Ooh, it’s nearly here! The day I’ve been waiting for – Halloween.
I could happily have spent hours browsing through appropriate images for todays blog, there are so many, but instead, I picked the first one I came across in order to ensure that this post got out on time, because you wouldn’t have seen me for the rest of the day! 😉
I don’t know why I love Halloween so much, I just do. This afternoon and this evening, the POA is curtains closed, chocolate and beer out of the fridge and a HUGE scare-athon on the TV! As many spooky (sometimes cringe-worthily poor), gory horror films as we can find! Can’t wait! And next weekend, in between Halloween and Bonfire night, we are having a themed night at my friend’s house, avec fireworks! She says it’s to celebrate her moving into her new home, when we all know it is just another chance for grown-ups to dress up and act like kids! Can’t wait!
So, over the last few days on SMoD&L, we have had spine-chilling collection of guest posts from some fabulous writers. I was thrilled to have every one on board and apologise to those who sent posts in but didn’t get a place. There were some awesome stories sent in, but I only had thirteen spots, so unlucky for some! But seriously, thanks anyway.
The penultimate post in this Halloween special is by Andrew Biss. Now this isn’t so much a spooky tale (although the connection is there with the film mentioned) more of a huge, great big, massive YEUGH! post. I’ll let Andrew explain, but if you’re squeamish (or just a girl) you might want to look away now:
“They say you are a man of good… taste.”
Many years ago, when I was still working as an actor, I was hired as Richard E. Grant’s photo double for the Francis Ford Coppola film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. As a photo double it’s somewhat important to look vaguely like the actor you’re doubling (I don’t look like Richard particularly) but more important to have the same physical proportions/measurements, as youshare the same costumes and need to look proportionate in long shots, etc. One day on the set, the second unit director, Francis’ son Roman Coppola, asked me if I’d be interested in doing a stunt shot, which would include the added bonus of “stunt pay”. I immediately said yes, of course, without bothering to ask what the actual stunt entailed, the lure of stunt pay blinding me to everything else.
I was taken to a separate area of the studio where they had constructed a large, square wood pen. On one side of the pen was a camera and on the other a mock-up of a wall that leaned into the pen at a 45 degree angle, with a plank of wood at the bottom that acted as a sort of drawbridge between it and the pen. Near the top of the angled “wall” was a window, with the windowsill being perfectly horizontal…still with me?
Okay, so for the stunt, I was doubling not for Richard but for the actor Billy Campbell, who played Quincey P. Morris, the Texan living in London (now there’s a stretch!). I donned the big leather duster he wore, along with a huge pair of cowboy boots, and was asked to step into the pen. Sounds simple enough so far…except that the pen was crammed full of what had to be more than 100 rats, all jostling around and crawling on top of each other. I took a deep breath and in I stepped, being careful not to bring down one of those huge boots on top of anyone.
My job was to stand in front of the 45 degree angled wall, surrounded by the rats, and wait until the rat wranglers (yes, they exist), who were standing behind the window with little clickers in their hands, started making their clicking noises. The rats, you see, had been trained to recognise this sound as feeding time, and so when the clicking began and the plank was removed, they would rush en masse up the wall and through the window. Just as the last ones were making their way up and out, I had to fall onto the wall, holding my body completely straight, and slam my hands up against the windowsill.
In the finished scene in the film, Dracula, to escape his assailants, turns into a pack of rats which then run up a wall and escape through the window, with Quincey P. Morris rushing to the wall just as the last of them are making their escape. This is followed by a close-up shot of Quincey (me) arriving at the window and slamming his (my) hands against the windowsill.
The most frightening thing for me? Squashing one of those rats with my hands. You see, I was falling with all of my body weight against the wall, my hands held in a fixed position, and the rats would run scattershot across it. If one of them happened to be in the place where my hands hit it wouldn’t have stood a chance. But after many takes the shot was finally done and thankfully I’d managed to avoid taking a life, not to mention splattering the wall with rat blood
All of that work, all of that construction and filming, all for a shot that lasts but a couple of seconds.
Of course, the real stunt work that day was not done by me but by the rats, answering the call of duty – or at least clickers – in the hope of a morsel or two to nibble on. I certainly hope they were paid extra “stunt food” that day…though quite what that food would consist of, I shudder to think.
Andrew Biss is an award-winning author and playwright. Hi dark contemporary fantasy The End of the World is available at the below eBook retailers. His psychological thriller Schism will be released in November.
Halloween has always been my favorite time of the year. I know that things have changed since I was young. You don’t see the crowds of kids in Superman costumes, hobo garb, clown suits and ghost sheets the way you used to. Nowadays kids are too cool for all that foolishness.
Nevertheless, I still celebrate it every chance I get. For years it was my great tradition to decorate my front lawn with as much booga-booga paraphernalia as I could manage.
What did I have?
Well, for starters, there was a great foamcore full moon, painted bright metallic gold and on the highest peak of my roof. In front of that full moon dangled a witch on a broomstick – made from a homemade scarecrow stuffed with sheets and rags and shirts that I had outgrown.
Lord, I have grown through an awful lot of shirts since then. From size medium to extra large – how the heck could I managed to shrink so much laundry?
On the front lawn was a pair of large sawhorses with an old door slung across them and a huge stuffed Frankenstein monster stretched out. A pair of diabolical looking juice jugs with plastic tubing served as a makeshift IV.
I’m not saying this was fancy, you understand, but it had all of the heart that I could manage to inject into it.
Speaking of heart, one year I found a garbage bag of stuffed animals on the curbside. I salvaged a fine fat stuffed penguin and laid him out on the top of huge wooden stump that I dragged from out back where it usually served as a chopping block for my firewood. I tied that stuffed penguin to the top of the chopping block, inserted a set of finely-crafted foamcore fangs into his beak, and then drove a wooden stake with the butt of my axe – directly into the heart of that vampiric tuxedoed penguin. A few artful dribbles of homemade blood and the work was complete.
My yew bush, a fine fat hunk of shrubbery grew long black plastic tentacles. At the foot of the yew bush I built a mouth with a pair of old stuffed jeans and some mildwed funkified workboots poked out from the jaws of the yew bush. The tentacles were arranged so that the trick or treaters would have to walk beneath the overhanging tentacles along the sidewalk to get to my door. Above my door hung a spider web crafted from the remnants of a hockey net. Above that spider web dangled a huge black fuzzy spider about as large as a bushel basket. Inside the web was a small stuffed Spiderman costume, with its arms and legs pretzelled into unmistakable dead-as-a-doornail angles.
Some nights I would sit out there on that front step beneath that spider web dressed in a big old homemade Frankenstein monster suit with a great black pea coat and a big old fabric head. I would sit just as still as I could until someone walked up and then I would stand and yell something profound like “Booga booga.”
The windows would be painted with black cats, and several carved pumpkins sometimes aided by our black cat who would stare balefully out the window at any approaching trick or treaters.
There were also several scarecrows staked out in front of our lawn – but the highlight was our cemetery. Every year I dragged the old tombstones – decorated with the names of various horror actors and authors – as well as their birth and death dates. Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, H.P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Bela Lugosi and many others were buried each year upon our front lawn.
Then, I would spend hours raking leaves from the backyard to the front. I would rake them from the curbside and the neighbour’s lawn. By the time I was finished that front yard would be covered with about a half a foot deep in multicolored dead autumn leaves. Then I would scatter plastic bones and chunks of driftwood and plastic machetes and cleavers and the like.
Yes sir and yes ma’m – I did Halloween up in a real big way.
But the strangest Halloween of all happened the year that I decided that my front yard needed an honest-to-god gallows. I constructed it out of scrap two by fours – artfully nailed together in a fashion that would make Red Green look skillful. I hung a huge scarecrow with a noose that was tied in a perfect hangman’s knot.
All right, so my wife tied the knot but I thought the idea up so I still get to wear my Old Spice manly cologne.
That gallows looked good, standing out there just behind the graveyard with a couple of orange floodlights shining on it.
Two days after the gallows went up a woman knocked on my door.
“Mister,” she told me. “My kids love your Halloween yard every year but they can’t walk by here without crying because my husband, in a fit of depression, hung himself in our basement just last year.”
You could not have stunned me harder if you had struck me full in the forehead with a caulking mallet.
I hastily apologized and promised the gallows would come down that very day. I called in to work and told them I had to stay home today. I cut the arm of the gallows and lowered the big old scarecrow down. Then I dressed the scarecrow up in drag – giving him a high peaked witch’s hat and a long black gown. My wife stitched up a hag’s beak and shoved his chin forward. Then I tied him to the two-by-four that stood upright. I built a heap of firewood and decorated it with red and yellow and orange cellophane-style wrapping paper. When I hit it with the orange floodlights it metamorphized from a hung scarecrow to a witch burning at the stake.
I figured I was safe.
There was no way that any neighbor would have burned themselves at the stake last year, the year before or the year before that.
It is a funny story, telling it now – but I want you to know that I felt like ten kinds of stupid hearing about that woman’s crying kids. It showed me that there is another side to Halloween. It is a doorway from the happy of summer to the long bitter wake of cold winter. It is a time of when the old people would carry tribute to their recently dead and their thoughts would turn to the hereafter, and folks would gather around their woodstoves and talk of those who had passed away.
Halloween wasn’t always candy and trick or treaters.
Still, the story did have a happy ending.
I was so pleased with how the graveyard looked that I left it until Christmas before I finally took it down. Early that December, my wife’s sister decided to take advantage of a neighborhood bus tour that was tooling around the local streets admiring the various Christmas lights.
When they passed our house the tour guide kind of choked on his spit and gasped out “Who the heck lives there – the Adams Family?”
“No,” my sister-in-law quietly said. “That’s my sister’s house.”
Any truths that were stretched in the spinning of this yarn probably needed a good workout anyway.
Yours in storytelling,
Thanks Steve. Kinda sums it up eh?
Steve Vernon has been writing dark fiction for a lot of years. You’ll find his work in the pages of Cemetery Dance, Tor’s Year’s Best Horror, The Horror Show, Flesh & Blood, Hot Blood, Horror Garage and many other tastefully titled markets and magazines. Steve’s ghost story collections Wicked Woods, Halifax Haunts, and Haunted Harbours (Nimbus) are available in many Maritime bookstores.
Beginning in 2011 Crossroad Press will be releasing an awful lot of Steve Vernon’s horror fiction in e-book format – including his dark superhero collection NOTHING TO LOSE, a never-before published second volume of Captain Nothing tales entitled NOTHING DOWN, his weird west cult novella LONG HORN, BIG SHAGGY and a never-before published novel of historical horror DEVIL TREE.
Steve’s first YA novel, Sinking Deeper – a touching tale of sea monsters and caber tossing – will be released in the spring of 2011 from Nimbus Publishing.
yours in storytelling,
Thanks Steve, what a guy eh? And what a frightening feast of fiction (see what I did there?) we have had over the last few days. Brilliant!
So, it’s off to my sofa armed with crisps and beer for my horrorfest. I hope you all have a fabulous Halloween and remember, stay scared!
PS. Why not pop over to my co-writer’s site and check out his Halloween special featuring the fabulous, best-selling author (and now fully-fledged writer under the MWiDP banner) Anne R. Allen and her new book ‘Ghostwriters in the sky‘, which we are thrilled to be publishing. Go on, you know you want to. MUHAHAHAHA. 😉
- Thirteen ghosts: A collection of spooky tales for Halloween (Part Three) (sapphicscribe.wordpress.com)
- Thirteen ghosts: A collection of spooky tales for Halloween (Part Two) (sapphicscribe.wordpress.com)
- Thirteen ghosts: A collection of spooky tales for Halloween (Part One) (sapphicscribe.wordpress.com)