The 13 Days of Halloween: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

A few days ago, I wrote an essay on why I believe horror writing is, indeed, an art form, and a massively under-appreciated one, at that.  Over the years, I’ve consumed absurd amounts of horror literature, from ancient texts to more modern classics to some of today’s emerging artists, as a quick glance at my bookshelf reveals.  (And I’m talking actual bookshelf here, actually standing in my dining room, overflowing with more books than could ever fit onto its seven-foot frame.)

As always, some works stand out more than others.  For whatever reason, some tales and their creators tend to resonate with different people in different ways.  Instead of offering up a best-of list or something similar, I thought I’d just go through a half a dozen books among the many, that stuck with me, inspired me a bit, if you will.

The Haunting of Hill House–Shirley Jackson

Best book ever.  Hands down.  Bar none.  This book has stopped me from ever really writing a full-on haunted house story because there is simply no earthly (or unearthly) way that I could improve upon the perfection of Jackson’s masterpiece.  This story has so many levels that it still takes some time after reading it to figure out what exactly had gone on.

Was the house actually haunted?  Was Eleanor the one doing the haunting herself?  I’m still not sure.  I alternate every time I read it; and I’ve read it a lot.  My copy is a crumbling paperback held together by a rubber band at the moment–a testament to a well-used life. 

Sometimes, I’m convinced that the house really is an evil force and poor, sensitive, fragile little Eleanor is the perfect bait for its unholy attentions.  But then, other times, I persuade myself that the house is totally benign, and that Eleanor is the protagonist, taking a mind that was on the brink to begin with and dropping all the way into madness and obsession within the house.  I’m just not sure either way, and that’s part of what makes this book so perfect.  It doesn’t really matter. 

I Am Legend–Richard Matheson

What Shirley Jackson’s aforementioned novel did for haunted houses, Matheson’s I Am Legend has done for vampires, and to a lesser extent, zombies.  That is, after reading this, I just couldn’t conceive of a more unique angle for a vampire/undead tale, so why try?

Let me say, I didn’t care for the Will Smith film version.  I like the old Charlton Heston version, The Omega Man, a little better, but it still didn’t bring the book across in all its glory.  Sometimes, that’s just not possible, and this book, short as it is (not even 200 pages) may be one of those. 

The gist of this story, however echoes through mainstream horror to this day.  Reanimated, undead corpses caused by a mutant bacteria unleashed in a massive epidemic infecting nearly the entire planet.  Sound familiar?  This book, while ostensibly about vampires, actually invented the entire zombie genre that pervades everything these days.

The book’s conclusion is near-perfect to my way of thinking.  You never consider such things, that in a world populated with vampires and zombie vampires, a lone human being would become an object of fear and superstition.  I just love the fact that the Legend referred to in the title is not at all what I expected it meant before I read the book.

Something Wicked This Way Comes–Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is an interesting guy.  It’s hard to pin down exactly what genre he works in, and I believe that’s the way he likes it.  Many times, I find the Bradbury books lumped in with science fiction, but I don’t think that fits completely.  Something Wicked This Way Comes, however, is unambiguous.  It’s horror, plain and simple.

Rolling into the idyllic little burg of Greentown one autumn comes a carnival.  It’s leader, a Mr. Dark, secretly entices patrons to live their fantasies, but for a price.  Those who partake become bound to the carnival, and immortalized as a tattoo on Mr. Dark’s body.

The story is told in Bradbury’s best, creepiest voice, even making the darkness and decay of the carnival beautiful in a haunting sort of way.  It’s a basic battle between good versus evil at its core, but the elements of temptation, desire, and a yearning for one’s lost youth carve out a richly spooky landscape.

The conclusion can seem a bit light and fluffy, especially for a book as genuinely creepy as this one, but it doesn’t bother me.  Mr. Dark is evil and feeds off of darker emotions.  It makes some sense that positive emotions could give him fits.  But that’s only a minor issue.  This book is simply a beauty of atmospheric horror. 

Dracula–Bram Stoker

Of the classic Victorian horror novels, Dracula always was my favorite.  Frankenstein has its place but was a little too much like a philosophy class for my taste.  Jekyll and Hyde was a good look at the darkness that lives in all men, but Stevenson’s writing, even on darker subject matters like Hyde, always seemed much better suited to children’s epic adventures like Treasure Island.  For my money, Dracula is the best of that group.

Bram Stoker, by all reports a somewhat repressed personality himself, did manage to draft a very dense and comprehensive tale that treats the concepts of love and sexuality in a manner very un-Victorian.  The mysterious count leaves his Transylvanian abode to travel to London to find what he believes to be his long lost love.  By now, everyone knows the gist of the tale.  But Stoker writes it in such a way that the theme of temptations of the flesh that runs throughout is almost palpable.  And I, for one, like the ending.

There is no way Dracula is dead.  Certainly, he was stabbed through the heart and dissolved into dust, but I think that was a ruse.  The book itself even set up the use of a wooden stake through the heart earlier, why would a simple bowie knife work at the end on the most powerful of all vampires?  It wouldn’t.  The count wanted them to believe him dead.  That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it.  Dracula lives on!

Night Shift–Stephen King

Stephen King might not be anywhere near the class of writers that make up much of this list, but I would be remiss if he didn’t play some part.  If you liked horror during the time I grew up, you simply couldn’t avoid King’s work.  I read many of his novels–Pet Cemetery likely being my favorite–but it was always his short stories I enjoyed the most.  And his first collection of those stories, Night Shift, has stayed with me through the years.

The amount of material in Night Shift that later became films or other works is startling.  Salem’s Lot, Graveyard Shift, The Mangler, Maximum Overdrive, The Lawnmower Man, Cat’s Eye, Sometimes They Come Back, Childen of the Corn and more I’m sure I’m forgetting, all had their origins in this one little story collection from the late ’70s.

While I’ve often felt King’s novels were over-long and a bit rambling, I always considered him an underrated short story writer.  Maybe it’s because his ideas are distilled more in a short story, I don’t know, but if I read any of King’s work today, it’ll almost always be Night Shift or his later short story collection, Skeleton Crew.

Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre–H.P. Lovecraft

While I’m on the subject of short stories, another of my favorite books is this collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.  If you’ve never read Lovecraft, you should.  His world is one where the very fabric of reality hangs by just a thread and there are always bigger, darker, scarier beings waiting just behind the veil to cross over.

Lovecraft writes is such a nicely polished way, yet much of his work sets you at immediate unease.  He frequently describes how angles in a room or structure have an unsettling affect, but his prose is much the same.  Reading Lovecraft just puts you slightly off, uncomfortable, if you will. 

So many times in his tales, events take a wild, seemingly insane turn, yet his characters adapt as if they’re going to the grocery store as they try to stop a 100,000 year old creature from crossing into this realm and wreaking havoc.  Very few writers more clearly allow you to relate to someone’s descent into total madness as Lovecraft does. It makes his work simultaneously exhilarating and disconcerting.  What better advertisement could you need for a horror author?

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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The 13 Days of Halloween: Hauntings on the High Seas

The sea has always held a mystical quality for so many.  Being so vast and, at times, unforgiving as the Earth’s waters can be has ingrained a deep respect within the hearts and minds of sailors the world over.  An almost endless amount of beliefs and rituals associated with the sea and ocean-going voyages have developed over the centuries to assist men with handling the extreme risk and unknown qualities of the task they chose to undertake. 

Be it any of various gods, or other mystical nautical beings presumed to be in charge, or in the name of the sea herself, as if from a single being, what happens while aboard ship has always been attributed, at least in part, to a fate or a will outside that of normal human powers.  Sometimes, men and women are trapped in the force of that will; other times, entire ships and their crews get caught up.  Whatever the reason, the sea frequently raises more questions than it answers, especially for those who sail on it.  

To most anyone, The Flying Dutchman is the most famous ghost ship of all time.  The legend is a simple one:  The captain of a vessel of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century defied logic and the gods when he steered his vessel into a storm near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  Predictably, the ship crashed on the rocks, killing all aboard her.  But that wasn’t all.  This captain’s transgressions were so great that death wasn’t his only punishment.  He and his crew were also doomed to sail the waters near the Cape of Good Hope for all time, and any man who laid eyes on the phantom vessel would die soon thereafter.

There have been numerous sightings over the centuries in the waters near South Africa of a ghostly vessel sailing within a storm of its own, appearing and disappearing into thin air.  It is said that those who see the Dutchman will die of drowning soon thereafter.  It was also thought that the vessel had the ability to lure other ships to their demise, smashing them into the same rocks that claimed her all those years ago.  The Flying Dutchman has become almost a generic term for any phantom vessel sighting and has moved beyond a tale told amongst sea-farers to an iconic legend.  When it comes to ghost ships, The Flying Dutchman is the only place to start.

The S.S. Queen Mary is likely the most famous of the modern era ships to carry with it an air of the unknown.  The Queen Mary, nicknamed the Gray Ghost for the color of her hull while ferrying troops across the Atlantic during World War II, has a reputation for being inhabited by several ghostly passengers including, reportedly, Winston Churchill. 

There’s a young sailor who died aboard during a fire-fighting exercise, who is said to keep banging on the door that killed him.  There are ghostly footprints that appear of a small child near the long-since-drained swimming pool, and various other spectres ranging from female passengers appearing out of nowhere then vanishing just as suddenly, or ghostly engineers showing up to work in the engine room.  The ship’s long history has led to many events, some of them unfortunate, happening within her hull, and amongst modern day vessels, she’s said to be one of the most haunted.

The S.S. St. Paul is another large cruise liner that reportedly was done in by ghosts from its past.  The ship, which carried troops all around the world, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, was involved in a serious collision with a British liner, the Gladiator in 1908.  The two ships collided, the Gladiator getting the worst of the affair, killing 27 members of her crew. 

A decade later, while in port in New York being refitted for military service, the St. Paul suffered an inexplicable accident, causing the ship to sink and killing four sailors in the process.  Interestingly enough, the ship sank precisely ten years to the very minute that she collided with the Gladiator.  Some have said that it was the ghosts of those doomed sailors that took their revenge on the St. Mary.  After the accident, the ship was salvaged for a short time, but eventually scrapped five years later. 

The Tricolor was a Norwegian merchant vessel that caught fire and had a load of chemicals in her hull explode on January 5, 1931 near Sri Lanka.  The vessel encountered a severe tropical storm during her fateful journey, and it is thought that a lightning strike started the fire.  The destruction of the ship was witnessed by a French liner, the S.S. Porthos, which responded to the distress call. 

Five years to the day after the Tricolor’s demise, a British freighter, the S.S. Khosuru, sailing in the same waters came across a derelict ship that seemed to be devoid of all crew.  The ship passed close enough to the Khosuru for crew members to read the name of the vessel from her hull.  It was the Tricolor.  Before the crew of the Khosuru could overtake the vessel, a torrential rain blocked out all visibility.  Five minutes later, the rain let up, but the derelict was nowhere in sight.  It was only later that the captain of the Khosuru discovered that the position he had seen the strange ship was the exact place where the Tricolor had met her demise five years earlier.

Ghostly presence aboard ship aren’t always harbingers of doom, however.  In 1895, Captain Joshua Slocum started out on a voyage that would make him the world’s first solo circumnavigator of the globe.  He refitted a worn-out old oyster boat for the trip, but near the beginning of the three-year voyage, he encountered a bit of trouble.  Heading toward Gibraltar, Slocum ran into a gale so severe that it stripped the fittings from the deck of his vessel.  In addition, he was suffering from food poisoning at the time. 

During the howling storm, Slocum told of a phantom sailor claiming to be a member of Columbus’ crew who would steer him to safety.  Slocum claims to have passed out, and that the ghostly helmsman led the trip on the proper course through the storm some 90 miles while he slept.  In a book published after the completion of his historic voyage, Slocum gives credit to this apparition, claiming that he surely would have died if not for the otherworldly helping hand.

But if it’s unexplained ship disappearances you’re looking for, there is no better place to seek them out than the infamous Bermuda Triangle.  There are so many accounts of vessels of all kinds simply vanishing in the small region in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida that it’s difficult to keep up with them all.  This region isn’t known simply for vessels disappearing inexplicably, however.  Sometimes, they come back. 

There are numerous incidents of vessels having been reported missing that have later turned up, abandoned and drifting freely about the ocean.  In one of the most disturbing aspects of this region, never in the entire history of the Coast Guard seeking vessels reported missing in this area, has a body turned up, even in the numerous cases where the boat was actually found still afloat.  More still, never once has a signal from an emergency beacon, many of which are designed to signal automatically when separated from a vessel, ever been picked up from a missing vessel within the triangle. 

On average, there are about 20 yachts each year that sail into the Triangle never to be seen or heard from again.  The Bermuda Triangle is one of the most inexplicable, and potentially hazardous areas for boat travel on the globe.  And, as yet, we still don’t know why.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

For as long as people have been telling stories, horror has been one of the most popular elements to get their message across.  Look at the myths of the ancient Greek gods with some of their undoubtedly terrifying aspects–the minotaur, anyone, half man, half beast creature living in a maze and eating people he finds there?  The legend of Beowulf, one of the oldest stories ever told, included no less than three hideous monsters that did not hesitate to rip men apart.  Even Shakespeare used horror to great effect with ghosts and witches scattered throughout various tales.  And don’t forget Titus, where the title character kills a woman’s two sons for revenge and feeds them to her at a dinner party.  That’s about as clear a horror element as I’ve ever seen in a story.

There are many other examples of great works of horror throughout history.  Chistopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus still resonates to this day with its notion of making deals with the Devil.  In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seamen brings a curse down on his shipmates by killing an albatross.  The crew are all killed one by one, the ship sinks and the mariner is left to wander for eternity telling his tale.  Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first of his three part epic The Divine Comedy, is a tour through the nine circles of torment in Hell.  Horror, perhaps more than any other literary technique, echoes down through time.

Horror has always been a crucial aspect of literature, and it remains so to this day.  Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of its true value and rich history.  Generally these days, horror writing is squeezed into one of the many limiting genre boxes, right alongside mysteries, westerns and romance, among others.  There are some who even dismiss horror as throw-away pulp writing, and you can forget trying to convince some in the higher circles of the writing world that horror fits any definition of “literary” at all.

It’s true that there are a lot of throw-away horror books out there, efforts that depend on cliched vampires or other creatures, lowest common denominator gore, or hanging their hat on a “shocking” twist we’ve read or seen 50 times before.  But that’s no different than any other genre, even so-called literary fiction, which can be pointless and self indulgent just as frequently or more so than it can be exceptional.  The amount of bad or mundane works  is something attributable to all genres of writing, literary or otherwise.

When done well, however, few mediums are able to express broad ideas, translate powerful emotions, or make a tale stick to our ribs as readers, as it were, like horror.  Despite this proven and time-tested capacity, to today’s supposedly evolved sensibilities, it’s almost totally dismissed as a true art form.

But if you look closer, some of the most famous and far-reaching tales in the English language are horror stories.  How much would Halloween be diminished if Washington Irving had never written The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?  How much would Christmas be diminished if Charles Dickens had not penned A Christmas Carol?  And what of Edgar Allan Poe, a man who could arguably be considered the greatest American writer, or at the least, he’s on a very short list.  Poe wrote some of the darkest, most disturbing stories ever penned and in a style almost Shakespearian in its rhythms.  No one can read Poe and deny that he was truly an artist of the first order.  And he wrote horror best and above all else.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, in essence, a philosophical treatise on the nature of life and existence.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a fierce attack on the repressed nature of Victorian England, particularly with regards to sex.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a sociological study in class structure and morality.  All three of these books have saturated our culture to the point of reforming most people’s conceptions of their original intent.  These were no mere toss-away monster stories.  They were crafted using horror to express ideas about the cultural issues of the days in which they were written.  Those same matters still resonate to this day, primarily because the monsters and the horrors they wrought, have stayed with us.  Even somewhat perverted as their title characters have become by mass culture, can you imagine a world with no Dracula, no Frankenstein’s monster, or no Mr. Hyde?

Horror literature brings out the worst and the best in us.  It calls us out on our cruelties, our excesses and our hypocricies, deftly employing the monster as metaphor to challenge our very beliefs and actions.  And for all of this, what do we get?  A small shelf in the back of the bookstore, and a subservient position behind the literary and mainstream fiction worlds, lumped in with other segmented genres so as to be easily definable, categorized and kept on the fringes.  For all it’s done over the centuries, all the issues it has tackled head-on that other forms of writing were either afraid or incapable of addressing, horror fiction deserves much better.

Horror has brought so much more to the world than the stereotypical monsters and unmitigated gore that makes up its popular representation today.  In its heart of hearts, horror writing is a true art form, one without which, we would be left with a giant vacant place in our souls.  We should respect horror not simply for all the things the form has done in the past, but for all it has yet to accomplish. We’re living in dark times these days.  We need horror to reflect that darkness back on us, and to show us the way toward the light.

Here is a link to a piece about a few of the books that inspired me growing up, and taught me the essential value of horror in storytelling.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Today, I’ve got a little different piece for The 13 Days of Halloween.  The following is a short story excerpted from my first collection, Bad Timing.  It tells the tale of a man suffering a great loss that never goes away, mo matter how far or how fast he runs from it.  Even through his haze of anger and sorrow, he still manages to find a unique means of coming to grips with the horror his life has become.  But I don’t want to give it away.  Read on and enjoy!

One Step Ahead

Gil used his bandana to wipe the sweat from his forehead. The air conditioner in the old truck had given out months ago and the grayish stains on the armpits of all three shirts he owned testified to the time spent behind the wheel. Always moving, trying to stay in front of the storm.

According to his road atlas, the town shouldn’t be much farther ahead, no more than a mile or two. He looked in his rear view mirror, seeking out the broken black line along the horizon that he knew was following. And, as always, he found it there, still trailing him, a half-hour, maybe forty minutes back.

Gil stretched his arms, tense from the long hours on the road, and looked around at the landscape swirling by at 65 miles per hour, letting his gaze bounce from the dry, cracked earth to the drifts of dirt and dust built up beside the odd fence posts lining the shoulder to the gray, over-baked asphalt. He could feel the sun reflecting up from the ground as he watched the road before him shimmering in the radiating waves of heat. He drove on, bringing his most-unusual load to the good people of whatever podunk town happened to fall in his path.

Gil looked down at the digital clock on his dashboard to see 11:18 glowing back at him in the florescent green LCD numbers. His eyes rose in time to catch the “Welcome To Paradisio” sign as he passed by. The lettering was faded, wind beaten with swirling dirt sandblasting fine cracks into the “pop: 1,242” line painted on the small board hanging from the sign’s bottom.

“Paradise,” he muttered to himself, as he leaned over the steering wheel, looking up, seeking that ever-present tallest structure in all of the town’s he had visited, the church steeple. Gil slowed the truck as he entered the town, or the six rows of well-worn buildings that made up this less-than-bustling burg, anyway. After passing the post office, a hardware and feed store and an old grocery, he took a left at Main Street, finding himself face to face with Paradisio’s town hall. The three-story building was faded from the sun, its clapboard siding looking very much like it had been at least a decade since it had last seen a coat of paint.

Gil continued along Main Street when, finally, to his right, the church steeple appeared. The building, now only a hundred or so yards away, was made of brick, the only such structure that he could see in Paradisio. It had a fancy stained glass window above the door that appeared spotless. Every other window in town was so dust-coated that he had no visibility through the filthy glass, but this one was immaculate, the sun reflecting cleanly off the multi-colored pattern. Gil slowed the truck as he approached the town’s place of worship, his load rattling as he downshifted the old engine to a stop directly across the street from the building’s double entrance doors.

He shut off the engine, again wiping some sweat from his brow before opening the door with a time-earned creak of steel. He circled the pickup, shaking out the kinks in his legs from many hours spent driving. A few of the town’s inhabitants were straggling along the hot, dusty streets, each one throwing perplexed glances at the pickup truck load of unique cargo, and the rather shabby looking man who had driven it.

After a few minutes stretching his legs, Gil once again checked the horizon, locating the ever-present storm that had been trailing him for these past three years. He had been normal, once, just a regular guy with a wife, baby on the way and earning a solid living selling advertising for his home town newspaper. That life seemed so long ago now, only a fond remembrance that was almost like something he’d read in a book rather than his own back story. The accident, three years ago now, at the very peak of his happiness, with all he had worked so hard for just beginning to come together, had forever changed that history.

He and his wife were returning home from a celebration in her honor, her’s and the baby’s, actually. The party had broken up early due to the first flakes of an approaching winter storm. He recalled making all the excuses about getting home safely and beating the storm, but really, the snow hadn’t concerned him at all. He had never liked her family much, or they him, and the weather report made for a perfect escape route from someplace he desperately wanted to flee. Now, he would gladly listen to her aunts and uncles prattling on about their latest maladies and prescriptions forever if he could have just stayed there an extra half-hour that night.

On the ride home, another driver had lost control due to the conditions. He didn’t know how it happened, or even who was driving the other car, if it was a man or a woman. He’d been absorbed in a conversation with his wife about the color of their upcoming child’s bedroom, laughing together at the thought of a polka-dotted ceiling, then the impact, then nothing.

He awoke two days later, his head buzzing, in a sterile hospital bed, the antiseptic smell making the nausea he felt worsen. He could still remember the way the nurse who told him about his wife kept looking at the floor, the ceiling, the wall behind his head, out his room’s window, just about everywhere but in his eyes. The baby was dead before the paramedics even arrived on the scene, his wife following a few hours later. The blood loss from her internal injuries was just too much for her body to overcome. The shock of the news had hit Gil hard, even through the haze of painkillers dripping into his arm. His left ankle was badly bruised, along with his right wrist, one eye was swollen nearly shut and the throbbing in his skull from a concussion was deafening, but none of it could take him away from thinking about his wife, how her body must have looked, twisted and bloodied, and their unborn child who would never see a sunrise.

Then the anger struck, boiling up inside him, and he cursed everyone he could think of; the driver of the other car for causing the accident, himself for paying more attention to his wife than the road before them, her uncle who had held up their departure for fifteen minutes will some half-drunken tale of his first child, the paramedics for being able to save him but not her. He’d even cursed God for unleashing the storm.

Gil had never been a particularly religious man, but his wife was, attending church every Sunday for as long as he had known her. She never went anywhere without the small cross she wore about her neck. He’d watched her stroking its smooth, slightly tarnished surface many times in the past, whenever she was concerned over something. And where did it get her? Where was God when she needed Him most? To hell with God, he had thought at the time, his loss still fresh before him, to hell with fate, to hell with everyone. It was soon after that moment that the storm first appeared.

Gil left the hospital after a few days, still nursing his injuries. When he saw a weather report calling for more snow about two days later, he’d stuffed some clothes into an old duffle bag, jumped into his truck and headed out of the path of the approaching storm. The direction didn’t matter, he hadn’t even considered a destination, nor did he care, only away from the blizzard.

Gil had escaped that storm, only to find himself a few days later waking in a hotel room several hundred miles from home to the first flakes of another storm. He’d checked the weather on the hotel’s television, tracking the dense clouds on the radar images and once again set out to get away from the falling frozen precipitation. When yet another storm struck the town he’d stopped in two days after that, he began to worry.  Yet, still, he kept running.  After three months constantly on the move, with heavy snowfalls always following, even into areas of the country that hadn’t seen winter since the last ice age, from spring into summer, he finally paused to consider that the curses he’d sworn when learning of his family’s demise had snapped back at him. Gil had almost given up once, even letting the snow pile up six inches deep around him somewhere in the Arizona desert, but the rage caused by his helplessness returned. He’d renewed his vows of contempt, swearing that the snow wasn’t going to destroy him as well, and continued on his flight.

Still glancing around the tiny little town of Paradsio, still waiting for the storm to make its inevitable appearance, Gil decided it was time to set up.  He reached behind the driver’s seat of his truck, pulling out the large canvas drop cloth and rope he kept there. The people of Paradisio stopped to watch the stranger as he tied the top corners of the cloth to the hooks in the side bed of the truck. Once unfurled, the words Gil had spray painted onto the canvas were clearly visible in almost reflective orange letters. The makeshift sign read “Snowshovels $20”

After hanging the advertisement for his offerings, Gil returned to the driver’s seat of his truck and lit a cigarette to pass the time. A few of the townspeople started to collect in small pockets across the street, pointing and laughing at the man selling snowshovels in the desert. He always enjoyed this part, as much as he enjoyed anything anymore, watching the people, seeing their laughter, the disbelief at his actions. It was just about the only time anymore when he would smile. These people might think he’s a joke now, but in an hour, they’d be falling over one another for what he was selling.

Gil had thought of the idea nearly two years ago. The money he had saved from his former life had run dry, and he couldn’t stay in any one place long enough to even land a job, let alone actually collect a paycheck. He had decided that, if he was going to be forced into this lifestyle, constantly on the move, then why not use it to his advantage? Plus, the irony of earning a living pushing snow removal equipment to people who’d never even seen snow in person appealed to him as a fitting way of keeping his stomach full and gas in his tank. After all, everyone has to use the tools God gave them, right?

Gil was almost finished with his smoke when one of the residents of Paradisio, a disheveled looking older man, his clothes spotted with patches of dust and sweat stains, his face as filthy and unwashed as his shirt, approached the truck.

“You sure are a crazy one, aren’t ya?” the man said to Gil. He took the last drag from his cigarette, tossing it to the pavement at the man’s feet, a thin trail of grayish smoke still drifting upward from the burning tip.

“Not crazy,” he said, blowing the remnants of his last drag out through his nostrils.  “I’m a visionary.”

To this, the old man laughed so hard, some of the dust kicked up in whisps from his clothes.

“Mister,” he said, his laughter revealing the blackened, rotting smile of a man whose next visit to the dentist would be his first, “We don’t hardly see rain in these parts, an’ the only thing frozen is th’ ice Jeannie puts’n her tea over at the diner.”

The man kept laughing as he walked away from the roadside shovel salesman, the odor he exuded wafting behind him in a wake. Gil smirked slightly as he looked up to see the leading edge of the storm front begin to cross overhead.

“Laugh away,” he thought to himself.  “But I’ll have that twenty bucks you were saving for a bottle of Old Crow soon enough.”

Gil lit another cigarette as the first chimes of noon sounded from the church tower. Pretty soon, the congregation inside the building would pour out, and if he had timed things right, they’d emerge to a white-out blizzard and an inexplicable inch of snow on the ground.

He watched the few people nearest to his truck as they first began to notice the storm pushing in overhead. Its edge had finally crossed over the sun, shrouding the little dust-coated town in a muted, dim light. The icy wind was next, seemingly starting from nowhere. One moment, it was as calm as a stagnant lake, and the next, gusts of wind so cold they would freeze your spit before it hit the ground were sweeping through the town. At this development, the people on the streets stopped laughing. They turned in circles, trying to keep their backs to the frigid blasts, and looked up at the darkening sky. Some of them were still pointing at Gil and his payload, but he got the distinct impression that he was no longer the butt of any jokes.

Then the first flakes began to fall. They were scattered and seldom to start, slowly picking up speed. After a few minutes, the air was thick with snowflakes, the wind gusts swirling them about, mixed with the dust brushed up off the streets. Some of the people started to flee, heading for their homes, or the nearest places with an open door, to hole themselves up inside, away from the sudden change in the elements, and lose the afternoon to a pint of whiskey, he was sure. And some of them reveled in the bizarre twist of nature, running about in the middle of the street, yelling and laughing, arms upraised to the heavens, basking in this miracle of winter in August in New Mexico. Gil watched the revelers for a moment before grabbing the worn corduroy jacket that lay on the passenger seat and pulling it on, bracing himself from the sudden onset of cold. Finally, another man hesitantly approached Gil’s truck.

“I’ll take one,” he said, holding out a crumpled twenty dollar bill. Gil left his seat, crushing out the cigarette into the thin layer of new-fallen snow that had accumulated on the road before reaching into the bed of his truck and bringing out one of the shovels that were piled there. He handed it to his customer, taking the money at the same time. The man stood there for a moment, clutching the handle of the shovel, snowflakes bouncing off of his face and shoulders, looking like he wanted to say something but just couldn’t find the words.

“How’d ya know?” he finally spoke.

“Just lucky, I guess,” Gil replied.

The man stayed for a moment more, as if waiting for some further explanation from Gil that was not forthcoming before turning to leave, soon replaced by two more, cash in hand, finding a sudden need for Gil’s wares. As he accepted their money, he heard the first sounds of people leaving the church. The snow was starting to build up on the ground, the roofs of the buildings were frosted white and the roads were just beginning to disappear underneath a fine sheen of powder. Still, the wind kept blowing colder, and the snowfall kept getting heavier.

Before he knew it, there was a line forming at the tailgate of Gil’s truck. One after another, he sold snow shovels to the people of Paradisio, until his bed was finally empty, his inventory cleared away, and his pockets bulging with cash. The snow had continued to pile up, and was nearly four inches deep by then. Gil had to shake the layer of flakes out of his hair and brush them off of his arms and shoulders before he untied his sign. He jammed the bundle of canvas and rope back behind his seat from where it had come, before slamming the driver’s side door behind him and rolling up the window. The break from the constant frigid wind and the force of the heavy snow beating on his exposed skin was a relief.

Gil fired the truck’s engine into life, and used the windshield wipers to scrape away the snow that had settled onto the glass. The roads were now completely covered, he couldn’t make out any markings on them, but fortunately, the truck had four-wheel drive. Gil cranked up the heater to try and melt away the last effects of the wintry weather as he shifted into gear and pulled the truck away from the curb, wheels spinning slightly on the now-slick pavement. He started out of the town of Paradisio from the opposite direction that he’d entered it, peering between the swirling mass of snow to see various random citizens scraping off sidewalks and parking lots and driveways with the shovels he’d just sold them at a tidy profit.

Soon enough, he emerged from the outskirts of town, leaving behind the last of the buildings and now passing only flat, open spaces that had earlier appeared filthy from the dust and dirt and were now white, seeming oddly clean. In fifteen minutes or so, he would be clear of the leading edge of the storm, the world around him would warm once again and he could begin to put time between himself and the snowfall, moving toward his next stop. If things went well, he’d even be able to take a break in a couple of hours and spend a little of his hard-earned windfall on a big steak, medium-rare of course, and a pitcher of beer. But he couldn’t take too much time. The storm would still be following. And now, he had to restock.

One Step Ahead, copyright 2010, Dan Meadows and Watershed Publications.  All rights reserved.

If you enjoyed what you just read, you can click on the link below to find out more about the book it came from, my original 25-story collection, Bad Timing.

And for more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen. 

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Earlier, I wrote a tribute/lament about the late, great Vincent Price and how there hasn’t been a true horror movie icon since his passing in 1993 and doesn’t appear to be one coming any time soon.  Well, in honor of my favorite scary movie actor in this, my favorite time of year, here are a few of my all-time favorite Vincent Price films.  I don’t pretend to be all-encompassing–he did so many films during his 50+ year acting career, that would be next to impossible.  But when I’m looking for a Price-fix, as it were, these films come to mind more often than not.

House of Wax (1953)

Professor Henry Jarrod was a genius in wax.  He lovingly created some of history’s most famous people in unbelievably lifelike detail.  That is, until his business partner torches the wax museum for the insurance money with Jarrod and all his creations inside.  Somehow, he managed to survive but is horribly disfigured and unable to resume his work.  Jarrod, with the help of two apprentices, eventually makes a comeback with a new house of wax and a decidedly darker approach.

This one, along with House on Haunted Hill, later were ignominiously given horrid Hollywood remakes, somehow managing to miss the point of both original films completely.  Stay far away from those, unless you want to be horrified in a totally unenjoyable way.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Anton Phibes was a brilliant organist, scientist and equally brilliant muderous mastermind.  A group of nine doctors and nurses presided over the death of Phibes’ wife after a car accident that disfigured Phibes himself.  The good doctor executes an elaborate sequence of hideously clever murders based on the ancient plagues of Egypt, knocking off those Phibes blamed for the death of his wife one at a time, leading up to a grand finale the jigsaw killer would be proud of. 

This film earned a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which falls well short of the original, and another similar film, Theatre of Blood.  In that one, Price is an actor bent of destroying his critics in elaborately themed Shakespearean ways.  It’s not as well-done as Phibes, but still pretty entertaining.

The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Frederick Loren is an unhappily married millionaire hosting a party for his wife, Annabelle, in a presumably haunted house.  The guests of honor at this ostensibly supernatural shindig are five strangers who each have been offered $10,000 if they can just make it through the night in the house.  Betrayal and death ensues, leading to an unexpected twist ending.  Are there really restless spirits at work in the creepy house or fiendish motives of a more earthly sort?

Like House of Wax, this one suffered a terrible remake that played up the supernatural at the expense of the whole point of the original film.  Where this version was about deception and all-too-human greed and aspirations, the newer model traded much of that for special effects and many haunted house cliches.  It was just sad.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

Roderick Usher is a man resigned to his fate.  He lives in the crumbling estate of his family, a fitting mausoleum for the quickly approaching end of the Usher line.  His sister, Madeline, is torn between a desire to marry and flee from her past and the belief instilled in her by her brother that she, like all the Ushers, is cursed and will meet a foul end sooner than later.  When his sister appears to have died, the whole tenuous foundations holding up the Usher family, and the house itself, come crumbling down.

This is one of several adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales, and I believe the best of the bunch. Some of the better films in Price’s Poe series include The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia and a couple mentioned further down this list.  In Usher, Price expertly presents a man’s descent into madness, dragging his sister with him in the process.  He even sports some unique violin stylings that are among the creepiest things I’ve ever heard.

Tales of Terror (1962)

This film presents a series of three stories also adapted from the works of Poe.  Morella is a story of a father and his estranged daughter’s reunion that blurs the line between life and death.  In The Curious Case of M. Valdemar, Price plays a man on his deathbed who agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death as part of an experiment to try and stave off death itself but soon finds his soul held hostage by the hypnotist.  In the Black Cat, Price plays a wealthy socialite whose taste for fine wine turns to a taste for the wife of an unemployed drunkard with fatal consequences.  This one is a mix of the title story and The Casque of Amontillado, and includes a fantastic performance by Peter Lorre.

Lorre also appeared in the adaptation of The Raven, along with Price and a superstar cast including Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. The Raven is more comedy than genuine horror, but it is still an overall enjoyable film.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Where have all our heroes gone?  Horror fans have always had their iconic anti-heroes of the silver screen. From Lon Chaney to Bela Lugosi to Boris Karloff, the golden age of American cinema produced some of the most recognizable, and frightening, on-screen personas ever. 

Following in their footsteps was Vincent Price, who crafted a 50 year career out of the terrifying and the atmospherically creepy, with his long, lanky body and his general ability to set a viewer at unease without saying a word.  Price had more acting talent in his eyebrows than most of today’s movie stars possess in total. And then, when he spoke!  Price has a voice that, much like Karloff before him, defined horror for generations of fans.  Whenever you heard that unmistakable sound of his speech, you just knew something altogether horrible was about to happen.

But since his death in 1993, and to be honest, his on-screen death in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, his last significant role, no one has stepped in to fill his ample shoes.  Where are the great horror icons of today?  Who are the great actors who personify the very genre just by speaking a few words?  Sadly, there are none.

Sure, we have actors like Robert Englund of Freddy Kreuger fame who seems to be making the rounds of low-budget horror circuit with cameos in many films.  But Englund doesn’t transcend the genre into mainstream consciousness the way Price had.  And his claim to fame, Kreuger, now has a new actor under the makeup.

So who else do we have?  Tony Todd of Candyman and Final Destination fame?  He certainly has the voice for it, at least following that bit of Price’s legacy.  But his principle films haven’t had the impact that Price’s body of work held and, like Englund, has been reduced to almost a caricature of himself through a series of bit parts in mediocre movies.

Anybody else?  I can’t think of any.  No, our horror icons today aren’t the actors who play the roles, they’re the characters themselves, often hidden behind grungy masks and layers of prosthetics.  Freddy Kreuger is far more famous than Englund.  Jason Vorhees is infinitely more well-known than anyone who’s ever played him.  Same for Michael Myers.  Hell, more people know that Myers’ mask was of William Shatner than could tell you the name of anyone who’s worn it on screen.

The great icons among horror actors are dead.  Vincent Price was truly the last of his kind.  Maybe someone will rise up to claim that mantle in the future, but in the 18 years since he shuffled off this mortal coil, I’ve seen no evidence that one is forth coming.  The ghost-face mask in Scream is more identifiable than anyone who’s been in those movies.  And so is the creepy puppet thing on the tricycle from the Saw franchise.

The other day, I watched the 1972 made-for-tv special An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.  For an hour, Price, alone on stage, performed a series of the most famous and madness-inducing Poe tales in almost Shakespeareian fashion.  This wasn’t watered down, simplified for the masses material, but all the eloquence, complexity and sheer terror of Poe’s words transformed into life through Price’s unique acting talents.  It’s difficult to imagine any iconic horror actor of today pulling off that feat.  Horror may be more prolific than ever, but watching Price channel Poe’s tales of insanity and darkness, I couldn’t help but realize what we’ve lost.

Around the time of his death, the American Movie Classics cable channel ran a Vincent Price movie marathon.  I, in my excitement, filled two VHS tapes with some of the best of his film work.  This was still in the days before DVDs became the norm.  For years after, I pulled out those tapes every October and held my own little Price movie festival.  I watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Tomb of Ligeia, Tales of Terror, The Raven, House of Wax and The Conqueror Worm over and over.  It became an annual tradition in my household.

Since then, I’ve built quite the collection of Vincent Price movies, and I still make it a point to spend each October ensnared in his work.  While we may not have icons like Price anymore, we do have his many great films and best performances preserved for eternity.  So I don’t weep for the loss of the great horror icons.  Price, and others like him, will live on well beyond the grave, perhaps as it should be.

Here is a list of some of my favorite film works of Vincent Price.  Maybe you can spend a day this Halloween season emersed in the terror and madness he brought to each role.  I know I will.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

Published in: on October 20, 2011 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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The 13 Days of Halloween: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

The Chesapeake Bay has as long a history as any region in this country.  Some of the first Europeans to visit the continent set foot here.  Before that, the bounty of the Bay and its watershed served as a popular stomping ground for various native tribes.

Being unique the world over, the Bay has attracted many a visitor who chose to stay, and some who even death couldn’t drive away.  Anywhere people have lived for long periods of time is bound to have legends of ghostly apparitions and the Bay is no exception.  Tales of ghoulish spirits abound along the length of the Chesapeake, but perhaps nowhere is the supernatural realm more active than in St. Mary’s County.

Located at the extreme lower end of the Western Shore of Maryland, St. Mary’s County is nestled between the Patuxent River to the north and the Potomac to the south.  Its location and scenic beauty has made it a prime stop-off point ever since Capt. John Smith explored the peninsula in 1612.

Unfortunately, one of the things that makes it so attractive is also a drawback.  The very tip of St. Mary’s County where the waters of the Potomac flow into the open Bay creates some rather tricky currents.  Point Lookout Light–more description than a name (look out!)–was placed at the tip in 1830 in an attempt to stave off some of the shipwrecks and various sea tragedies for which the area had become known for, often to no avail.

Perhaps the most famous shipwreck off Point Lookout was that of the Express.  In 1878, the steamship Express out of Baltimore was caught in the fierce winds and waves of a hurricane.  The steamer was being beaten around by the storm when a young crewman named Joseph Haney attempted to row ashore in search of help.  He never made it, and neither did the Express.  The ship eventually sank off Point Lookout, taking with her the lives of 22 passengers and crew.

Almost 100 years to the day of that terrible event, young Mr. Haney reportedly finally made it to shore.  Point Lookout State Park manager Gerald Sword, who lived in the lightkeeper’s house at the time, was shutting the place up in preparation for an approaching storm when he caught sight of a man in a sack coat and floppy hat walking slowly toward the house.

Sword immediately went to greet the man at his porch.  But when he opened the door, he watched the man float up into the air, straight through the porch wall and disappear into the night.  While researching the strange event a few days later, Sword came across a description of a man in a newspaper article about the Express a century earlier.  The description of Joseph Haney perfectly matched the ghostly apparition Sword had seen on his front porch.

The visit from Haney was far from the only unusual occurrence at the lighthouse.  Over the years, the building’s various residents and visitors have reported numerous unexplained noises, foul odors emanating from some rooms and lots of disembodied voices.  The building attracted so much attention that a group of paranormal investigators including the producer of the late ’70s television classic of supernatural studies, “In Search Of…”, spent some time there.

By the time the group’s work was done, they had collected a large body of evidence of the unexplained.  The party left the lighthouse with over five hours of audio taped voices, including comments such as, “fire if they get too close,” and “get off my pier”.  In addition to the tapes, the group produced a photo of a seance within the building which included, in the background, what appeared to be a headless Confederate soldier in full dress uniform standing against the wall.

The lighthouse isn’t the only area around Point Lookout that has had experiences with the unexplained.  During the Civil War, the Union set up Hammond Hospital on the Point, to treat victims of smallpox and later, to serve as a prison camp for captured rebels.

The prison camp area, then called Camp Hoffman, housed some 52,000 prisoners between 1863 and 1865.  Conditions at the camp were horrific.  Prisoners were crowded into makeshift tents with little more than the clothes on their backs and one thin blanket each to protect them from the elements.  Food and firewood were at a premium and disease ran rampant in the overcrowded prison.  Smallpox, malaria and tuberculosis were just a few of the mix of deadly contagions that claimed prisoners’ lives.

Officially, it is said that nearly 4,000 Confederates died at Camp Hoffman, but some estimates run that number as high as 14,000.  The bodies of the dead have been buried, dug up and buried again on at least three separate occasions.  At one point, grave diggers were even paid based upon how many skulls they could fit into a 25-square-foot hole. 

This kind of treatment can make for some restless spirits.  Not surprisingly, ever since the camp was torn down shortly after the war ended, people at Point Lookout have reported sightings of Confederate ghosts.

One of the most common is the running man.  On one particular stretch of road not far from where Hammond Hospital once stood, various drivers have reported catching a glimpse of a man in uniform running across the road behind them.  They always see the man in their rear view mirrors and he always heads in the same direction, away from where the hospital once stood.

During the Civil War, some Confederate prisoners would try to be clever and trick their captors into sending them to Hammond with the intention of escaping once there.  Some did, but many also contracted smallpox or malaria from the actual patients there and escaped only to later die of the disease while lost in the forest somewhere.  There are those who believe the mysterious running man is one of those unfortunate souls.

Then there are the spirits doomed to wander, searching for their unmarked graves.  Elizabeth Taylor may be one of those.  Long ago, the Taylor family owned a large portion of land around Point Lookout and, as was the custom with many families in those days, they had their own family cemetery.

Over the years, however, the grave markers on the Taylor cemetery were moved, destroyed or otherwise lost.  Various people have reported seeing and even speaking to an old woman near Point Lookout frantically searching for something.  In some cases, she has even asked strangers for help in finding a relative’s headstone.  Not long ago, a park ranger from Point Lookout found an old grave marker in a local hotel room of all places.  The name etched on the stone was Elizabeth Taylor.  Was that mysterious old woman the ghost of Taylor seeking her family’s final resting place?

Point Lookout isn’t the only place in St. Mary’s County with ghosts.  A giant boulder sits in front of the St. Mary’s Historical Society in Leonardtown that has a very interesting history in its own right.

In 1697, local townspeople burned down the cabin of a Molly Dyer, branding her a witch and driving her off into the forest on the coldest of winter nights that year.  She was later found frozen to death, her body lying on that very stone.  When they pried her from the rock, impressions left by her knees and one of her hands were clearly visible and remain so to this day, over 300 years later.

The ghost of Molly Dyer has been seen repeatedly near where her cabin once stood.  The stone, however, has a life of its own.  Some people, when they get too close to it begin to feel sore and uncomfortable.  It also seems to have an aversion to being photographed.  Cameras often malfunction when trying to take images of Molly’s handprint, or the film of those images simply fails to develop properly.  Molly Dyer’s lasting revenge, possibly?

North of Leonardtown is the tiny little town of Hollywood, home of another restless spirit, dwelling in a place called Cry Baby Creek.  During World War II, a young bride was left, like so many others during that time, pregnant and alone while her husband went off to war.

When the war had finally ended, her husband was making his way anxiously back home to see his family once more.  He stopped along his journey to call his bride and tell her of his approach.  The woman was so excited that she threw on a coat, bundled up the baby against the chill and started along the road to meet him.

The husband, just as excited, especially since he was about to see his child for the first time, was driving a little too fast around a particularly sharp curve in the road at the exact moment his wife was walking the other way.  With no time to react, his car struck the woman, killing her instantly and throwing the baby into the air, over the side of the bridge and into the creek that flowed beneath it.

Even after a frantic search, no trace of the baby was ever found.  To this day, people crossing that bridge tell of seeing a young woman rushing back and forth, looking for something by the creek and of hearing the strange sound of a baby crying coming from the waters below.

And the list of the unexplained goes on.  Wherever there is a tragedy or torment, ghostly spirits or unexplained phenomena seem to follow.  The Chesapeake Bay–particularly Point Lookout and St. Mary’s County–with its rich history and equally long list of horrors, tragedies and evil deeds, is a breeding ground for such tales.

Remember, the next time you hear strange noises or voices where there are no people, it may not be your imagination.  It just might be a long lost resident still trapped in the tragedy of their loss.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The 13 Days of Halloween: A few scary movies to spend a cold, dark night with

Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday.  And it’s mostly because of the horror movies.  Ever since I was a kid, spending my Saturdays watching an array of cheesy slasher pics on Commander USA’s Groovie Movies, I’ve been hooked.  I figured it was only fitting to kick off the first day of my 13 Days of Halloween with a look at some of the films that will be giving me the shivers this year.

Every Halloween season, there is nothing I like more than to settle into a cold, dark room and spend some quality time with a series of horror films.  This list is what’s on tap for this year’s special Halloween-a-thon.  These aren’t all the best, creepiest, scariest, or goriest movies ever made, just what I’ll be watching this year, in no discernible order.

The Haunting

The original 1963 version of this film, based on the fantasticly creepy Shirley Jackson novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”, is a classic.  The black and white film, made with a minimal to non-existent soundtrack at times, is still one of the most frightening things I’ve ever watched.  The scene with Theo and Nell in the bedroom and the banging sounds out in the hallway coming closer and closer always gets me.  If only film directors today could take notes on how to build tension, we’d have a lot less splatter-fests and more genuinely scary stuff out there.  And for the love of God, please avoid the 1999 remake with Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.  It’s an affront to Shirley Jackson’s memory.  And a really, really lousy movie.

Friday the 13th

Again, I’m talking the original here.  No absurd sequels or unnecessary remakes for me.  Back in 1980, near the dawn of the slasher pic, this low-budget flick set a new bar for these kinds of films.  The franchise was later built on Jason, the supernatural, unkillable mass-murderer, but he wasn’t even in this one (other than a brief dream sequence).  This movie is great because you don’t really know who the killer is until the end, so it’s kind of a mystery wrapped inside a horror movie.  And it has a very young Kevin Bacon getting skewered through the throat with an arrow.  For years after I first saw this, I had trouble sleeping on my back for fear of someone under my bed waiting to do the same to me.  And that nice old lady saying “Kill her, mommy,” in her best high-pitched little boy voice still creeps me out.

The Exorcist

What list of Halloween movies would be complete without a film about demonic possession?  It was a close call between this and the original The Omen, but even Gregory Peck couldn’t dissuade me from picking the end-all film for exorcisms.  Originally released in 1973, the year before I was born, I finally got to see it in the theater when some new scenes were added and it was re-released a few years back.  I lived in a fourth floor apartment at the time, with access by a rickety staircase around the back of the building.  I saw a late-night showing, and when I got back home, I found that it had gotten foggy and the staircase was shrouded in white mist.  Needless to say, I ran up those stairs like a bat out of hell.  Linda Blair set the standard for pea-soup spewing, foul-mouthed little girls in this one.

Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Many people think Scream set the standard for poking at the culture of horror movies.  Well, this one does it way better.  Behind the Mask chronicles a young documentary maker’s film about an aspiring slasher preparing for his first slumber party massacre.  Some of the scenes are just priceless, when Leslie describes the inside tricks to being a slasher killer, like planting false newspaper clippings to set up his back story, rigging the location beforehand to steer his quarry where he wants them to go, and sabotaging all the available weapons that anyone could fight back with.  People think these guys just go nuts and kill anyone at hand, but Leslie makes sure to explain the ins and outs of the weeks of preparation that go into a proper slaughter.

Cabin Fever

If there’s anything I like more than a good scare, it’s a good laugh.  As cheesy as this movie is (and it’s pretty damned cheesy) I find myself laughing every time I watch it.  The scene where Paul washes himself off with mouthwash after having sex with one of his fellow flesh-eating virus afflicted cabin-mates is a classic.  And watch out for the old man in the country store.   This is an all-out gore fest, with bodily fluids oozing from nearly everyone, nearly everywhere.  After some serious scary stuff, a little bit lighter brand of horror is always nice for a mood shifter.

28 Days Later

Just like demonic possession, what’s Halloween without a good zombie flick?  There are other zombie movies that are better (the original Night of the Living Dead, for instance) but this one is very enjoyable.  Cillian Murphy wakes up alone in a hospital after being in a coma only to find everyone gone and the world in ruins.  (This scene, by the way, was ripped off wholesale by the zombie tv series The Walking Dead).  As he looks for any signs of life, he gets accosted by a vicious zombie priest, only to be saved by a pair of survivalists.  But when one of them gets infected, he watches as his other savior brutally hacks her partner apart with a machete.  Things get progressively darker from there, with what’s left of the British military harvesting women for sex and so forth.  There’s been a rash of infected zombie pics of late, most of them pretty lousy, but this one is well worth a watch.

So, there you have it, the six films I’ll be watching this Halloween season.  Don’t get too scared.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my previous collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween

I love Halloween!  Not so much the dress up part, just the scary, ghostly general all-around acceptance of horror that goes on this time of year.  And the candy.  You see it everywhere; witches hanging in people’s windows, monsters and tombstones dotting their front lawns, bats hanging from ceiling fans, human skulls and bloody dismembered body parts for sale in every store.  It’s great! 

There are horror movies on most channels all month long, even tv series almost all have creepy Halloween-themed episodes.  Plus, there’s the annual rash of new horror films hitting theaters in droves each October.  Now that’s what I call a holiday!

Since All Hallows Eve of last year rose from and returned to the grave, I’ve released two books of short stories which could modestly be described as either dark, creepy or horrifying, depending on who you ask.  They’re tailor-made for this season.  I love Halloween probably because I enjoy the creepy, frightening side of things so much, and that definitely rubs off in my fiction work.

Well, this Halloween, I’m going to spend the next 13 days leading up to my favorite day of the year talking about all sorts of interesting, scary and ghoulish matters.  I’m calling it the 13 Days of Halloween.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Or terrifying, if you prefer.  It’ll give me a chance to totally dive into the time of year I like best and get into the holiday spirit.  Who cares about Christmas?  You don’t see spooky carved pumpkins with candles flickering inside their hollowed out carcasses in December, do ya?  Black cats and heavily-warted witches aren’t slapped on every available surface for Thanksgiving, are they?  Don’t get me wrong, turkeys are definitely frightening, just not in the same way as a werewolf. 

All of this ghoulish, ghostly interest will also let me do a little promotional work for my books.  It’s a perfectly fiendish synergy.  I get to dive headlong into the scariest stuff I can find and I can sell some more books in the process.  Victor Frankenstein couldn’t have stitched together a more monsterous plan.

So keep watching.  They’ll be something new and spooky here every day from now until Halloween, 13 days of fright and fun.  Oh yeah, and buy a book or two while you’re at it.  Just don’t read them by candlelight.  You’ve been warned.  Happy Halloween!

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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