Happy Halloween

by Steve Wetherell

 

I guess I was maybe five years old or so when my dog died. Her name was Sherry, a big loafy German Shepard who I assume was brought as protection, but whom I never recall even snarling. I had come down into the hallway on an ice white morning, barefoot in my pajamas, my parents not yet up. I found her lying there in a way that I must have known wasn’t natural. Her eyes were open, she had a dried trickle of blood on her nose. I suppose I must have been old enough to process this as ‘dead’ rather than ‘sleeping’.

I don’t remember being scared, horrified or even sad. I found my siblings and we told our parents. Then Sherry was taken away. It was just a thing that happened.

If I remember one emotion I attached to the event it was excitement. Let me explain, because I know that sounds pretty awful.

As a kid I was obsessed with the paranormal. Ghostbusters was my favourite movie, even though the librarian gave me nightmares. Thanks to a big sack of pirated VHS tapes and our parents often leaving us to our own devices, my brothers and sisters let me watch a whole host of horror movies we shouldn’t have. If you think the furry scene in The Shining is disturbing as an adult, try processing that shit as someone who is only a few years removed from learning where poop is supposed to go.

The night before the death of Sherry I’d been up with my brother and cousin, swapping tales about the White Lady. No, she wasn’t a pumpkin spice obsessed yoga instructor. She was a typical Victorian apparition of a long dead lady who had flung herself from a balcony. She was rumoured to haunt the private school my brother attended, but I later found out she was sort of a franchise operation, claimed by any old building with a balcony that wanted to jazz up their history. When I found the corpse of my dog, I didn’t process it as a natural death. I clearly remember exchanging hushed whispers with my siblings. It was the work of the White Lady. She had come in the night. Our dog had died protecting us.

This would similarly link up to the next time we saw a dog corpse. We were creeping around a junk yard, that same brother and cousin and I, when amongst the majestic piles of abandoned appliances and spindly old bikes, we saw a dog, lolling out of a pile of trash-bags as though frozen mid catch. Clearly this dog was another victim of the White Lady’s gaze.

I guess it’s understandable. I guess it’s just taking a big, complicated shape and squeezing it into something a child can hold in his head. What should have been at least a little traumatic became a jump scare in an ongoing game.

That obsession with the supernatural never really left me. I don’t believe in ghosts (except the brief moments when I do, before I remind myself I’m a 250-lb grown up with a Quarter 4 planning meeting early in the morning,) but I sort of want to. Maybe that’s just ingrained in me now. That when something awful happens, it’s because of something.

This is not a healthy habit, and I wonder how many other writers, comedians and creators have it at their core. That little part of you, in the midst of disaster, is already weaving this awful news into punchlines, blog posts and prose.

That thing that, when finding a pet dead on the floor, won’t let you stay with it. Is already licking the tip of its pencil.

I mean, that’s sick, right? That’s got to be some sort of obsessive compulsive narcissism? Or maybe it’s just sad, maybe it’s just a human looking through a window at a sky full of terrible void, and writing something distracting in the condensation. I dunno. It’s pretty scary.

Happy Halloween.

 

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The Grave of the Female Stranger…

by Frank E. Bittinger

October, and thus Halloween, are upon us, and since the anthology in which I have a tale—Echoes & Bones—has also been released I thought sharing the tale of something I have found intriguing and creepy for many years would be appropriate.

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Like Nadine Earles and Rosalia Lombardo, I wrote about the story of the female stranger in my third novel Angels of the Mourning Light. Having spent time in Leesburg, VA, not far from Alexandria, of course I’d heard of the story and wanted to investigate further. It intrigued me even more when I found out the small amount of details known.

The grave in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery has become more than merely a local landmark; it has become a tourist attraction visited by those who want to see if for themselves and by those seeking the identity of the grave’s occupant.

The tale has been in the telling for nearly two centuries, and that only adds to the romanticism of the story.

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In the autumn of 1816, I’ve also heard the end of July, a ship from the West Indies docked at Alexandria and a handsome English gentleman and his beautiful wife, who was very sick with typhoid fever, got off. They rented the best room above The Bunch of Grapes Tavern, which was actually Gadsby’s Tavern, and the husband assisted his wife upstairs and then sent for the doctor, allegedly Samuel Richards.

Descriptions of the lady vary, from blonde to brunette, and she was said to have a pale, perfect complexion. Although I find any descriptions of her suspect when most of the stories I’ve come say she wore a veil. Even when the husband hired two woman, possible nurses, to assist with her care, she remained veiled.

Over the weeks, I’ve seen ten weeks reported, which would make some sense if the arrived at the very end of July, the lady did not recover; in fact, she got progressively worse until she passes away. Sometimes it’s reported the husband claimed she passed away in his embrace; other times I’ve read she passed away in the middle of a kiss.

Either way, the husband came downstairs on 14 October 1816 to report she had indeed passed away, and he set about making funeral arrangements, allegedly borrowing money from several businessmen to pay for the services. Still fearing someone might lay eyes on his beloved, he prepared the body himself, going so far as to seal the body in the coffin himself. And she was buried.

What appears to be a stone, sex-legged table marks her grave. It was originally surrounded by an iron railing, but that is gone, having been scavenged during the first World War.

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After the funeral, the husband exited town, leaving nothing behind.

He allegedly returned one year later on 4 October to visit the grave, staying only long enough to place flowers on the grave. Some versions tell of him returning each year close to the date of her death for twelve years to check on the grave and place flowers for her. After his visits stopped, for whatever reason. no one came to visit. Then some years later, an older man and woman, sometimes it’s said two men and a woman, distinguished, seemingly of British upper-class visited the grave, claimed to be relatives and ordered a more costly headstone–the top of the table–bearing the same inscription with the addition of another verse. Some stories state they claimed they would return with papers proving her identity and standing, but there were no other reports of them visiting again.

Other versions of the tale says the husband returned at some point, whether it was the year after or a few years after, with seamen from the ship to exhume her body and take it with him. There is a bit of a dip in the ground where it is suspected the coffin collapsed in on itself, but no other evidence to support the claim the husband ever returned to exhume the remains of his wife.

The grave marker is a stone table with six legs. On top the table is the inscription:

To the memory of a
FEMALE STRANGER
whose mortal sufferings terminated on
the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months
This stone was place here by her disconsolate
husband in whose arms she sighed out
her latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death

And allegedly the last verse, from Acts in the Bible, was added by that mysterious older couple who came to visit years later. Without evidence, the entire inscription could have been done at the behest of the husband. One a side note, could this older couple visiting years later have been the husband with another wife or companion?

Visitors will look up at the window of room 8 of Gadsby’s Tavern to see if they can catch a glimpse of her, for she has been known to look out the window while holding a candle. She has also been seen standing by her grave.

Who was the Female Stranger? Although there have been many guesses, the identity of the female stranger remains unknown to this day.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy of our new anthology, ECHOES & BONES, which is dark, like Halloween, and sometime funny. You can also enter to win a copy on Amazon. ‘Muricans only, because them’s the rules. Folks from other countries can go to our Facebook page for chances to win book goodies.

Two Ghost Stories

By Michael Keyton

 

There was, and maybe still is, a great tradition in our family of naming a son after the father. This in effect has turned us into a franchise of ‘Robin Hood and his Merry Men’ with: ‘Big John’ and ‘Little John’, ‘Big Frank and Little Frank’, ‘Big Mike and Little Mike’, ‘Big Dave and Little Dave’, ‘Big Owen’, and ‘Little Owen’ — and ‘Very Little Owen’

Very Little Owen (we didn’t really call him that) was my Uncle Owen, and his wife Pat lived close to us. I have very clear memories of my Aunty Pat, and I think something needs to be said: very young children recognise a beautiful woman well before all the nonsense of puberty kicks in. My Aunty Pat was beautiful and she died very young leaving two small children. My uncle was distraught, understandably drank a little more than he should, and sometime later took up with another woman who treated the children poorly.

One day she was found at the bottom of the stairs, scared out of her wits and claiming that she’d been pushed. Her account was quite graphic. She’d been walking up the stairway when a woman materialised out of thin air and pushed her down. The first time I heard this story I was about eight, sitting under our kitchen table attempting to turn the Liverpool Echo into a Magic Carpet with scissors and some complex origami. I remember closing my eyes, trying to visualise the scene. I wanted to pop out from under the table with a whole series of questions, but wisely stayed put. The general consensus was that it must have been Aunty Pat, coming back to protect her two children, and I remember waving my scissors in glee.

Now this, I confess is a second-hand story, though in a family Celtic through and through accepted as more probable than possible.

My second ghost story is a personal experience – and you can take it or leave it.

I was a student at the time, lodging in 17 High fields Road, Langland, Swansea. It was an interesting place, run by an ex officer in the RAF and his wife with the help of a small hunch-backed lady. Husband and Wife resented the fact that they had to take in students, and their servant was forever trying to explain away their distaste for us.

One night I woke up in pitch darkness, and there was a woman, standing at the foot of my bed. There was no colour to her apart from a generalised whitish glow. I remember easing myself on to my pillow in quiet excitement. There was no fear, just this intense excitement that something inexplicable had just occurred— was occurring —she was still there. The thought crossed my mind that it had to be a dream, so I scratched and pinched myself. Then came the fear that despite all this, in the cold light of day, I might well try and convince myself it was after all a dream. I pulled some hair— kept on staring— and slowly she disappeared. (And no, I hadn’t been drinking that night)

The interesting thing is that she came back a few months later. This time I was at home in Liverpool, and I woke up in the middle of the night to see her standing over me at the side of the bed. Again, no fear— a sense of peace— AND, possibly more significantly, instant recognition. It was the same lady. Don’t ask me how I know. Again I went through the pinching of the flesh routine; she faded a little more quickly than previously, but was there long enough for me to be sure I was awake.

I know all the quasi-scientific explanations that can explain most things away, and there are others who’d claim it was my Guardian Angel. People believe what they will whether ‘New Age’ or ‘Materialist’. My only regret is that I haven’t seen her since.

PS: For those who enjoy ‘real life’ ghost stories, ‘Bus Stop’ in Tales from the Murenger is based upon one such, though suitably embroidered. It was told to me by the brother of the bus conductor involved when I was a student working in a biscuit factory.

And, in case you missed it, don’t forget to check out ECHOES AND BONES, an anthology of dark fiction written by myself and the other Dolls. If you’re an American, you can enter to win a copy on Amazon. Live in another country? Keep an eye on our Facebook page for a chance to win.

 

echoes and bones final kindle

 

 

 

Book News!

by Renee Miller

Hello, Dolls! Halloween is approaching and we’ve been busy. Get ready for Deviant Dolls Publications’ first-ever anthology, ECHOES AND BONES, which will be available as e-book and paperback on Wednesday, October 11th. But you can pre-order your copy now!

echoes and bones final kindle

The Florida Keys, a psychic, and a chipped teacup; not very interesting on their own, but together, they weave dark, sometimes twisted tales of secrets, death, mystery and fantastic discovery. Join us as we listen to the echoes and wade through the bones, to unearth the treasures hidden in our deviant minds.

CONSTRUCTIVE DISMISSAL – Michael Keyton
Cheating a houngan is bad news. A classroom won’t save you.

THE LAST READING OF MADAME SHAHRAZAD – Steve Wetherell
Stacey James makes a comfortable living pretending to talk to the dead, but a dangerous stranger is about to put her talents to the ultimate test.

THE PAST ENTOMBED – C.M. Saunders
Amanda has a tragic past. She also has a gift. Or maybe it’s a curse. Psychometry. The art of ‘reading’ inanimate objects. It’s something she has struggled with her entire life, but learned to accept. Until one morning, when she stumbles across an object at a market which brings the past and the future crashing together. There will be consequences.

WASHER WOMAN SHOALS – Liam McNalley
Between her part time job mixing drinks at her landlord’s bar and deceiving tourists as Madame Ezora, Belle earns enough money to allow for a simple new life in Key West. A strange object found on the beach, though, turns her world upside down. Now, the only way to avoid certain death is for Belle to actually contact a spirit from the other side.

MISBEGOTTEN – Frank E. Bittinger
Haunted by a memory or haunted by an actual spirit, that is the question. Even in paradise, it seems you cannot outrun the past. Will turning to one who communicates with those who have passed beyond the Veil provide answers or will it only lead to a dead end?

THIS ONE IS MINE – Katrina Monroe
Patty will look into a stranger’s past for a small fee. Now, it’s time to confront her own.

KEEPER – Renee Miller
Ford’s dusty pawn shop in the Florida Keys is full of both trash and treasure. The items he hides in the room behind the store, though, are his most prized possessions, and definitely not for sale. Rare beauty, exquisite gifts; each worth a price only Ford comprehends.

The anthology also includes bonus content like book excerpts and original short fiction by the Dolls.

To celebrate this and the many new things the Dolls have coming this month, we’re writing a series of Halloween/Horror themed blog posts, and we’re going to give away two paperback copies of the anthology, as well as two e-books, as well as other goodies.

To be entered to win, just go to the book’s Amazon page on or after the 11th of October and look for the “enter the giveaway” option. (Sorry, U.S. residents only, because Amazon’s not big on international giveaways, apparently, but there will be more chances for non-U.S. readers to win here and on our personal blogs). Stay tuned to the blog and our Facebook page for more Halloween posts and chances to win cool bookish things.