Tag: Halloween


How do you celebrate All Hallows' Evening?

While there seems to be general consensus that the observance of Halloween dates back to Celtic harvest festivals, there is some debate about its exact origins. A quick glance at Wikipedia is enough to overwhelm all but the heartiest of researching souls. Since I’m neither a speaker of Gaelic nor a historian, I’ll leave the details to the experts. Instead, it seems fitting to mark the day with a discussion about what I love most about the holiday.  As someone who writes about murder on an almost daily base, I’m embarrassed to admit that I avoid horror movies and books because they scare me too much. And, yet, every year on October 31st I’m drawn to the spookiest bits of the day. No cute or sexy costumes for me. I like it creepy. One year, when my kids were small, my husband literally blocked me from leaving the apartment to take our then second-grade daughter and pre-k son to the school Halloween party until I made my face less scary. He was afraid I would make the younger kids cry. (I was a ghost that year and had spent a good bit of time with makeup so that I looked like I’d been dead for a few decades). Another year I took my kids trick-or-treating; and we were all characters from Star Wars. I was the Emperor. Not only did I find a perfect ragged walking stick that allowed me to hobble hunched over, but I drew wrinkles and warts on my hands, and rubbed dirt under my nails so that every bit of me looked evil. There was not a dog we met that night that didn’t growl. I took those snarls as compliments. My daughter, now a senior in high school, informed me that my problem with Halloween is that if I dress up (which I don’t always do), I tend to be extra. I’m not entirely sure what that means, because I’m not a fluent speaker of teenagese, but I have a feeling it’s not good. I suspect my plans to be Count Dracula this year may be met with some eye-rolling by my family, who prefer a lower-key approach to the holiday. So, my fellow suspense readers and writers–my friends who like to read and write about death for fun–how do you like to celebrate this centuries-old holiday? Do you carve happy jack-o-lanterns and bob for apples? Or do you like the darker side? Or, maybe, something else in between? No matter how you celebrate: Happy Halloween!      

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The Heebie Jeebies

  ‘Tis the season for ghoulies  and ghosties and long-legged beasties. In the spirit of Halloween, I asked my fellow Missdemeanors to talk about the spookiest place they’ve ever been. Me, the spookiest place I’ve ever been was the Market Square Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson rented a room in the tavern while he studied law with George Wythe. The building’s been restored since then and it operates as a hotel. Rumor has it, Jefferson’s ghost haunts the halls. I didn’t see the late President when I stayed there several years ago but I did have an odd experience. There’s a small front room with chairs and tables and bookcases; a place to gather for conversation with your fellow travelers or to relax with a book. My second night at the tavern, I decided to explore. I headed for the front room but stopped in the hallway just outside, overwhelmed by the sensation that something was in there. No other hotel guests were around and I couldn’t see or hear anyone. I just knew something was in there and that I didn’t want to meet whatever it was. I prefer my spirits in a glass and ghosts on the page, not up close. I hesitated in the hall, telling myself I was being silly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. In fact, it grew stronger. I turned around and rushed back to my room, glancing behind me to make sure nothing followed me. I locked my door and stayed in for the rest of the night. I went back in the morning but the weird sensation was gone. The front room was just a room. Alison: Oh, good question, Alexia! The first time I remember having actual chills was in a torture chamber in the bowels of some castle in Luxembourg. I was probably about twelve. I’d been to other torture chambers before and hadn’t been particularly moved. What made this chamber different was that someone had painted pictures of both the victim and the torturer along side each device. The torturers all had twinkles in their eyes. I don’t know if they were actually smiling, but it was clear to me they were enjoying themselves. The idea that someone could torture another human being and enjoy it haunted me then and still does today.  Cate: I avoid spooky places because I believe in all that stuff. The scariest place that I’ve ever been was in a park near Amish country, Pennsylvania. My friend and I got lost in the woods. After hiking for five hours and getting more and more lost, we ended up on the highway in bathing suits, at twilight, encircled by a biker gang that didn’t realize we were both twelve years old. We made it back though, thanks to some sheepishly provided directions after we tearfully explained to said biker gang that we were lost kids that just wanted their moms.  My parents had thought we were still at the park watering hole while they packed up with the younger siblings. They didn’t realize that we’d tried to come back six hours earlier. Ahhh… the old days of parenting pre cell phones. My kids have GPS-enabled watches that make calls and can be tracked by my phone. I’m KITT to their Michael. #knightrider. #helicoptermom #technologyrocks  Tracee: Like Cate, I avoid scary places so I don’t have a long list to cull through to find the scariest one. (I absolutely avoid any Haunted House or similarly ‘fake’ scary place!) The scariest experience by far in my life wasn’t about the place per se but what happened. I (still to this day) swear I saw the devil in my childhood bedroom. I was college age at the time and despite my mature viewpoint (ha!) it took me a long time to recover, if that is what you could call it. I won’t bore everyone with the details but it was genuinely terrorizing and I remember each detail with absolute clarity these many decades later. In terms of a scary place… nothing has come close although I have visited quite a few dungeons. There was one in Germany (can’t remember where) that was particularly frightening. They must have had an excellent display of torture equipment! VERY realistic. Robin: I’d say the spookiest place I’ve been was multiple places visited during a “Sinister London” tour I took, led by a drama student. He took us driving and walking through neighborhoods and locations of some seriously creepy historical relevance. One of the spookiest spots was a cell beneath a pub used as a “pauper’s prison.” Between the actor’s dramatic telling of what happened in there, the chill of the night air from a grate in the ceiling that opened to the sidewalk, and an unexplained moaning sound in an empty corner of the cell that the tour leader insisted had nothing to do with him or the tour, our group of 9 quickly diminished as 4 people bailed, too scared to go on. By the time the tour completed it was down to me, my partner and the tour leader. Susan: Generally I try to avoid spooky places, unless I’m on a ghost tour with my fellow Miss Demeanor. But I remember some years ago wandering around the Antietam Battlefield and walking through a creek among the cornfields, if I’m remembering right, and I could almost feel the presence of all the soldiers who’d died there that day. It was a very heavy feeling. Paula: Like Susan, I avoid spooky places, having once been carried screaming out of a haunted house when I was small, and again in my 40s. I kid you not. I was raised in a military family and we moved all the time. There were several times when I walked into a house for the first time   and felt as if I’d lived there before. Or could feel the presence of other spirits. Mostly they were friendly, and didn’t bother me. It was like a sort of déjà vu homecoming. The only place that’s really ever haunted me is Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. We visited that sacred space when I was 10 years old, and I never forgot it. Thinking about it now I still get goosebumps. And say a prayer. Michele: The spookiest place I have ever been is alone in a ten by ten room with no windows in a maximum security reception and diagnostic center, otherwise known as a prison for very bad boys, interviewing a man accused of killing his wife with a shotgun while his toddler watched. I had been appointed by the court to investigate, represent, and make recommendations regarding the best interests of this child. Because I had been a pediatric nurse, I often was appointed in cases regarding children, but this one stands out in my memory, not because of the tragic circumstances. Unfortunately, there are too many cases where children are the secondary victims of their parents’ crimes and misconduct. And I had been around plenty of men and women who had “gone wrong.” But this man made my skin crawl as he laughed at the ridiculous thought he would ever kill his wife, especially when his kid would have full view. I could smell evil and knew he had done just that, and had enjoyed it. Think Clarice interviewing Hannibal Lector. I would rather sleep deep in a dark remote forest alone than be in a room with that man again, even with armed guards two feet away. What’s the spookiest place you’ve ever been? 

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 I’ve been thinking, since my Bouchercon panel, “North vs South,” about the differences between small towns and big cities. In this day of easy travel and impermanent jobs, those differences seem more pronounced than differences based on the Mason-Dixon Line or Mississippi River. In the past 7 days, I’ve flown from my adopted small town in Illinois to a big city in Ontario, Canada to a big city in Washington. The big cities, despite being located in different countries as well as on opposite coasts, feel a lot alike. The weather contributes to this feeling–gray and rainy with occasional bursts of sun in both locales–but the similarity runs deeper than barometric pressure. High-rise, glass and steel luxury condos overlook still-gritty waterfronts. Homeless people, too–what? Tired? Desolate? Hopeless?–to ask for your spare change dot the streets. A vibe buzzes through the air, difficult to describe but as different from my small town as a raven is from a writing desk. A vibe that manifests in ways that seem inconsequential. But are they? Halloween decorations, for instance. My small town goes all out with the decor. Driveways and doorways and fence posts festooned with pumpkins, mums, skeletons, and cobwebs. The degree of Halloween-specific vs Autumn-in-general varies from house to house and storefront to storefront but, no mistake, people celebrate the season. Not so much in these big cities. Almost nothing outwardly marks the season. “Business as usual,” they scream. Trivial, right? A few gourds doomed to be tossed to rotate in favor of poinsettias and some plastic skeletons destined for a dusty basement corner. But does the lack of such symbols in big cities signify the insignificance of the seasons’ shift? Because a change of seasons changes nothing? Life in shiny, imposing, climate-controlled towers goes on pretty much the same, regardless of the calendar? I’m not knocking big cities. I love them. A city full of people is, paradoxically, an introvert’s dream. Think of the things on offer–art galleries, museum exhibits, window shopping–that don’t require social interaction. You can be alone without feeling alone. But I do wonder if someone living in Dallas, TX would react to a situation more like someone from Marfa, TX or like someone in New York City? What do you think?

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