Ring in the New Year with a Scare

Usually at this time of the year most people like to give a round-up of the year or a look at the coming year. Well, not this one. I prefer to add to your ability to stay up till midnight on New Year’s eve. What better way to do that than with a ghost story? A true one at that.

Ghost Tour

One year for my husband’s birthday I took him on ghost tour in the small mountain town of Morrison, Colorado about 10 minutes from where we lived.  We walked around the charming little historic town with flashlights and the guide took us to various areas that are supposedly haunted.

MorrisonCO

Downtown Morrison, Colorado

As we approached an antique store with a large old-fashioned wrap around porch we could smell scented candles burning. Hanging from the porch were large copper candle lanterns that the guide told us came from a well-known cemetery that had been moved to make room for  our state’s growing capital housing needs. When this cemetery was moved the man who was paid to do so did not do such a good job. It was discovered that he and his workers separated bones of the deceased into various coffins as he was paid by the coffin and that the dead were treated with terrible disrespect.  It was also rumored that not all the bodies were moved.  However, this rumor proved to be true when in 2010 workers who were digging irrigation trenches uncovered four skeletons and remains of a casket. People claim to see apparitions at the park and those that live near the park claim to have seen confused and lost looking phantoms knock on their doors.

As we walked over the porch of this antique store and headed down the alley to the next sight there was a cold wind blowing in our faces.  Suddenly, the aroma of the candles hit us all…the shop was to our back and the wind was blowing in our faces. The entire group commented on how weird that was.  After the tour I made my husband go back to the shop with me and we detected no odor or evidence of candles.

We drove home feeling satisfied that we had a good time but with no explanation for the smell.  We pulled up in our drive way and stepped out of our truck to be met by… the aroma of candles.

I hope you have a safe and fun time seeing 2013 out and ushering in 2014, and remember, never turn off the lights.

lantern

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Push Back the Darkness

It’s been a heavy few days here in Colorado. On Friday the 13th , eighteen-year-old Karl Pierson entered Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver, openly carrying a shotgun, looking for a specific teacher. He shot senior Claire Davis who succumbed to her grave injuries Saturday afternoon. Pierson shot himself when he learned school resource officers were closing in. More causalities in another senseless violent attack in a place that should be safe. It seems like we are experiencing a nation-wide trend of mass violence.

It’s easy to become afraid or cynical.  To harden our hearts and circle the wagons, so to speak. But you can’t hide from evil. That’s right, mass killings by suicidal killers can only be described as evil.

I’ve faced evil, face-to-face, in hand-to-hand combat. Not a suicidal killer but evil just the same. I came out on the other side a much different person than when I went in. It almost did me in, literally.

What I learned from my experience is that the best way to overcome evil, is with good. Revenge and fear only lead to victory for the darkness.

Take for instance the situation in Pennsylvania, in 2006 when a gunman stormed an Amish school room and killed four school-girls and wounded seven more before killing himself. The families of the girls went to the killer’s mother’s house to comfort her. They even attended his funeral. Through their super-human act of forgiveness a whole community was able to move forward.

Goodness doesn’t have to be on such a monumental scale. Every day people are pushing back the darkness. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary prompted a movement “26 Acts of Kindness”, one for each victim. Simple acts, like taping money to the soda machine with a note of encouragement. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of someone paying for your coffee in the drive-thru.  I’ve heard about an anonymous person who is paying off peoples’ Christmas layaway bills. I know of a mom who carts her kids to various nursing homes to visit and deliver handmade cards at this time of the year. A friend of ours had his lunch paid for by some other diners in a restaurant. This simple kindness almost brought this burly man to tears. I’ve seen kids rally around a new classmate, making sure he didn’t eat lunch alone and had someone to play with at recess. All wonderful examples of pushing back the darkness.

An underlying theme in most of my writing is being confronted with evil and how do we respond. My characters don’t always take the high road or have a successful response, just like in real life. But when we make a conscious choice to do good we never know how far the ripples of that act will reach. Maybe all the way to someone plagued by thoughts of doing harm, maybe it will be an opening for good rather than evil.

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Krampus and other Christmas Terrors

Christmas is a time of light, good tidings, and peace on Earth…mostly. Just like everything else there has to be a balance of light and dark and Christmas is no exception. These strange and scary Christmas traditions may make more than sugar plums dance in your head.

That cute, funny, creepy, unsettling little spy, Elf on the Shelf is a newer tradition. He or she shows up right around Thanksgiving to keep an eye on the children and report behavior back to old Saint Nick. He moves around the house while you’re sleeping for different vantage points from which to narc. He’s watching you. All the time. In your house. There is just something unsettling about a doll that moves around, especially if neither parent can remember doing it.

 

Elf on the Shelf wasn’t the first little Christmas creeper, however. Greece has had the Kallikantzaroi, or Christmas goblins way before Santa even had elves. These half-animal-half-human hairy creatures live underground and spend their days sawing away at the World Tree. This tree holds up the whole earth and when it collapses so will the world. Christmas is the only time these monsters can come up on the surface and the draw of wreaking havoc on humans makes them forget about the tree even though they were almost all the way through the trunk. For 12 days these scary little devils try to sneak into homes to spoil food, tip things over, break things, and pee in flower beds. To keep them out Greek families will sometimes hang the lower jaw of a pig behind the front door or inside the Chimney. Finally on the day of Epiphany (January 6) the Kalikantrzaroi must return to their underground home only to find the World Tree has healed itself and they must now start over. Hard to tell what is worse, little black devils running amok in your house or a pig’s jaw hanging around.

 

Aside from the Christ-child only Santa Claus is a widely accepted symbol of all that is goodness and light about the holiday season. But he too has dark counter points.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas dressed in red bishop-like robes travels from his homeland of Spain by steamship to reward well behaved children. He carries a huge book in which he records children’s behavior. He comes with his helper, Black Pete, sometimes in the plural. Black Pete performs like a jester and takes care of Saint Nicholas’ horse. Good children get a gift from Saint Nicholas’ huge bag dropped down their chimney (some say bad children are in the bag too, what’s with bad children in bags?). According to a traditional holiday song, naughty children get a spanking with Black Pete’s bundle of twigs, and no presents. There is some controversy around Black Pete being a racist symbol but most Dutch parents tell their kids his skin is black from chimney soot. Uh-huh. Let’s not forget he is a total stranger and he gets to spank your naughty kid. Terrifying.

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

 

In other parts of Europe Saint Nicholas gets a little more hard core and horrifying. Forget elves, forget joking spankers, even goblins don’t compare. Here Saint Nick shows up with Krampus. He’s a hairy, horned, long-tongue wagging demon looking creature who takes his job seriously. He not only whips naughty kids with birch branches but likes to stuff particularly bad kids into his basket that he carries on his back. Guess where they are going? To hell, of course! Those are not the only punishments in his tool bag. He also has been known to pull ears, rip out pigtails, and drown children in ink. Way worse than coal, right?

Think you’ve outgrown this silly story used by adults to control you, well think again. In Germany they celebrate  Krampusnacht or Night of Krampus. Grown men dress up like the demonic character and descend on entire towns with torches, chains, and large clanging bells. Parents with pre-teen and teen-aged children will sometimes let the Krampuses into the house for a drink and permission to torment the children. Invited. By your own parents. Into your house. Relieved you don’t live in Germany? He’s making inroads into North America with appearances on television and growing Krampus parties. Coal is looking pretty good right about now for some of you.

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

 

I really hope you have all been good this year. Wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas. Eat lots of treats, read lots of books, be kind, be generous, think about the baby Jesus, and enjoy your family. Keep a watchful eye on that Elf. For some of you, you know who you are, I trust Krampus doesn’t find you. But if he does can you send me some pictures? Thanks!

Double 13 Whammy

Perhaps you have realized that tomorrow is Friday the 13th, 2013!

Friggatriskaidekaphobics (people who suffer with a phobia of Friday the 13th) will certainly not miss the double 13 whammy of this date. Even those who don’t overly fear Friday the 13th, this date looms in the back of their minds. Perhaps they won’t fly on this date or drive any further than necessary or avoid eating out.

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How did Friday the 13th get such a bad reputation? Well horror fans will tell you it’s because of the movie franchise, but no, there’s more to it than that. It can be nearly impossible to tell when a superstition very first come to be but there are some interesting ideas around why 13 is so feared.

Christianity had a hand in it. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was the 13th guest at the last supper and Christ was crucified on a Friday. According to historians Friday was already known as Hangman’s day so it wasn’t a stretch for medieval Christians to marry the two fears. There is also an obscure belief that Cain murdered Abel on a Friday the 13th, role model for Jason? Perhaps.

jason

Even earlier than that there is a Norse myth about a party of 12 gods being crashed by a 13th uninvited guest, Loki. He arranged the assassination of Balder the Beautiful, god of joy and gladness, causing the whole earth to mourn. This may lend to a superstition that if 13 people sit down to dinner one of them will be die within a year, bon appétit!

We couldn’t possibly forget about witches on this day, right? Ancient Romans believed that witches gathered in groups of 12, the 13th member was the devil.

witches

You may scoff at such superstition but it’s been estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars are lost in business on this day due to people avoiding business they would normally do. As for myself, this is the only date I ever buy lottery tickets because that’s how I roll. I have yet to win. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Paul Walker Brings Up Another Hollywood Tragedy, James Dean

The sudden and shocking passing of actor Paul Walker in a horrific car accident has deeply affected his fans and friends. His acting career started when he was 2 in a diaper commercial but he will be remembered for his portrayal of undercover officer Brian O’Conner in the successful Fast and Furious movie franchise. They created a moving tribute to Paul on YouTube.

This reminded me of another young star that was also cut down by a car accident, James Dean.  He didn’t star in as many movies as Paul Walker, only three. Most famously as the dark teenaged Jim Stark in Nichols Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Yes, a bit before most of our times but worth taking a look at.  During the filming of this movie he acquired a new car that he intended to race, a rare Porsche.

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was driving his personalized Porsche 550 Spyder to an auto rally. He had a custom paint job with the number 130 on the hood, trunk, and the doors. Also painted on the rear of the car was Dean’s nickname, “Little Bastard”. When he first acquired the car friends were concerned. Alec Guinness (you know him as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode VI) said the car was sinister and Dean would be dead within a week. Eerily, the car would perhaps prove him right.

As Dean and his passenger, Rolf Wuetherich, headed westbound on what is now State Route 46 in California, a heavy ford sedan pulled out in front of them. Wuetherich was thrown clear of the car but suffered broken bones, the driver of the Ford suffered minor injuries. James Dean was the lone fatality at only 24 years old.

The story certainly doesn’t end there.

George Barris, the man who did the custom paint, paid $2500 to acquire the wreckage of the car with the intent of selling it for parts. As soon as the car got to Barris’ garage it slipped off the trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.  Barris sold the engine to Dr. Troy McHenry who put it in his racecar. He was killed when his car crashed into a tree at the Pomona fairgrounds. Dr. William Eschrid bought the drive train for use in his car. He was seriously injured when the car rolled on a curve; he later said that it just locked up on him. Another unfortunate recipient of parts bought two tires that simultaneously blew causing the car to crash but the driver survived. A teen boy who tried to steal an emblem from the car slashed his arm open on a piece of jagged metal.

The California Highway Patrol used the remnants of the car for a highway safety program. During this time the car was stored in a garage in Fresno, California. A fire broke out and incinerated the entire contents of the garage with the exception of Little Bastard. On the way to Salinas for a display the flatbed truck hauling the car lost control and ejected the driver. He survived the ejection but then Little Bastard fell off the truck and crushed him to death. In 1960 the car mysteriously disappeared on the way to Miami and its whereabouts are unknown.

Cursed car? Some are convinced it goes beyond the car. Consider James Dean’s cast members from Rebel Without a Cause, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.  In 1976 Sal Mineo was fatally stabbed in an alleyway behind his apartment in West Hollywood. The motive and killer have never been satisfactorily determined. Natalie Wood drowned in 1981 under suspicious circumstances. Originally deemed an accident new evidence in 2012 showed she had bruising prior to drowning pointing to the possibility of foul play. No one has ever been charged.

Cursed car, people, or movie? Coincidences? Unrelated tragedies? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

Curses and scary stories aside, my heart goes out to friends, family, and fans of Paul Walker. It’s always a tragedy when someone is taken before their time. He’s left more than a legacy of good entertainment, his charity Reach Out World Wide is providing first-responder type aid all over the globe in disaster situations. Check them out at https://www.roww.org/ and consider making a donation in Paul Walker’s memory.