Tag Archives: Halloween

The Halloween Tree

“Back in the old days,” my father used to say to me, “we didn’t git no candy on Halloween. Warn’t no such thing as tricker-treatin’ or whatever you darned kids call it. Puttin’ on some fool costume and prancin’ around the streets, why that’s just plain sissy.”
I got that lecture every year when the air turned crisp and the kids at school chirped about what they were going to wear for Halloween and what candy they wanted in their trick or treat bags. I suspected my father held his high falutin’ principles against childish behavior on October 31st because he didn’t want to spend money on a costume or candy.
“So there wasn’t Halloween at all?” I asked.
“Sure there was Halloween, but we didn’t go hog wild over it like they do today. Folks would have barn parties, and all the neighbor kids would come over. We’d play games right up to midnight.”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh, bobbin’ for apples. Nothin’ fancy.”
My face perked up. “Bobbing for apples? That sounds like fun.”
I saw my father’s eyes widened as he thought about the price of apples.
“Oh, you wouldn’t like it. It warn’t no fun at all. You got your face wet and choked on the water. No fun at all.”
“Then what did you do for fun?”
“Well, some boys used to knock over outhouses Halloween night.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” I imagined the stench of human excrement spewing from the overturned outhouse, and I gagged. “Did you do that?”
“Only once.”
“What happened?”
“I got caught.”
“How?”
“Well, pa came up to me the next day and started talkin’ about how George Washington told his pappy the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree. Then I asked me if I had knocked over the outhouse. I owned up to it, and he turned me over his knee and started wallopin’ my behind. I says, ‘Pa, George Washington’s pappy didn’t spank him when he told the truth about choppin’ down the cherry tree.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but George Washington’s pappy warn’t up in that cherry tree when he chopped it down.’”

Seance in Black

Halloween of 1890 surprised Arthur Conan Doyle with a mixture of happiness and mysticism.
He was the guest of honor at a party hosted by Ward Locke, the publisher of his first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlett. Ladies, all of them in black evening gowns highlighted with orange flowers or brooches and necklaces, were particularly attentive, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on Doyle’s dinner jacket.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Doyle,” Ward Locke’s wife cooed, “when you become the most famous writer in London? You won’t have a moment’s peace.” Her eyes, an uneventful shade of brown, fluttered without producing their intended purpose of luring the single gentlemen with her non-existent wiles.
“I am certain I shall find a suitable safe harbor in the storm of public attention.”
Mrs. Locke practically swooned over the more sensual meanings of Doyles’ metaphor.
“Among my many new-found friends and acquaintances, such as your husband and yourself, indeed all the fine people who are here tonight.”
“Oh. Of course.” She stood erect in the middle of her collapse into the romance of her thoughts. Recovering, she smiled with due temperance. “And I’m sure your friends from the hospital will be a great comfort to you.”
A woman wearing too much rouge made good use of her ample hips to force Mrs. Locke from the inner sphere of Doyle’s immediate company. “You mustn’t ignore your other guests, dear. I shall entertain our wonderful young gentlemen for now. I am Mrs. Wickham, a dear friend of the Lockes. They tell me you are a doctor.” She paused a moment to admire his physical appearance. “My, you must have an impressive bedside manner.”
At that moment Doyle caught the gaze of his publisher and turned the corners of his lips into a smile that expressed mild desperation. Locke smiled in return, lifted his glass and clinked it with a dessert spoon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the man of the hour, Arthur Conan Doyle!” Locke announced. After an appropriate pause for all the guests to murmur their approval, he continued, “We wish him continued success so suddenly found at the young age of thirty-one.” Everyone took turns commenting upon his promising career unfolding in front of him, remarkable for a young man of thirty-one years.”
“Oh, yes. I remember being thirty-one,” a voice boomed from the shadows. “Great expectations can wither on the vine as time passes, leaving you with sad dreams of what might have been.”
Holiday chatter died as all heads turned to watch a tall, swarthy man step toward Doyle, who suspected the man to be in his middle forties and under the influence of liquid spirits. A shrill giggle shattered the silence.
“You must forgive my friend, Mr. Doyle,” Mrs. Wickham said with forced cheer as she left his side to join the handsome stranger and grab the man’s arm, pulling him back. “His attempts at humor are an acquired taste. He’s Nathan Ladderly, my neighbor at the Nickleby Arms Hotels. The dear man has no family so I thought I would invite him to our soiree–“
“Mrs. Wickham finds me attractive and creates excuses to be in my company,” Ladderly interjected.
“Oh, Nathan, you’re so wicked,” Mrs. Wickham said with a laugh.
A second giggle erupted, this time from Mrs. Locke. “Ward, darling, what is a Halloween party without parlor games appropriate for this evening of ghouls and goblins?” She pushed her way through the crowd holding a small square table on which sat a mysterious wooden board. “This game has just been invented. They call it a Ouija board. It’s a way to communicate with the dead,” Mrs. Locke chirped. “Mr. Ladderly, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Wickham, please pull up chairs, and we shall see what spirits we may conjure.”
“This will be droll,” Ladderly muttered as he sat at the table.
“I am open to spiritualism, though I am not completely convinced,” Doyle announced with a tight smile. He sat opposite Ladderly.
Tittering, the two women filled in the gaps and Mrs. Locke placed a wooden disk on three small balls in the middle of the board. On one side was a pointer and in the middle a hole.
“Ward, darling, lower the gas lamps,” she said. “We must have the proper atmosphere. Now, everyone place your fingertips lightly on this little wooden pointer. It’s called a planchette.”
As the lights dimmed, Ladderly leaned his head, almost touching his cheek to the board. “Ouija, Ouija, Ouija, is anyone there?”
All the guests gathered around the table gasped as the planchette moved suddenly to Yes.
Ladderly pulled his hands away. “This is ridiculous. I want nothing to do with this.”
The planchette jerked over to No.
“Please, Nathan, dear,” Mrs. Wickham pleaded. “Open your mind. Participate. For my sake.”
“Why should I do anything for your sake?” Ladderly’s tone boarded on insolence.
Doyle leaned forward. “You seem nervous, Mr. Ladderly. Do you have anything to fear?”
“Of course not,” he replied in a huff. He placed his fingers back on the wooden pointer.
“I’m so flustered,” Mrs. Lock admitted. “I don’t know what to ask.”
“Are you trying to communicate with a specific person?” Doyle asked.
The planchette moved to Yes.
“Is it me?”
Again Yes.
“Why?” Doyle continued.
The wooden disk quickly moved around the board stopping to reveal specific letters in the hole. It spelled murder.
“Oh, Mr. Doyle,” Ladderly sneered. “How obvious. I insult you, and you accuse me of murder.”
“My fingers are barely on this device. Those standing over my shoulder can attest that. And why do you assume the board is speaking specifically about you out of all the people in this room?”
The pointer again moved to Yes.
“Oh, this is impossible!” Ladderly said with a hiss. “I refuse to continue with this charade.”
“No, I think we should continue,” Locke announced as many of his male guests moved to stand around Ladderly’s chair.
Again the planchette floated over the letters. I am Dickens.
Gasps and twitters spread through the room.
Someone murdered Drood.
“How foolish,” Ladderly said. “That was a work of fiction.”
Real.
“Then who did kill Edwin Drood?” Doyle asked.
Neville Landless.
“He was the young man from India who was enthralled with Drood’s fiancé Rosa Bud,” Doyle clarified. “Dickens was writing the novel and publishing each chapter in the newspaper as he finished it. Before he could complete his work, he died. Literary circles still discuss who the murderer might have been.”
“Everyone knows Drood’s uncle did it,” Ladderly added nervously.
The pointer moved to No.
“Is Neville Landless in this room?” Doyle asked, staring at Ladderly.
Yes.
“N.L. Neville Landless. N.L. Nathan Ladderly,” Mrs. Wickham said as though the entire plot had been revealed to her.
“These parlor games have gone too far!” Ladderly tried to stand, but several hands pushed him back down.
“Put your fingers back on the planchette, Mr. Ladderly,” Mrs. Locke said in a flat tone. “Perhaps you can handle your destiny.”
“Is Nathan Ladderly actually Neville Landless?” Doyle asked.
Yes.
“So he killed Edwin Drood?”
Yes. The disk’s hole highlighted other letters. Me too.
“No!” Ladderly screamed.
“Mr. Dickens, did Mr. Ladderly know you were about to incriminate him?” Doyle said.
Yes.
“Nonsense! Why didn’t he go directly to Scotland Yard?” Ladderly demanded. “Why write it as a novel?”
“Obviously he had no evidence that would hold up in court. Once he published his novel, the public outcry would be deafening. Of course, he had to change names,” Doyle explained. “Nathan Ladderly became Neville Landless. Edwin Drood… Anyone remember the disappearance of a man with the initials E.D. around the time of Dickens’ death? No matter. Scotland Yard will know.”
Yes, the Ouija board responded.
“Elementary.”

Dogs of War


A few years ago, I made the trip of a lifetime and went to England. I rented a car in London and learned how to drive on the wrong side of the road. Which was easier than you’d think because the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car too.
My plan was to drive west to Stonehenge and Wales, then turn north through the Lake Country and up into Scotland. I’d go east and down into the Midlands and back to London. I took a full month so I could see everything on my own schedule and not on a tour bus schedule.
Everything was going well until I reached this one open plain which was the location of a major battle of the War of the Roses. I paid my fee and went on the tour. Now the most interesting part—at least for me—was the guide’s explanation of a phenomena called the Dogs of War.
“This field was covered with dead soldiers,” he explained, gesturing to the broad green field. “When the sun set, surviving soldiers had only recovered a few of the bodies. In the dark the living soldiers retreated to their camp and the shelter of their tents.
“Around midnight, they awoke to the barking, growling and snarling of dogs,” he continued. “Many of the soldiers lit their torches and ran out to the battlefield. They held the torches high as they walked among the corpses, but they saw no dogs. They continued to hear the barking, howling and snarling, but they saw nothing but the bodies of their fallen comrades.
“The next morning when the soldiers resumed recovering the dead for proper burial,” he said in a lower, more ominous voice, “they saw than many of the corpses had their arms and legs ripped from them, and the limbs had been chewed beyond recognition.
“Thus began the legend of the Dogs of War,” the guide concluded. “Anyone foolhardy enough to venture into the battlefield at midnight heard the howling of dogs. Some received mysterious bites on their legs. And a few were never seen again.”
Back at the inn I sat down for supper with a few of the tourists and our tour guide. Everyone was hungry for more gruesome details, even as they ate their beef pies.”
“What would possess anyone to go into the battlefield alone at midnight,” I asked the guide.
“Courage,” he replied quickly, “but it was the courage of fools and not to be admired.”
After I retired to my bedroom, I could not sleep, thinking how I had, foolishly or not, never done a brave thing in my whole life. Why, I’d never been on a rollercoaster. Not even the little slow ones for toddlers. I decided that since I was sixty-five years old, I had better be brave now or else I never would be.
So at eleven o’clock I dressed and went downstairs. I saw that a few of the tourists and the guide were still in the bar, downing large mugs of ale.
“And where would you be going this time of night, sir?” the desk clerk asked.
I smiled and said, “I just want to go for a walk.”
“And where might you go on your walk?” the clerk inquired. He didn’t sound like he disapproved but there seemed a tinge of concern in his voice.
“I don’t know,” I replied with a shrug. “The battlefield, maybe.”
“Suit yourself.” The clerk averted his eyes and resumed his bookkeeping chores.
The battlefield was only a fifteen-minute walk away from the inn. The night air was a bit nippy but not uncomfortable. Clouds partly covered the moon, so I had to watch my step. Once I reached the historic site, I discovered the sky was now totally covered in thick, low-hanging clouds. I pulled out my little flashlight and looked at my watch.
Midnight.
And no howling Dogs of War.
Hmph. Just as I thought. I turned to return to the roadway leading back to the inn when I heard some rustling in the distance. I stopped to listen. The rustling developed into a rumbling which evolved into the distinct pounding of dogs’ feet. Soon after that, a howl broke through the dark silence.
My mouth flew open. I began turning in circles, trying to determine which direction the dogs’ barking was coming from. It came from every direction. There was no escape. As the howling became louder and louder, I fell to my knees and covered my head with my trembling arms. In no time at all, I felt the hot breath of dogs at my neck. I cringed, waiting for the sharp teeth to tear into my flesh.
But instead, I felt wet puppy licks. The scary growling became puppy yipping. Then it was over. I opened my eyes and stood. Looking around, I saw nothing and heard nothing but cricket song. I was in deep thought, pondering what had just happened when I heard a human voice.
“Hey, you!” It was the tour guide running toward me. “I came after you when the clerk told me what you were up to.” He held up his flashlight to my face, searching for bloody teeth marks. “You all right?”
“Yeah, sure.”
He leaned in for a closer look at my neck. “Do you know you got dog slobber all over your neck?”
“After I heard the barking, I dropped to the ground and tried to cover my head. Then the howling turned into puppy dog sounds. And I felt licks all over me.”
The guide took a step back and stared at me, as though he had never seen me before.
“Well, I’ll be. I thought I’d never see the likes of your kind,” he said in awe.
“And what kind is that?” I didn’t know how to take his comment.
“There’s another part of the legend which I rarely tell on the tour because its occurrence is too rare, well, I’d never seen it before in my lifetime. My grandfather said he had seen one of you when he was a lad, but I didn’t really believe you existed.”
“So, what am I exactly?” To be frank, I was beginning to feel a bit like a freak.
“You are that rare breed called a good, caring, gentle person.” He took the light out of my face. “Legend has it that if a good, caring, gentle person wandered into this field at midnight, as you did tonight, the phantom dogs would attack. But once they sensed that person was good, caring, and gentle, they would turn into puppies and lick the person as though he were a long lost friend.”
“But I thought dogs could sense fear, and I admit I was not brave when I fell down. I was afraid.”
“You just thought you were afraid. The dogs knew. They have that way about them. There’s an old saying around here. Never trust a man who doesn’t love dogs. And never trust a man a dog doesn’t love.”

Halloween Board Meeting

How do you like your mummy, over easy or hard-boiled?

Here it was a month before Halloween and all hell was about to break loose.
Not that a little hell was unexpected in the realm of the impish ghouls who relished ruling the last night of October. In the last hundred years or so they discovered eating candy stolen from the little humans was much more delightful than eating the little buggers themselves who nowadays tended to be a bit on the spoiled rotten side. No, it was much uglier than that. It was a pure grab for power. The leader of the wolf pack challenged the royalty of darkness for the chair at the head of the table.
“It’s time for fresh blood!” the werewolf growled.
“You all know it ain’t fittin’ for nobody but a descendant of Dracula himself to rule the roost on Halloween night,” Dracula the Third drawled.
The latest top vampire was from southern Transylvania which many gossipy gargoyles attributed as cause of the latest political shenanigans. Werewolves, contrary to popular belief, are fussy about diction, which begged the issue of how can one mispronounce a midnight howl at the moon?
The top Halloween honcho decided to call the meeting at everyone’s favorite restaurant Frankenstein’s Beanery. The wait staff, who were stitched together at the last minute to ensure proper service, had not quite perfected the art of placing bowls of hot bean soup on the table, so the meal ended in the laps of the wolves which made them even more crotchety.
Also, Dracula’s darling placed zombies in charge of the registration table. How can anyone be expected to fill out a ballot properly after the zombies have drooled on it? Third Dracula looked like Top Dog. The sexy hexy witch crowd blew on the smoldering cauldron which held the Frankenstein bean soup and cried fowl.
“It’s not my fault they didn’t have chicken noodle on the menu tonight!” Dracula’s kin hissed.
“And it didn’t have enough bay leaves in it!” Wolfie snarled.
“We’re not talking about the damn soup,” the sexy hexy witch crowd cackled. “It’s time to look for an alternative Halloween leader. Someone compassionate and soothing. We want our Mummy!”
The vampire waved aside their protests. “The mail monster delivered a letter this afternoon from Cairo. The Mummy is all wrapped up in other problems and won’t be here for Halloween.”
“Not so fast, fang face!”
Every goblin in the room turned to look at the door, where stood the Mummy, dripping in sands from the Sahara. The buzzards buzzed. The crows cawed. The black cats hissed.
“All my babies are upset!” the Egyptian cried out. “It’s time for good old-fashioned Addams family values! That’s why Mummy’s back in town!”

A Seance in Blackness


Arthur Conan Doyle

Halloween of 1890 surprised Arthur Conan Doyle with a mixture of happiness and mysticism.
He was the guest of honor at a party hosted by Ward Locke, the publisher of his first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlett. Ladies, all of them in black evening gowns highlighted with orange flowers or brooches and necklaces, were particularly attentive, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on his dinner jacket.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Doyle,” Ward Locke’s wife cooed, “when you become the most famous in London? You won’t have a moment’s peace.” Her eyes, an uneventful shade of brown, fluttered without producing their intended purpose of luring the single gentleman with her non-existent wiles.
“I am certain I shall find a suitable safe harbor in the storm of public attention.”
Mrs. Locke practically swooned over the more sensual meanings of Doyles’ metaphor.
“Among my many new-found friends and acquaintances, such as your husband and yourself, indeed all the fine people who are here tonight.”
“Oh. Of course.” She stood erect in the middle of her collapse into the romance of her thoughts. Recovering, she smiled respectfully. “And I’m sure your friends from the hospital will be a great comfort to you.”
A woman wearing too much rouge made good use of her ample hips to force Mrs. Locke from the inner sphere of Doyle’s immediate company. “You mustn’t ignore your other guests, dear. I shall entertain our wonderful young gentlemen for now. I am Mrs. Wickham, a dear friend of the Lockes. They tell me you are a doctor.” She paused a moment to admire his physical appearance. “My, you must have an impressive bedside manner.”
At that moment Doyle caught the gaze of his publisher and turned the corners of his lips into a smile that expressed mild desperation. Locke smiled in return, lifted his glass and clinked it with a dessert spoon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a toast to the man of the hour, Arthur Conan Doyle!” Locke announced. After an appropriate pause for all the guests to murmur their acquiescence, he continued, “We wish him continued success so suddenly found at the young age of thirty-one.”
“Oh, yes. I remember being thirty-one,” a voice boomed from the shadows. “Great expectations can wither on the vine as time passes, leaving you with sad dreams of what might have been.”
Holiday chatter died as all heads turned to watch a tall, swarthy man step toward Doyle, who suspected the man to be in his middle forties and under the influence of liquid spirits. A shrill giggle shattered the silence.
“You must forgive my friend, Mr. Doyle,” Mrs. Wickham said with forced cheer as she left his side to join the darksome stranger and grab the man’s arm, pulling him back. “His attempts at humor are an acquired taste. He’s my neighbor at the Nickleby Arms Hotels, Nathan Ladderly. The dear man has no family so I thought—“
“Mrs. Wickham finds me attractive and creates excuses to be in my company,” Ladderly interjected.
“Oh, Nathan, you’re so wicked,” Mrs. Wickham said with a laugh.
A second giggle erupted, this time from Mrs. Locke. “Ward, darling, what is a Halloween party without parlor games appropriate for this evening of ghouls and goblins?” She pushed her way through the crowd holding a small square table on which was a mysterious wooden board. “This game has just been invented. They call it a Ouija board. It’s a way to communicate with the dead,” Mrs. Locke chirped. “Mr. Ladderly, Mr. Doyle, Mrs. Wickham, please pull up chairs, and we shall see what spirits we may conjure.”
“This will be droll,” Ladderly muttered as he sat at the table.
“I am open to spiritualism, though I am not completely convinced,” Doyle announced with a tight smile. He sat opposite Ladderly.
Tittering, the two women filled in the gaps and Mrs. Locke placed a wooden disk on three small balls in the middle of the board. On one side was a pointer and in the middle a hole.
“Ward, darling, lower the gas lamps,” she said. “We must have the proper atmosphere. Now, everyone place your fingertips lightly on this little wooden pointer. It’s called a planchette.”
As the lights dimmed, Ladderly leaned his head, almost touching his cheek to the board. “Ouija, Ouija, Ouija, is anyone there?”
All the guests gathered around the table gasped as the planchette moved suddenly to Yes.
Ladderly pulled his hands away. “This is ridiculous. I want nothing to do with it.”
The planchette jerked over to No.
“Please, Nathan, dear,” Mrs. Wickham pleaded. “Open your mind. Participate. For my sake.”
“Why should I do anything for your sake?” Ladderly’s tone bordered on insolence.
Doyle leaned forward. “You seem nervous, Mr. Ladderly. Do you have anything to fear?”
“Of course not,” he replied in a huff. Reluctantly he placed his fingers back on the wooden pointer.
“I’m so flustered,” Mrs. Lock admitted. “I don’t know what to ask.”
“Are you trying to communicate with a specific person?” Doyle asked.
The planchette moved to Yes.
“Is it me?”
Again Yes.
“Why?” Doyle continued.
The wooden disk quickly moved around the board stopping to reveal specific letters in the hole. It spelled murder.
“Oh, Mr. Doyle,” Ladderly sneered. “How obvious. I insult you, and you accuse me of murder.”
“My fingers are barely on this device. Those standing over my shoulder can attest that. And why do you assume the board is speaking specifically about you out of all the people in this room?”
The pointer again moved to Yes.
“Oh, this is impossible!” Ladderly said with a hiss. “I refuse to continue with this charade.”
“No, I think we should continue,” Locke announced as many of his male guests moved to stand around Ladderly’s chair.
Again the planchette floated over the letters. I am Dickens.
Gasps and twitters spread through the room.
Someone murdered Drood.
“How foolish,” Ladderly said. “That was a work of fiction.”
Real.
“Then who did kill Edwin Drood?” Doyle asked.
Neville Landless.
“He was the young man from India who was enthralled with Drood’s fiancé Rosa Bud,” Doyle clarified. “Dickens was writing the novel and publishing each chapter in the newspaper as he finished it. Before he could complete his work, he died. Literary circles still discuss who the murderer might have been.”
“Everyone knows Drood’s uncle did it,” Ladderly added nervously.
The pointer moved to No.
“Is Neville Landless in this room?” Doyle asked, staring at Ladderly.
Yes.
“N.L. Neville Landless. N.L. Nathan Ladderly,” Mrs. Wickham said slowly as though the entire plot had been revealed to her.
“These parlor games have gone too far!” Ladderly tried to stand, but several hands pushed him back down.
“Put your fingers back on the planchette, Mr. Ladderly,” Mrs. Locke said in a flat tone. “Perhaps you can handle your destiny.”
“Is Nathan Ladderly actually Neville Landless?” Doyle asked.
Yes.
“So he killed Edwin Drood?”
Yes. The disk’s hole highlighted other letters. Me too.
“No!” Ladderly screamed.
“Mr. Dickens, did Mr. Ladderly know you were about to incriminate him?” Doyle said.
Yes.
“Nonsense! Why didn’t he go directly to Scotland Yard?” Ladderly demanded. “Why write it as a novel?”
“Obviously he had no evidence that would hold up in court. Once he published his novel, the public outcry would be deafening. Of course, he had to change names,” Doyle explained. “Nathan Ladderly became Neville Landless. Edwin Drood… Anyone remember the disappearance of a man with the initials E.D. around the time of Dickens’ death? No matter. Scotland Yard will know.”
Yes, the Ouija board responded.
“Elementary.”