Tuesday, October 23, 2018

#23 of 31 Days of Halloween: Daylight Ghost Stories

Traditionally, ghosts come out at night. Maybe they like the quiet, or they are just easier to see when the light is less glaring. But I like daylight ghosts, too. Visiting a lonely or abandoned place can feel just as haunted when the sun is shining as when the moonlight does.

That's the thought that struck me when I wrote my own daylight ghost story, "The Girl in the Pool." Why should ghosts only come out at night?

Today is release day and I'm happy to show off the collection here. I'm sharing the pages of this anthology with seven other authors:

If you're looking for a quick bit of scary to brighten your Halloween, I hope you're check out Off the Beaten Path 3. It's available in all the usual places :-)

Here's a teaser for you, (one of my favorite parts of my story, when Becky first appears):

There was a pool in the yard across the street, and I would sit on the swing that my step-dad had hung from the big tree in the yard for me, spinning around in a useless circle and watching the hot, Southern sun sparkling on the empty pool, wishing someone would invite me to go splash around in it.

The people who owned the pool were older, like someone’s grandparents. They kept the pool for their grandchildren, I guess, but the grandchildren weren’t there much. So, most of the time, that pretty blue water sparkled in the sun with no one to play in it.

Stephen wondered why they kept it uncovered when it was used so seldom. The old couple themselves never seemed to get in the water. But the old man was out there every morning, skimming the insects and leaves out of the water with a giant long-handled net that I found fascinating. That and the weird socks he wore. Mom said they were compression socks, meant to help with circulation. I thought they made his real legs look like fake ones. 
After two weeks or so, I had established a lonely pattern of cartoons until my mom kicked me out, then puttering around our yard until she called me in to eat. I was sitting out on the swing reading one of the fairy themed books I was so into that summer when someone called out to me. “Hey, kid!” I looked up. There was a little girl, maybe just a smidge older than me, leaning on the fence around the pool and looking at me. She smiled and waved when she saw me. “I’m Becky! Want to come swim with me?” 
Boy, did I! I ran and got my mom. She was unpacking yet more kitchen stuff. There was a lot to unpack, combining all of our stuff with all of Stephen’s stuff. It was taking a long time to figure out where to put it.

Still, Mom was happy to hear I’d had an invitation, and took a break to help me find the right things. A few minutes later, I was wearing my swimsuit and carrying a towel and we were crossing the street together. Mom knocked on the door. When a tall, slender woman with tall white hair answered, Mom explained that we were the new neighbors from across the street. “My daughter said that Becky invited her over,” Mom said. “Would it be okay if she came over and swam with her?” 
“Becky?” The woman’s voice sounded strangely full of emotion. “Definitely! Please! Come in!”

Monday, October 22, 2018

#22 of 31 Days of Halloween: Shadows

When you have a good imagination, shadows can be dangerous. Your mind can turn them into monsters, serial killers, demons, and any number of other lethal things. Even if its really just the ironing board you didn't put away or your own dog.

Creators of horror have noticed of course, and movies, television, and art make great use of the shadow, both for comedic and horrific effect.

One of my favorites is the shadow of Nosferatu from the movie of the same name. The guy is creepy enough when you're looking straight at him, but in shadow, it's somehow worse. He's larger. Exaggerated. And somehow fluid. None of this bodes well for the watcher.

I have a teeshirt that pokes fun at this image, with Nosferatu chasing the oblivious Shaggy and Scooby of Scooby Doo fame up the stairwell.

Batman knows the power of a looming shadow too. Hence the cape and cowl.

Or how about those stories where the shadow is separate of the person? (almost as scary as a reflection that moves independently).

Hmmmm…now I'm not sure if it's better or worse to sleep with a nightlight. After all, light makes shadows.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

#21 of 31 Days of Halloween: Jump Scares

Once my sister and I went to see a terrible monster movie together. It was SOOOOO predictable that it wasn't even scary. But you know what? I still jumped for every jump scare. It's why I'm not allowed to hold the popcorn anymore.

My favorite kind of jump scare? The fake out. The one where it turns out to be a cat and the character turns away, relieved only to then immediately face the actual scary bad thing!

It works on me every time, even though I know its coming. It's an adrenaline laced reaction that is immediately followed by laughter, either at the movie or at myself. A beautiful combination.

Here's a great supercut of some good cat-scares:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

#20 of 31 Days of Halloween: Urban Legends

I didn't know what urban legends were the first time I heard one. It was at a slumber party and I really thought my friend knew a guy who had picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to the be a ghost. Well, I was skeptical that he had told my friend the truth, but I believed there was a guy who had told her the story, at least. I was a gullible kid.

By the time I heard about the hook-handed maniac who stalked Lover's Lane, I knew that the claim of direct connection to the story was a lie, but it was too late. I was "hooked." (Ha! See what I did there?)

Now, I love urban legends the same way I love fairytales. I collect versions and notice variations with joy. Like the hitchhiker version where he lends the girl/ghost his jacket and finds it later draped over her grave? Hand over heart: I *love* that telling. Romantic AND creepy.

I like the nonprofessional telling, where someone claims to have heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend.  Even when you've heard it before, it's fun to shout the punchline/jump scare together: Humans can lick too! or The calls are coming from inside the house! 

Creepy Pasta has picked up the mantle of this kind of storytelling and lots of YouTube channels follow legends of Slender Man or other creatures that haunt our imaginations.

Do you have a favorite urban legend? I'd love to hear about in the comments.

Friday, October 19, 2018

#19 of 31 Days of Halloween: Moonlight

The moon is an essential part of Halloween imagery. Whether its just glowing brightly in an ebony sky, providing the backdrop for a silhouetted witch or bat, or glowing softly through a foggy cloud cover, the moon shines over the holiday and gives it the light we need to see the darkness by.

The diffuse, natural light is the heart of romance and also of horror, making hearts and ghosts glow alike. And Halloween is all about loving horror :-) We won't get a full moon for Halloween this year. The internet tells me that the next one won't be until 2020, but I know it will light my path to spooky joy in just a few more days all the same.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

#18 of 31 Days of Halloween: Vincent Price

Who knew that the young man who began in character roles like Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert, and the Duke of Clarence and played The Saint on the radio would someday be known as the "Master of Menace."

I admire his non-horror work (Laura is one of my favorite movies), but he was cemented as that spooky guy I love for me when I was a child. I used to watch his films with my mother every October: House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, The Fly and of course all the Poe adaptations. I remember explaining to my friends who that guy was who did the scary voice for Michael Jackson's Thriller and my own thrill when he reappeared in Edward Scissorhands.

He had just the right mix of gravitas and camp, truly capturing the spirit of this season for me.

Any other fans out there? Which of his films is your favorite?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#17 of 31 Days of Halloween: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is an author I can enjoy all year round, but the rest of the world joins in with me at this time of year, and it's nice to have company. Even people who aren't otherwise particularly literary will quote the opening stanza of The Raven in their best Vincent Price voice:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Besides the Raven, there's also all the creep-tastic fiction. My personal favorite is The Cask of Amontillado, but The Tell-Tale Heart runs a close second. When I taught American literature or general literature courses, I'd always work in a little Poe at this time of year. The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum. So much macabre goodness. 

I also enjoy the lore of the man himself. The questionable circumstances of his death make for some great imagining, too.  In fact, his ghost is said to haunt more than one place. Apparently, it's not enough that he haunts us with his words years beyond his demise; he has to become an actual phantom as well. 

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the few authors that remains universally popular when assigned in the classroom. There's nothing like being TOLD to read something to take the joy out of it, but The Masque of the Red Death is chilling even when your teacher goes overboard on color symbolism. 

Got a favorite Poe story or poem? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.