Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ghostly Games and Wicked Fun for Halloween

I love games.   I love playing every kind of card game and board game.   Game night was a tradition in my family that I have passed on to my own family.   It is a way of bonding with friends and family that draws everyone together in fun.   My favorite games are quite traditional.  I love scrabble and Words with Friends on my iphone is my favorite app.  I love hearts and chess and monopoly deal, but for Halloween I've discovered some new games that bring out my ghoulish nature.  They also reveal my dork side as much as they reveal my dark side.   They are cute and creepy and make the season more interesting.   I turn out the lights, light some candles, and get out these games for a a ghostly giggle in the dark hours of night:
1. Spooky Tales: This is my favorite. This game seems somewhat simple but brings out the dark side of everyone involved and is hilarious even at the worst of times. It consists of a deck of card with various beginnings, ends, segues, and topics on them. So your starting hand might have a couple beginning cards one of which reads,"There was a two headed pig born on my father's farm last night, but that was not the most unusual thing about the pig......." It might also contain a zombie card, a cheerleader card, and drum made of human flesh card. In order to win the game, you have to compete with other players to lay down your cards and make a coherent story and be the first to use all of your cards. The stories that people come up with are disturbing and hysterical. It makes every night an adventure. The game even includes a flashlight with sound effects.


2. Munchkin Zombie: The Munchkin games are a world unto themselves. They are a fairly simple card game that pokes fun and pays homage to role playing games. I don't care for role playing games, but this card game makes me giggle happily every time I play it. The zombie version of this game is brilliant. You will battle horrible adversaries like girl scouts or cafeteria ladies with your own large intestine or with someone else's left leg. This is a definite dark delight for anyone who likes zombies.

3.  Munchkin Cthuhlu:   This is another permutation of the Munchkin Game.  This is probably one of my favorites.   I love Cthulhu and playing a Cthulhu card game makes me happy.  You can become a cultist and fight terrible gods like the great unpronounceable terror.  You get to use wonderful weapons that make no sense while going completely crazy. 


4.  Oh No.... Zombies:   This board game puts you in a small town.  You are trapped and surrounded by zombies and have to fight your way out, or surrender to the zombie hoard.  Have fun trying not to get eaten as you race to the end of this silly and crazy game.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Headless Ghost in the Night

In the small town off Fayetteville, there is an old ghost story.   This is the type of ghost story that has passed into legend and come to define the folklore of the region.   It is the the story of the Vander Light.  I have heard several different versions of this story, but I share the story that was told to me.   The Vander Light is a lonely ghost.   It is a ghost that has been wandering the train tracks since the 1800s.   According to legend,  years ago a young man named Matthews took a train ride.   The young man was a smoker, as was common in those times.   He stepped out of the train car and out into the area between the cars to have a smoke.  Just as he was lighting his cigarette, the train his a bump and he was thrown from the train.  The young man fell at just the wrong angle.   His head hit the car and his body was tossed to the ground below the train.  He was decapitated on impact.    Matthew's head was forever lost to him.

It is said that ever since this time,  anyone who wanderers along this lonely stretch of train track can catch a glimpse of this young man at night.    He walks along the tracks he was killed on carrying a lantern.   Those that see him can see him in front of them for only a minute.   He appears to be searching for his lost head in the darkness.   When the observer gets to close to the young man that has come to be called the Vander Light,   he vanishes into the darkness.    If you turn around,  you can see him standing behind you, watching you and waiting for the parts of himself he has lost in the darkness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Five Most Chilling Real Haunted Houses

All ghost stories hold unending fascination for me, but the ones that contain the most mystery are the haunted house stories.  I know I'm not alone in this because there seem to be unending movies and books written about Haunted Houses.  The list is long and prestigious.  The terror held by house hauntings is unique.   You are bound to the haunted location by financial obligation, family, and sentiment.  It is your home that holds the shadows and that can't be easily escaped.  The ghosts or dark spirits can catch you in bed, with your children, and in the shower.   There is a unique vulnerability to being in a haunted house.   So here is my list of the most compelling house haunting stories I've heard.  I've written about many of these haunted houses before, but revisiting them still sends shivers down my spine.

5.   The House on Larabee Street:
This haunting story has always been one of my favorites because it does not have a history.   The haunting on Larrabbee Street has often been compared to the Amityville case, however, the house on Larrabee Street didn't have the history the Amityville house had.   It is a haunting that is unexplainable.   The spirit that haunted  Allen and Deborah Tallman came from nowhere.  

The Tallman's found their dream home on Larabee street and the house slowly turned evil.   At first, the family began to get sick and sickness became nightmares and ghosts and monsters that crawled in and out of the woodwork tormenting the family and their children until they finally flee there home.  For a more  detailed write up on this fascinating haunting you can go to:
http://ghoststoriesandhauntedplaces.blogspot.com/2010/01/haunting-on-larrabee-street.html

4.  The Demon in the Shadows:
This is a haunting I learned about during an interview for Haunted North Alabama.   A young woman came forward and told me she wanted to talk to me and the story she told me was chilling.   This young woman bought a lovely home with her husband and the house immediately showed signs of haunting.  Doors opened and closed on their own.  Light bulbs exploded.  Phantom mists tormented the woman and her family.   Finally, the woman would wake in the morning to find deep gashes in her back where the hostile entity had clawed her.   She and her family had to flee their home.  The complete write up for this haunting can be found in Haunted North Alabama.

3.   A Haunting in Conneticut:
This is one of the most famous hauntings.   It was made into a movie, that was not true to the facts of the actual haunting, but was still an interesting movie.   The real haunting in this case began with a house that had been a funeral home.   The eldest son of the family that moved into this home was driven slowly mad by a hostile entity that lived in the house and when he went to an institution the entity turned to the rest of the family.   Psychics involved in this case say an old evil lived in this house that preyed on the living.   An exorcism was performed of the house and the case resolved, but the family still moved .  You can read more about this case at:
http://www.thecabinet.com/darkdestinations/location.php?sub_id=dark_destinations&location_id=the_haunting_in_connecticut_house

2.  The LaLaurie Mansion:
 This infamous haunted house was home to the famous Madam LaLaurie.  Madam LaLaurie was a sadist and the things she did to her slaves in this New Orleans Mansion are beyond horrific.  She sewed slaves together and removed their appendages and reattached them to other places.   After a fire, the community discovered Madam LaLaurie's sadism and she fled, leaving behind her a trail of ghost stories and a house that is so haunted it screams with ghosts.  You can learn more about this ghoulish haunting at:
http://ghoststoriesandhauntedplaces.blogspot.com/2009/12/this-is-famous-ghost-story-and-any.html

1.  Hull House:
This is another haunting that was so famous it inspired a movie.  Hull House is tucked away neatly on a campus in Chicago.  It was founded by Jane Addams as a refuge for displaced young woman.  Jane Addams was a remarkable woman and the work she did for those in need is admirable on every level.  That is why she hated that Hull House became most known as the house where Satan's baby was born.  According to legend, one of the young women living in this house gave birth to a demon spawn in this house.  Ever since then tails of ghosts and paranormal activity surrounding this location have proliferated.   Hull House is a popular stop on the Chicago Ghost tours and is one of the few places I've photographed in which I got something that looked like a ghost on film.  The story behind Hull House was the inspiration for Rosemary's Baby.   Learn more about this one at:
http://ghoststoriesandhauntedplaces.blogspot.com/2009/12/this-is-famous-ghost-story-and-any.html


I know there are many other house hauntings that aren't on my list.  The Winchester House, Lemp Mansion,  Whaley House, and The Myrtles Plantation all have wonderful haunted histories, but these five are my favorite and the they have stories that give me a chill every time.   For me, this is the perfect time of year to revisit some of my favorite haunted house stories.  With October around the corner and Halloween in the air,  a little scare is the perfect way to set the mood for the season!

To learn more about haunted houses you can go to this link and read more:
http://www.halloweenexpress.com/ghosts-and-haunted-houses.php

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Searcy State Mental Hospital and The Horror Novel That Has Been Lost in Its Shadows

  
A year and a half ago, I decided to write a blog. I had just signed a contract with Lachesis Press to publish my first novel, Circe, and that was my inspiration for Ghost Stories and Haunted Places.   Circe was inspired by the hospital I did my internship at, Searcy State Hospital in Mt. Vernon, Alabama.   I didn't believe much in ghosts when I worked there, but I knew the place had to be haunted.  The very walls oozed with some unseen presence and whispered of ghosts.   My book, Circe, has had a long and complicated road.  It was the first book I wrote and I've had three books published between the writing of Circe and its publication, but it looks like it might actually be published this October.  I'm thrilled and terrified, because Circe is my darkest work.   I always have to love it, no matter how the book does, because it inspired this blog.  Yet ,Circe is a book that haunts me.  It has been  struggle to publish and took me years to write.  It has been my most difficult book, but here it is, hopefully, ready to be published in October.    So as I get ready to see this lugubrious horror novel in print,  I thought it would be appropriate to re post my blog post about the location that kept me up so many dark nights writing and dreaming of the monsters that might lurk in the shadows of Searcy State Hospital.  

Searcy is one of my favorite haunted places. I did my internship here a very long time ago and I fell in love with it's history and it's white chipped walls. Everything about this old hospital spoke to me. It was even more remarkable because most of those who worked there and lived there every day were oblivious to it's history.  Searcy State Hospital is located in Mt. Vernon, Alabama. Prior to being a state hospital the old hospital has a long and dark history that is very difficult to find, but easy to see upon casual observation. The hospital is encased in long, chipped, white walls that seem as old as anything in the United States. From outside these walls, you can see a battered watchtower that gives testament to the fact that the hospital is in the same location as a 300 year old fort. The fort bears witness to American history. It was originally a French fort and then a Spanish Fort. It switched hands during the Louisiana Purchase and became a US fort. After the US took possession of the fort it was converted to a military arsenal and became known as the Mount Vernon Arsenal.

The Arsenal switched hands again several times and was taken by the Confederates during the civil war only to be passed back over the United States again in 1862. From 1887 to 1894, The Arsenal became a Barracks and was used as a prison for the captured Apache people. The most famous of the Apache people to be held in these barracks was Geronimo. There is a door in the lobby of the old hospital that is labeled as the door to Geronimo's cell.   It is beautiful and intricate.  Sadly, history notes that Geronimo was not kept in a cell during his stay at Mt. Vernon.   He was allowed freedom to wander the barrack, so the door is just a lovely bit of folklore.  The infamous Aaron Burr was also held at this secluded prison at some point after his notorious gun fight.


In 1900 the Barracks were transformed once again and the prison became a mental hospital. Searcy hospital was built as the African American mental hospital in Alabama. Conditions in the hospital were beyond questionable and at one time there were over 2000 patients in the crowded hospital and all were seen by one psychiatrist. All patients were expected to work in the fields.

The hospital was desegregated in 1969, but it’s history is all around it. The hospital is still in used today, and although the residents live in new buildings, many tell stories of ghosts and devils that linger in the white walls and abandoned buildings that surround the new facilities. These stories are usually ignored, because the patients are crazy, but I’m not the only sane person who saw a few ghosts while they were working there.

Hopefully, the book really will be released this fall.  I've had several contracts on Circe and watched them dissolve.  It has been ten years since I started writing this book and thirteen years since I saw the haunting walls of this fog encased institution.  Thirteen is a good number for a horror novel.




Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our Dearly Departed

I'm not sensitive to ghosts and I'm not easily spooked, but last night I just about jumped off my sofa.  I was sitting on my couch, watching television like a giant slug.  I heard the dogs barking and looked up at the cat walk.   Both my dogs were chasing what looked like a person walking across the catwalk.  I went crazy.   I was alone in the house very late night with my children and seeing a strange person wandering down the hall being pursued by my frantically barking corgis was enough to set me off.   I went to grab a weapon and pursued the intruder up the stairs.  I was armed and dangerous.   Both my children were upstairs and I didn't want anything touching them.  Suddenly the dogs stopped barking and wandered down stairs.  I did a thorough search and found nothing up stairs.  Both my children were sound asleep and cocooned under a nest of covers.  The house was still and all was quiet.  The dogs slept.

This left me with a bit of a mystery.  There was clearly someone upstairs.  My dogs saw it.  I saw it.  It was an adult person.   I sat down to ponder whether or not both the dogs and I had accidentally ingested LSD when my husband came home.  He reminded me that his mother had died two years ago last night.  He was sad.   I had completely forgotten about the day because I forget all birthdays and anniversaries by default, but now I had to wonder if my unexplained event and the date were related.  I've heard stories of ghosts that only return on the anniversary f their death.  Perhaps this is what I saw.   I saw my mother-in-law going upstairs to check on the grandchildren she loved so much.   I hope so.  There is actually comfort in that thought.  There is comfort that somehow those who have left us can still come back and check on us and make sure we are alright, that they can love us from afar even if we can't always see them.  It is certainly more comforting than my accidental ingestion of LSD theory.  Either way, I'll light a candle for my mother-in-law today.  She and I had our differences, but I miss her now that she is gone. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is a Person Really Haunted or Are They Mentally Ill?

This is a question I deal with a lot.   Sadly, a large number of mentally ill people suffer from delusions of persecutions by demons, the dead, or other supernatural entities.   The devil and demons torment those that suffer from any number of psychotic disorders and medication and proper mental health treatment can help these people live a normal life and take their demons away.  Modern medicine is a miracle in most cases.  People who might have lived locked up in a mental institution 50 years ago can now live relatively normal life free from the terror of the demons that live in their mind.

As I watched some odd show on TV about a young man being tormented by a demon that researchers thought was connected to his haunted house,  I realized that the line between haunting, possession, and true mental illness is blurry to many.  The young man on the show demonstrated classic symptoms of schizophrenia.  He was at the right age for his first psychotic break.  He was having command hallucinations.  His thought patterns were disorganized and he was no longer rational.  To me, this wasn't a haunting, it was a young man who needed help.   For sceptics, this is the obvious answer to all hauntings and demon possessions.  It is easy to say mental illness is the answer.  However,  I think there are ways to see a difference between the supernatural and the natural affects of mental illness.  Obviously, many psychiatrists and therapists don't feel this way, but I think when diagnostic criteria for a mental illness aren't met and treatment doesn't work, other things could be considered.

First,  lets talk about mental illness.  In order to be diagnosed with any mental illness a cluster of symptoms has to be present.  So someone who is describing the ghosts of the dead tormenting them in the absence of other symptoms could really be seeing them (in my opinion).   Here are some examples of  the diagnostic criteria for some mental illnesses in which delusions of ghosts and demons and paranormal events are common:

Paranoid Schizophrenia:
1.Characteristic symptoms: Two or more of the following, each present for much of the time during a one-month period (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).

Delusions
Hallucinations
Disorganized speech, which is a manifestation of formal thought disorder
Grossly disorganized behavior (e.g. dressing inappropriately, crying frequently) or catatonic behavior
Negative symptoms: Blunted affect (lack or decline in emotional response), alogia (lack or decline in speech), or avolition (lack or decline in motivation)

2.Social or occupational dysfunction: For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care, are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset.

3.Significant duration: Continuous signs of the disturbance persist for at least six months. This six-month period must include at least one month of symptoms (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).

 
Schizotypal Personality Disorder:
A.   A pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by cognitive or perceptual distortions indicated by 5 or more of the following:
1.  ideas of reference
2. odd beliefs and magical thinking that are inconsistent with cultural norms such as belief in clairvoyant, telepathy, or a sixth sense.
3.  unusual perceptual experiences, including bodily illusions
4.  odd thinking and speech
5.  paranoid ideation
6.  inappropriate or constricted affect
7.  behavior or appearance that is odd, eccentric, or peculiar
8.  lack of close friends other than first degree relatives
9.  excessive social anxiety that is associated with paranoid fears rather than negative judgements about oneself.
 
Psychotic features can also be present in mood and other disorders that could lead to delusions of persecution from otherworldly forces.   However, when looking at a functional person who believes in ghosts or the supernatural and sees things haunting him the easiest way to determine if he might be really mentally ill or just haunted is to ask if meets other criteria:  Is the person normal otherwise?  Do they have successful, happy interpersonal relationships?  Do they make sense when they talk to you?  Can they hold down a job?
 
An example I have is of a fellow I worked with some years ago in one of the three cities I've worked in.  I worked with this fellow for a long time and he was completely resistant to treatment.  He was a father of three who had a stable job and a happy marriage.    He had no symptoms of bizarre behavior and had many friends.  Out of the blue, a ghost began to torment him.  He went to seek medical help.  He had been in and out of hospitals and never had any medication worked.  As a professional, I couldn't say this, but I had to wonder if his ghost may not have been real?  He was a normal fellow in every other respect and no treatment worked.   He was not superstitious and didn't believe in ghosts himself so he was confounded and angry as to why the mental health community just couldn't help him.
 
I've interviewed many people who have described persecutions by demons and ghosts and haunting.   I've written their stories and I've believed these people, but skeptics and other professional always ask me how I know these people aren't just crazy.  I always answer with the above.  They were otherwise normal, healthy, balanced people.   They had no history of mental illness and when they left their house or escaped the haunting situation they were able to return to a normal life.  It is simple.   Many sane and normal people describe paranormal experiences and once mental illness and natural phenomena are ruled out,  the alternative has to be considered, and maybe that is the most terrifying possibility of all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Black Stick Men

The world of the paranormal sometimes seems unending. Supernatural beings spring from folklore and urban legends and chance encounters on dark roads at night.  Sometimes, these stories seem so real they can be unnerving.  The stories that people tell of encounters with black eyed children, ghosts, demons and shadow men are chilling and make you reluctant to wander alone at night.   Other times, the stories of paranormal beings just leave you scratching your head.

I feel this way about black stick men.   I keep an open mind, but the stories I've heard of these paranormal entities leave me wondering.  Black stick men are a relatively new phenomena.    According to witnesses, these men are unnaturally tall and so thin that they are two dimensional.   They look like stick figures drawn by a small child in kindergarten class.  They have no facial features and are a blank slate.  They are said to watch people.  They don't move fast or attack their victim, but instead slowly follow behind them from a distance.   Those who have seen them describe feeling overwhelmed by fear and indicate that ignoring the creatures seems to be the fastest way to get them to leave you alone.   One gentleman described seeing one of these stick men on a walk at night.    He glimpsed the stick man with the light of a flashlight.  He didn't describe any fear or action on the part of the figure.  He only described it as there, watching him.  This tends to be the standard description of these phantom creatures.  They watch and they wait and what their purpose could be is as mysterious as the creatures themselves.

There are many theories as to what these stick men are.  Some say they are ghosts or demons and others say they are alien visitors sent to observe us.   I'm not sure what they could be, but this is one paranormal creature I tend to think might exist more firmly in the mind of the observer than in the real world.  Of course, I am often wrong.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Ghost Train

Some settings lend themselves to ghost stories.  The swamps of Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, and Alabama seem to call to ghosts with their moist, muddy fingers.   The lonely castles of old Europe whisper of secret histories that feel like a sanctuary for ghosts.  The darkened streets of Chicago with its history of mob rule and murder, bring to life the ghosts of all those that have died there in fire and tragedy.  And to the North, the icy landscape of Canada brings to mind ghosts lost in fog and snow.

The Ghost Train in Saskatchewan is one of the most famous ghost stories in Canada.   Saskatchewan is one of the warmer provinces of Canada.  It receives more sunlight than any other province and its summer temperatures can be almost as high as the temperatures in the United States.  This warmth doesn't stop St. Louis, Saskatchewan from being home to a famous ghost train, however.    In 1929, a CNR engineer was checking the train tracks by St. Louis.    He was taken by surprise and hit by a train.  He was lost in the headlights of the train and his ghost is said to wander the tracks to this day.

A multitude of people have described seeing ghostly lights by this stretch of track for over 80 years.  These lights are attributed to a phantom train that has been brought back by the dead engineer's ghost.  Late at night, travellers and explorers who stand by the track can see lights coming down the tracks and then vanishing into the mist.   These lights have been described by skeptics and believers and have even been caught on film.   Nonbelievers look for some earthly cause to explain the lights, but many say this will never be found.   The ghost train comes in the night and for many the only explanation imaginable is that this stretch of track is haunted.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Ghosts Lost in Time at the Petit Trianon

 
The French Aristocracy spent a considerable amount of time trying to get away from the people they ruled.  The first French palaces, where the kings would live, were in the center of Paris.   The need to escape the mob drove the ruling class to construct the palaces that are now The Louvre, which was on the outskirts of the city.  When the city pressed to tightly on these palaces,  the French kings moved to Versailles, which is quite far from the city.   Finally, even Versailles was too much for Marie Antoinette,  who decided to have her own Petit Trianon built.   In a time of financial strife, when the people were starving, the little Marie spent a small fortune creating a refuge for herself far from the people.  Maybe this is why the French Monarchy came to such a dark end,  the monarchy seemed to spend more tax money trying to escape the people than trying to help the people.  The people starved, suffered and died but the monarchy and aristocracy just kept building more and more expensive palaces further and further from anyplace they could see the suffering of the people.

The Petit Trianon is amazingly beautiful.  Marie Antoinette made it a little piece of heaven, but it is soaked in blood and forever a symbol of the aristocratic oppression of the French people.  It is not surprising that this disquieting place in known to be haunted and lost in time.  It is not only known for its numerous ghosts, but also for its strange time slips.   A plethora of ghosts have been seen wandering the serene grounds of this sanctuary.  Workers in eighteenth-century clothing are seen milling about.   Marie Antoinette  and her many visitors and friends have been seen in the building and gardens.   Strange noises have been reported throughout the Petit Trianon.  Phantoms call this small palace home.

One of the most interesting stories from the Petit Trianon involve a group of people that went into the building at the turn of last century for a tour.  The building, which had once been crowded with people, suddenly became very empty.   The silence was uncanny and the group wandered for what seemed like forever trying to figure out what had happened.  Finally, a lovely lady appeared seated on a terrace.  As they approached the lady, a footman came and drove them out off the terrace into a crowd of people.   As they left, they realized that not only had no time passed since their arrival and their departure, but the woman they had seen on the terrace matched the picture of Marie Antoinette perfectly.