. Hours were spent slaving over the design. Further hours were spent cutting out breastplates, greaves and helmet. Weeks were spent trying to clean the cat after it got in the way of me covering the entire ensemble with grey spray paint. When it was finished the costume was a monstrosity of such epic proportions I could barely lift the bloody thing. If the real knights had to walk around in this kind of stuff it’s a wonder they ever had the energy to anything chivalrous like saving damsels in distress from belligerent dragons.
Nevertheless, off I tottered into the gloomy late October evening in my multi-piece armour, ready and willing to liberate everybody I could find of their sugary confectionary.
At home, stood in a heated lounge, the armour had felt uncomfortably warm. I’d therefore decided it was best to wear nothing underneath other than my vest, pants, socks and trainers. I hadn’t factored in the biting British autumn wind and rain outside, of course.
Surprisingly, it turns out cardboard is not good at fending off the elements. By seven thirty I was blue with cold and half the costume had fallen off with a wet plop. Local residents were somewhat taken aback to open their doors to a hypothermic ten year old in a pair of Batman underpants and soaking wet cardboard helmet, streaks of grey paint running down his shivering arms and a look on his face that suggested an imminent slide into soul-destroying madness.
By the end of the evening I’d bagged a good haul of sweets, but I suspect most were obtained largely out of pity.
To celebrate Halloween this year, rather than dressing up and embarrassing myself in front of the neighbours (I’ll save that for Christmas) I’ve released a new horror short story to Amazon and Smashwords.
In what can cheerfully be described as a blatant attempt to appeal to readers of a popular genre, this one is all about vampires.
Proper vampires, mind… ones that are big, nasty and don’t fall in love teenage girls at the drop of a sodding hat.
In fact, that’s the gist of the whole story really:
FEEDBACK – A VAMPIRE STORY
Be careful who you write about…
Keating the vampire used to love the stories that humans would write about his species. They had endlessly amused him – and allowed him to operate safe in the knowledge nobody believed he existed.
Madeline De Martine had changed all that though.
From terrifying, bloodthirsty creatures of the night… to maudlin, effeminate idiots obsessed with pubescent American girls, De Martine’s blockbuster romances had irrevocably ruined the image of the vampire as far as Keating was concerned.
So tonight he’s paying the multi-millionaire writer a visit, to offer some constructive feedback and show her the error of her ways…
I got the idea from a conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago. He’d made a valiant, but ultimately doomed attempt to watch Twilight, finally giving up right around the time R Patts started to twinkle majestically in the sunlight, making that miserable looking girl with the bug eyes go all gooey and misty-eyed.
Having spent a good twenty minutes bemoaning the way in which vampires are treated these days, I wondered aloud what a ‘real’ vampire would make of it all… and lo and behold the idea for a story was born.
I would apologise to Stephenie Meyer at this point, but she probably wouldn’t be able to hear me from the top of that mountain of cash.
Happy Halloween everybody!
Thanks Nick! Brilliant!
Next onto the darkened stage of SMoD&L is the wondrously named Leonard D. Hilley II. Take it away, Leonard…
From an early age I have always like the spookiness of Halloween. I was four years old the first time I was exposed to Halloween trick-or-treaters. I remember my grandfather grumbling about all the kids crossing the street and hurrying from house to house to fill their bags with candy.
When someone knocked on the door, my Dad told me to answer it. I opened the door to a skinny clown-masked kid and all I did was stare at him, wondering why he was dressed like that. On top of this I had to part with some of the beloved candies in the dish for a strange clown? It hardly seemed worth it.
Halloween became more endearing the older I got. Not for the candy. But for the dark, mysterious sensation of the unexpected. My brothers and sisters loved telling ghost stories late at night. We read scary comics like Witching Hour, Tales of the Unexpected, House of Secrets, and House of Mystery. Some nights we scared ourselves into sleeplessness. We held hands before we eventually fell asleep, assuring one another that if something tried to take one of us, the rest of us would awaken and fight it off.
In my early teens, a friend and I explored an old abandoned house as dusk settled. No one had been inside the house in over twenty years. The floorboards creaked when we walked. The smell of mildew and dust filled the air as we sifted through old letters and junk from the 1940s. Even though we were the only two in the house, there was that strange feeling that we were being watched. It was eerie. When the old house foundation settled or the wind brushed a tree branch against a window, we turned around quickly, thinking someone had stepped into the room. But no one else was there.
It is these experiences that are part of the reason I write dark novels. Fear is exciting because it elevates a person’s endorphins and gives a rush of excitement. Putting that type of fear on the page isn’t always an easy task, but I try. And for the most part, readers tell me that I succeed with packing emotion and horror into my thrillers. To receive such feedback is satisfying and humbling.
You can read Leonard’s books on Amazon and B&N:
Many thanks, Leonard and I am soooo jealous of your name!
Next up and last, but not least today, is the lovely Ruth Barrett. Come on, Ruth, let’s hear from the girls!
As a kid, this was my favourite day. Oh sure, I loved my birthday and Christmas– but Halloween had that sinister je ne sais quoi about it. I have to admit: I was a morbidly imaginative child. I loved disguises and darkness and running around to different houses all decked out with cobwebs and glowing jack-o-lanterns. The candy horde was a bonus. Just thinking about it now, I can almost smell fallen leaves on the damp streets and the chill in the air that meant the seasons were turning.Morphing into my teen years, I was fascinated by Ouija boards and trying to speak with the ‘other side’. I voraciously read horror novels, particularly John Saul, Peter Straub and (of course!) Stephen King. I remember being so very freaked out by scenes in some books that I threw them across the room in fright. It was delicious.
What is it about the visceral attraction to being spooked out that keeps lovers of the macabre so hooked? Even now, I am drawn to the darker side of things. Why? In everyday life I am friendly and cheerful. I like order, calm and bright sunny days. Real violence and horrible situations repel me… and yet, I wear black head to toe most of the time. I look at everyone around me and wonder what disguise they are wearing, what mask they use to hide their inner selves– because all of us have secret sides. Sinister sides. It’s in our natures. When kept in perspective, ritualizing the Dark Side with harmless outlets like Halloween, scary movies, horror novels, comic books, S&M, role play and gaming keeps us sane and perhaps exorcises our personal demons.And that larger, far more serious question hangs over all the fun and games: as we all live, so must all of us die. And then what? That must be the strange attraction– the fear of the ‘undiscovered country’ lies at the heart of Halloween. The pagan festival of Samhain– when the veil between worlds grows thin– used to be a time to celebrate harvest and honour our departed ancestors. Life and death. Light and dark. To embrace the fear of the unknown and make it a cause of celebration. We’ve lost that. Now kids dress up as Spiderman and eat mini chocolate bars until they feel sick.
In recent years, I’ve had real brushes with mortality. Three times, in fact– and more than just a casual visit. I have truly fought to fend off the grim reaper. It gave me new insight, and even a bit of added Sight at times. I am aware– like a cold hand on the back of my neck– that there is that Other Side standing parallel to us at all times. Waiting for us to notice. Or trying to get our attention.
Next time you have that feeling– that there is something in the room– turn and face it. Say hello.
Ruth Barrett is the author of Base Spirits– a new supernatural thriller with a historical core. It’s available in e-book format at:
Paperbacks are available through Stratford, Ontario independent booksellers:Fanfare Books– email@example.com Callan Books– firstname.lastname@example.org
Books can be personally inscribed by request before shipping, with a bonus postcard!Please follow Ruth on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/LadyCalverley
Wonderful Ruth and thanks to my first three guests. Not only have you captured the essence of Halloween brilliantly, you have made me feel a little less strange. 😉
- The Origins of the Jack-o-Lantern (designtimesfour.com)
- 8 Spooky Sets of Social Halloween Icons (mashable.com)