Friday, October 29, 2010

Too Scary to Quit

By C.L. Phillips

Do you remember the first time you read a book and you were too scared to close it AND too scared to keep reading?  Stephen King's THE SHINING was that book for me.  We lived a hundred miles from a movie theater.  Our television worked when the sun wasn't shining or when it wasn't raining.  So if you wanted to escape live, you needed a good book.

One of my junior high friends discovered Stephen King.  She kept telling me, "You've got to read this guy.  He's amazing."

"But I hate horror stories" I'd say.

"It's not a horror story.  It's a mystery."  She hooked me with that rationale.  See, she knew I was working my way through our local library, reading every mystery on the shelf starting with the "A's".  It was taking me awhile to get through "C" because of all of the Agatha Christie books.

So there I was, two days before Halloween, curled up on the sofa, when I came to the scene where I was frozen.  You know, when Jack goes into Room 237.  Trapped in my own form of hell, I couldn't decide whether to read on or throw the book away.

Stephen King won.  I kept reading.  Turned on every light in the house, played the radio, and read only one paragraph at a time, but I kept reading. 

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but it was the scariest, spookiest night of my life.  Unless you want to talk about the night we ran from the motorcycle gang after a friend's husband was shot through the head.  Now that's a story Stephen King could write.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cozying Up to Vampires?

Good morning, fellow Stiffs and readers. Here's a treat for you: friend Rebecca Cantrell AKA Bekka Black, who's going to talk to us about her new release, iDrakula, which is getting rave reviews and mentions all over the internet and in some pretty big newspapers too.

Rebecca has visited with us before, to talk about her historical mystery series - A Trace of Smoke just won another award, by the way; congrats, Becky! - but this is something different. Something new. Something totally rad and cool. Read it and weep over the fact that you didn't come up with the idea!

Without further ado, here's Bekka:

* * *

Thanks for having me here on Working Stiffs! It’s an honor to participate in a forum about murder, work, and life. As someone whose life work seems to have a lot to do with murder, it’s a cozy spot to hang out.

Speaking of murder, my new novel, iDrakula, just came out in print form and as an Apple app. It’s about the ur-vampire, Dracula, but updated to the modern age and told only in text messages, emails, voicemails, and web browsers. If Dracula were around, this is what his life would look like.

Let’s look at our own lives, shall we? Close your eyes. Oh right, you can’t do that and read, so pretend that you are closing your eyes while you read this. Ready?

Imagine you’re out swimming in a clear blue ocean, maybe a little farther from shore than you should be, but it’s a warm day and you can see the beach so you feel pretty safe. You’re enjoying the waves and the sun on your face.

Something scratches across your thigh. You look down. The ghastly shape of a great white shark glides through the water under your feet. You’ve seen the surfboards with a bite out of them. You’ve heard the stories. You feel a thrill of terror. You are in his domain and he can eat you as easily as you pick a peanut out of a bowl. A ribbon of red threads out of your leg into the sea.

You swim for shore. If you make it, you have a story to tell for the rest of your life. If you don’t, well, someone else does.

If you’re lucky, that shark might lose interest. Maybe a school of tuna will swim by and distract him. For the shark, there are plenty of fish in the sea. But if that shark were a vampire, he’d have to eat you. Humans are his only source of food, after all.

In iDrakula I have an autopsy, written by medical examiner and author Dr. Jonathan Hayes. I put it in there to remind us what vampires are about: death. They’re at the top of the food chain and we’re not.
But what if that shark looked like Bela Lugosi? Or Christopher Lee? Or Tom Cruise? Or Brad Pitt? Or Edward Pattinson? If the face around the fangs were sexy enough, would that thrill of fear turn into a thrill of something else entirely? The women being bitten in the movies look like they’re having a lot more fun than, say, a shark attack victim, but…

As we near Halloween, think about where you fit in the general order of things. Maybe on All Hallow’s Eve you stick close to shore, lock your windows, and smear garlic on your window frames. Or maybe throw the windows wide open.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It was the bogeyman...wasn't it?

By Tamara Girardi

I love scary movies. Sort of. Occasionally.

One of my uncles lives for the gore, the blood, the guts, the creative kills. When I was a kid, I went to visit a lot, and I became a science experiment. He would sit me down in front of the television, pull all the blinds in the room, and turn on his latest horror flick.

Just as much as he watched the archetypal women running into danger and the archetypal serial killer wreaking havoc on the screen, he watched my reaction.

I wasn't the only subject. My sister and cousins were tortured as well. We watched Halloween (and my uncle insisted I looked a lot like the niece Michael Myers was trying to murder in movies 4 and 5), Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Puppetmaster, Hellraiser, Night of the Living Dead, and many, many others including...gulp...The Exorcist.

But I had a secret weapon.

Despite Freddie Krueger's best intentions, my escape from the experiment was to fall asleep. When the music in the films increased in volume and the characters started figuring out something bad was happening, I closed my eyes and my movie was over. Finished.

Years later, I revealed my secret plot to my uncle. He teased me of course, but I maintain utilizing my secret weapon was a good call. I guess I just have lots of endings to catch up on.

I guess I should invite my niece and nephew over to watch some movies...wink.

Just for fun, let's take a look at the classic...Halloween.

I hope you enjoyed it. What's your must-watch movie this time of year?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ghost Stories

by Bente Gallagher (and Jennie Bentley)

So we’ve heard some totally creepy and cool stories this month, haven’t we? True creepiness as well as fictional. I know I’ve gotten chills more than once during October.

As promised, I’m back to talk a little bit about a few of my favorite supernatural stories and books.

And no, I’m not talking about Stephen King. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s written the best book ever on writing, called – coincidentally – “On Writing,” but I can’t read his novels. They give me the creeps. And not in a good way.

Back in the late 1960s, when I was just slightly more than a gleam in my mother’s eye, one of my all-time favorite authors started publishing books. Her name is Barbara Mertz, but she started writing as Barbara Michaels, and a few years later as Elizabeth Peters, when her publisher told her she was too prolific for just one pseudonym.

(Nice problem to have, innit?)

In 1968, she published a book called “Ammie, Come Home,” about a house in Georgetown and the people who lived there. Ruth was a non-traditional romantic heroine for that time: a divorced woman over 40. Pat was a non-traditional hero: also older, and going gray, with a face described as ‘lived in.’ There was a younger couple too: Ruth’s niece Sara, living with her aunt while attending Georgetown University, and Sara’s boyfriend Bruce. And then there were the ghosts. Three of them. I won’t give you the specifics, because I’d really love for you to read the book, but it has bar none the creepiest, most evocative description of possession I’ve ever read. 40+ years after it was written, it still manages to give me chills.

It’s not the only ghost story she’s written; not by a long shot. Most of the Barbara Michaels books are paranormal, and a few of the Elizabeth Peters books have that element too, most prominently “Devil May Care.” A few of my other favorites are “Witch,” “The Walker in Shadows,” “The Crying Child,” and “House of Many Shadows.”

Much more recently – as in last week – I read Jennifer Crusie’s latest novel, “Maybe This Time.” It’s also a ghost story. With multiple ghosts. A few instances of possession. And a lovely, lovely twist at the end. It’s also a love story, of course, as are all of Crusie’s books. She’s another of my favorite authors, although supernatural is not her usual stock in trade. The only other that I can think of off the top of my head was the book before this one, “Wild Ride,” written with Bob Mayer, and it’s about demons. A demon-possessed amusement park in Southern Ohio, loosely based on King’s Island. (I drove past it the first weekend of the month, on my way up to Columbus for the Central Ohio Fiction Writers Conference, and I gazed open-mouthed at the big rollercoaster on our way past; in the book it’s called the Dragon Coaster.) Highly recommended! Both of’em.

Lillian Stewart-Carl has written a ton of books about ghosts. The Jean Fairbairn/Alastair Cameron series (four so far, starting with “The Secret Portrait”) has ghosts in every book, as does the trilogy “Ashes to Ashes,” “Dust to Dust,” and “Garden of Thorns.”

Most of Lillian Stewart-Carl’s books are set in or deal with Scotland, including “Shadows in Scarlet.” Its heroine, Amanda, is a guide at a historic home in Virginia, where she encounters the ghost of Scotsman James Grant, and falls in lust with him. There’s even a sex scene. The first and only sex scene between ghost and human I’ve ever read, and she pulls it off quite well, I might add. I totally bought it. However, when Amanda goes to Scotland to bring Jamie’s bones home, Jamie’s spirit tags along, and when Amanda meets Jamie’s flesh and blood modern-day descendant – and lookalike – Malcolm, and falls in love with him, let’s just say that Jamie’s not too happy.

Read the book to find out what happens. You won’t regret it. Just like you won’t regret reading any of the others.

So what are some of your favorite ghostly books? Care to share?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Different Kind Of Scary

By Wilfred Bereswill

This morning I'm coming to you from the fabulous Lambert St. Louis International Airport where I'm waiting for yet another flight.  I've been traveling a lot over the last month.  I feel like George Clooney in Up In The Air, which was filmed right here.  As it turns out, I am closing in on 1,000,000 miles on my American Frequent Flyer account.  I just passed 970,000 miles and now I'm on a mission to get to a million.  The reality of it is that all you have to do is add my American and United miles together and you have well over 1,500,000 miles.  George got an actual platinum card for surpassing the mark, I think in reality, American gives you Gold or Platinum Elite status for life.

Well, enough about George Clooney. 

I love halloween and I've enjoyed reading the scary themed posts this month and it got me to thinking about what really scares me. I've never been terrified by the horror genre or slasher movies.  Stephen King was the author that really drew me into reading many years ago.  But, as much as I enjoyed his works, I was never horrified by them.  I do remember giving some deep thought about Freddy Kruger and his invasion into our dreams on the original Nightmare on Elm Street and I still have an early memory of the doors bowing inward during a scene of the original House On Haunted Hill with Vincent Price.  But books and movies have never scared me.

So, what scares me?  Well, reality does it for me. 

I remember hearing an interview with Stephen King on TV many years ago where the reporter asked him how he could write such scary material.  Stephen said that his writing didn't scare him at all.  The scariest thing he could imagine was for a doctor to come into a room and say, "You have cancer."

I'm the same way. 

Earlier this year. my wife and I were returning home from a night at the local casino.  We were feeling pretty good because we won a couple hundred dollars.  It was late.  Close to midnight.  We were on the highway about half way home.  Traffic was light.  The night was clear as a bell, but in the distance in front of us, the sky was lighting up pinkish hues by lightning flashing in some clouds.  We talked about how odd it looked.  It didn't look like a storm and not quite like "heat" lightning.  Suddenly, (gratuitous use of an adverb) a bright light shone into our rear window.  Now, keep in mind I'm traveling at least 60 miles per hour.  I'm thinking, "Who is this inconsiderate Yahoo that is following me so close with his high beams on?"  and "Where the lell did he come from?" Even my wife muttered, "What the hell?"

The light was brilliant white. It was so bright, we couldn't see anything in the rearview mirrors.  I even remember thinking that no car had lights that bright.  The light stayed with us for maybe 10 seconds and then seemed to flash before disappearing.  I began slowing down, my wife urged me to go faster.  She was scared, I was curious.  When the light disappeared, I was ready to flip somebody off, but there was nobody around us.  There wasn't any car even close to us (either direction) and no exit ramps in sight

I've tried to figure out what happened that night.  My wife still brings it up.  Especially when we travel that section of that highway.  We have no logical explanation.  We've never seen anything like it since.  And while my wife is coming up with all the illogical things it could be, Angels, Demons, Little Green Men...  I've tried to figure out if we were the victims of a prank or something logical.

So while that was weird, it didn't really scare me. 

On December 10, 2008 I was scared.  Probably more scared than I've ever been.  It was the day I was released from my day job in a horrific economy.  I had no prospects, and a family to take care of.  True fear can be paralyzing.  For weeks I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and I could go to a corner and throw up.  My mind would not rest.  It dwelled on all those questions that I couldn't answer.  I had trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating.  I know I wasn't very much fun to be around.  All that and I even knew I had a bit of a financial safety net under me. 

I thought I'd get some writing done on my work in progress during my unemployment, but I couldn't get two words down on paper.  Lucky for me, my vacation as my wife calls it, didn't last long and I found a good job. 

In less than five months I'll be the same age as my father was when he died of colon cancer.  That scares me.  I've already had numerous colonoscopies and screenings.  I take it very seriously.  And yet, on occasion, I find my mind dwelling on it.

So there you have it.  What scares me?  Reality.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Moorage Mystery

By Patricia Gulley

Fall is such a wonderful time of year, if it is cool, not cold, warm not hot. I came home one evening when I was still working from a presentation that had served enough food for me to feel content, but not stuffed and enough wine to make me feel mellow. It was almost Halloween and I’d been working evenings on a story about a werewolf in the moorage, so as I came down the ramp to the main walkway, I had to glance at the long strip of brush and trees along the steep bank of the river to see if I could see anything lurking there. The parking lot, ramp and walkway were all well lit, so I could see clearly looking down, but I did have to take note that the water was low enough that if an ‘on-two-legs or four’ werewolf was lurking in the brush, it would have no problem leaping from the bank to the main walkway to grab me.

We had the old wooden walkways then, so when I got down there, the mournful creaking of the logs and wood blended with the moans and groans of the houses and boats as they bobbed and bumped in the slow moving current of the river. I turned off the walkway on to my row, and was almost to my house when a cat let out a hideous screech behind me. I reeled around to see it shooting out of the brush on the bank and disappear over the top into the parking lot. Frozen in terror, I watched as a lumbering beaver came out of the same brush and entered the water.

Feeling silly, but with my nerves still on high alert I turned to step on to my front porch, and as I always do, looked down into the river where my honeypot sits between the row and attached to my front porch. A dark caldron of black swirling water at night. But this night a round, flesh looking thing bobbed there held low in the water by the brackets that kept the honeypot from banging against the row. Stooping low, I still couldn’t make out what it was in the dark, but it sure looked like a body, specifically the back of a head.

Fortunately I have a light switch for my porch light outside and I turned it on, but still couldn’t see clearly what the thing in the water was. My neighbor came out and looked too, but from her porch she couldn’t make it out either. I went in the house and got my broom and came out on the row where I could get a good poke at it. My neighbor was really worried; she wanted to go in and call 911 immediately (no one had cell phones then), but I said we should wait to see what it really was first.

Well, I’d been writing a while then, but I forgot everything I’d learned about forensics and crime scene disturbance as I whacked and beat on that thing trying to turn it over and see if it really was a dead human. Wrong!!!! Someone had lost their large pumpkin and the jack-o-lantern face that rolled over in the surf about scared the bajeezus out of me and my neighbor. Two terrified screams brought several other neighbors running and eventually a case of wild laughter, two of which were of a hysterical nature.

The story got all over the moorage by the next day, and it was deemed appropriate to stake Pumpkin Head at the start of our row for the annual Halloween Parties. He was given a very unceremonious burial November first in the dumpster. That’ll teach it to scare a twitchy mystery writer.

Was that scary, or just silly?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My All-Time Favorite Scary TV Show

By Paula Matter

While pondering (and by that I mean grasping for something, anything to write about) today's blog post, and keeping Scary, Spooky stuff as the topic, the following is what immediately came to my mind:

I'm sure that was known by all of y'all (youins/youse guys, etc) as the delightful opening to The Twilight Zone. I spent hours yesterday watching old clips that I could share with you. Some of my old favorites, others I did not remember ever seeing.

And then there were the others. The ones that terrified me back then still give me chills. If you watched The Twilight Zone you'll know what I mean. Anyone remember Talky Tina? The Dummy? The brother and sister with the bickering parents and swimming pool? The little girl who goes though the friggin' wall and--

Watch these while I calm myself down:

If you're still with me, (and I hope you are), not all of the episodes were scary. This next one has got to be my absolute favorite. For all you dog lovers out there, here's a partial clip. Oh, hell, all you animal lovers can go ahead and watch.

Smart old man. Even smarter dog.

I saved this next one for last. As readers, even if you never saw the full episode you've at least seen some, or at the very least have heard about it.

Any other Twilight Zone fans out there? What are your most scariest episodes? Your favorite(s)?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 2

Driving Simulator

By Annette Dashofy

On week #2, we got our first hands-on experience of the class.

The computerized driving simulator is a fairly new piece of equipment. Ours was the first class to use it.

When I was in high school, back when dinosaurs walked the earth, our school was deemed extremely advanced and high tech because we had driving simulators. Let me tell you, they were nothing like this. Each CPA student got a turn behind the wheel and each got to experience a different scenario lasting about 10 minutes.

This gadget looked easy. Anyone who’s ever been in a video arcade (do they still call them that?) has played at driving race cars. But I can attest, it was NOT easy. The darned thing over-steers, and judging speed in the virtual world is tricky at best.

In one case, the computer provided a variety of distractions such as a nagging ringing cell phone. In another, it simulated driving while impaired. As in intoxicated. The car just refused to cooperate! Another student had to deal with an assortment of opportunities to avoid head-on collisions. That poor girl lost her rearview mirror, her front fender, and finally took a hit when a pickup truck swerved into her lane.

Yet another scenario involved learning to share the roads with commercial vehicles and pointed out the immense blind spots of tractor trailers.

All of the scenarios dealt with a variety of weather and driving conditions.

When it was my turn, I was given the task of driving a “safe distance” behind other vehicles. The computer voice instructed me to buckle up, put my foot on the brake, start the engine, shift into drive, look both ways, and pull out when safe. She also directed me to make turns at upcoming intersections. At each turn, I found myself behind another vehicle.

I never (okay, RARELY) tailgate, so I figured this would be simple. Not.

When I got too close, I received a verbal and visual warning. So I drove VERY SLOWLY. That was when Trooper Mungo pointed out to me that I could be ticketed for driving too slow, too. But every time I sped up, the blasted thing yammered at me that I was driving too close for conditions! Those conditions included rain, snow, and darkness.

At the end of each ten-minute simulation, the computer scored the driver on how many violations they’d had. My score wasn’t too shabby. I admit, I didn’t have the best one in the class…too many points for driving too slow…but at least I didn’t completely humiliate myself.

Next week, I’ve been told we’re having a test on Vehicle Codes. Test? I didn’t realize we’d be having tests when I signed up for this! Oh, well. Part two of next week’s class involves Crash Investigation.

I wonder…do the students who fail the test have to play the crash victims?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ye Olde Beaumaris Hotel

By Martha Reed

My previous blog entry on a spooky theme concerned a ghost I couldn’t see. Today’s entry is the polar opposite: I saw something that wasn’t there … anymore.

I grew up going to Muskoka, Ontario, Canada for the summers. My family had a cottage there on the lake and before you get any grand ideas the cottage was pretty much well-loved and beat all to pieces. Pine needles stuck out from between the ceiling boards in the bedrooms and every cupboard door had a corner nibbled out of it to make an escape route for one of the numerous hungry chipmunks that roamed freely about the place. But we loved it, and since I went up to the cottage every summer, it was my home.

We also had access to an old wooden runabout boat, which my sister Boo-Boo could drive. I never learned, mostly because it was so creaky and old that trying to drive it made me crazy. The gearshift came up through a slot in the floor, and you had to press your right foot against it to keep the gearshift in place while the boat was running. The throttle was a chrome handle on the steering wheel and it liked to stick, too, so if you weren’t paying attention and you turned the boat hard right the accelerator went right along with the turning wheel and suddenly you were going right really FAST.

Anyway, so the story goes: my sister Boo, my cousin Nancy, and I were crossing the lake to visit a friend. We were crossing the main channel and right in front of us was the old lake steamer Segwun. Originally there were about a dozen lake steamers cruising up and down the lakes delivering mail, but the other eleven blew over, burned, or sank at some point over the past 100 years. Only old faithful Segwun keeps on plugging away. If you go to Muskoka, she’s still there, and I encourage you to go for a ride and see traveling the way it used to get done before they invented roads.

So there we were, crossing the lake, and as we crossed the Segwun’s wake, we got bounced around a bit and I looked up and realized that if I had been a passenger on the Segwun 100 years ago and looked to my left I would have seen the old Beaumaris Hotel still standing on the bluff where it had stood until 1947 when it burned to the ground before I was born.

So, I looked left and there it was.

I remember thinking: Holy crap, there it is! And I was amazed because to my recollection I had never even seen a picture of the old Beaumaris Hotel before, I had only heard stories about it from my grandparents generation. I know no one ever mentioned the long rows of dormer windows I saw or the boardwalks along the shore or the pennant that was snapping in the wind from the single tower. I also knew that I was going to lose the image of the hotel as soon as I blinked and so of course, I did blink and Poof! It was gone, just like that.

This time my cousin Nancy caught the surprised look on my face and she asked me: What did you see? And I stammered: I just saw the old hotel, the old Beaumaris hotel.

She laughed and told me to have another beer but she changed her mind when I pointed out something that none of us could have known and that was where the hotel was located because I saw the hotel standing further down along the shore where the golf pro shack was instead of on the shore where everyone always said the hotel had been. When I went back and asked my grandfather about the location he confirmed that where I had seen it was correct and that in general people were wrong about where it had once stood.

So, the next time I stand on the putting green of the 18th hole, I'm going to pause and remember that I'm standing on the location of the old hotel veranda and I'm going to look out across the gorgeous lake vista and keep an eye out for the old Segwun and then I shall see what I shall see!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lights, Camera

by Gina Sestak

The theme of the month is scary things.  Polls consistently show the one thing that scares most people more than ghosts or vampires or even death itself is having to speak in public.

Luckily,  I've never had much of a problem with that.  I chalk that up to having absolutely no self-esteem.  When you expect to screw up and look like a total nincompoop, there's no risk of letting yourself down.   Besides, I've developed a practice of imagining the worst case scenario:  what is the worst thing that can possibly happen if I forget this speech midway and start to giggle?  The worst thing is that some terrorist or other hostile person will choose that moment to blow up the building.  Compared to that, whatever comes to pass is much, much better.  See?  No reason to be afraid of looking like an idiot if you are still standing up and in one piece.

This way of thinking about speaking in public has gotten me through standard speeches and acting on stage.  It has held up for courtroom appearances and even appellate argument.  Now, though, it has started to break down because I'm doing a different kind of public speaking.  A scary kind.

I'm taking a class on Acting for the Camera.   Every week, students are expected to prepare a short script and perform it while being filmed.  That is horrifying.  Not so much the act of speaking the script itself.  No.  The scary part is seeing the playback.

Most of you who know me know that I don't look all that great in person.  I look 100% better in person, though, than I do on videotape.  Yikes!   This is what I usually look like:
On videotape, I look about a gazillion years old, with bad skin and hair, and a truly bizarre-looking nose.  Luckily, I don't have an example to attach here.

It's some consolation that the younger people in my class, most of whom are very attractive, look pretty awful on screen, too.  I'm blaming the lighting.  In class, we are lit by a single bounce light coming from the right.  It makes our teeth look big and bright and our noses seem atrocious.  This is not how most people are lit on screen.

Look at someone in real life.  You will notice that their nose leaves a noticeable shadow on their face.  In movies and on tv, there are no such shadows.  Even in scenes set outdoors in bright sunlight, or in the middle of the night beneath a glowing moon, you will almost never see a strong shadow.    This is because shadows help bring out every flaw in a person's face.  And noses look weird enough already without obscuring a part of them.  [Have you ever actually looked at anybody's nose for any length of time?  They are ALL STRANGE LOOKING.]

Most scenes are lit by more than one light source to get rid of shadows.  One standard set-up puts a strong light - the key light - on one side of the actor's face, with a weaker fill light on the other, and a back light behind the head.  This set-up gives enough weak shadow to keep the actor looking three-dimensional, without creating defined dark areas on the face - a shadow of a pimple makes it look as if it's much, much bigger than it really is, sort of like a mountain on the surface of the moon.

As horrifying as the appearance part of the video is, that is not the worst part.  Ever harder to watch is the camera's way of picking up every flaw in the performance.  A millisecond pause to think of the next line is glaringly obvious.  A split second glance at the instructor ["Am I doing this right?'] completely breaks the illusion that you're talking to the audience.  Every pause seems minutes long.  Watching this is really, really scary and is causing me to develop a profound respect for on-air new readers.  It is harder than it looks.

What about you?  Does public speaking scare you?  Have you ever watched yourself perform on video?

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Scary Story

by Laurissa

This month our theme here at the Working Stiffs is scary or spooky stories. Well the story that I’m going to tell you is a true one, and it happened to me. It was Halloween, and my family had just moved into our house that summer before the start of the new school year. I was fifteen, too old to trick-or-treat, but wanted to do something that made the day feel like Halloween. I had been feeling a bit down that fall and a little like a fish out of water as I was, once again, the new girl at school. At least that’s how I recall it, so I asked my parents if I could pass out the candy. Looking back on that night, I don’t remember where my sisters and brother were. However, I knew that my mother was somewhere in the house as was my father.

Of course back in the seventies, trick-or-treating didn’t occur during daylight hours, but when it was actually dark. We didn’t have many trick-or-treaters that night and I remember feeling disappointed. That was when I noticed a lone trick-or-treater coming up over the slight hill and across our front yard. I felt warning signs go off as I noticed that this wasn’t a small child but definitely a larger child, maybe a teenager, walking on his knees wearing a black ski mask and what appeared to be some sort of a military fatigue jacket. The details becoming clearer as he or she came closer to the glow from the front porch light.

I tried to calm myself by saying that this was a teenager, like me, wanting to eek the last little bit possible out of the holiday, and was trying to appear as a child in order to still get candy, but my heart was still racing. Since we were new to the area, I didn’t have any idea whether or not this was someone from the neighborhood.

I didn’t want to insult this person by closing the door, as he or she had already seen me standing there, although my better instincts were screaming to “SHUT THE DOOR!” Instead I just stood there as they crawled up on the front porch, still on their knees. When he said “trick or treat” in a distinctly deep adult male voice, and held his bag out, I noticed that these were not the hands of a teenager holding the bag, but of a man. My heart pounded into overdrive. It was pounding so loudly that I could hardly hear myself think. I took a very shaky handful of candy and I tried to form the thought that I would hurriedly drop it in his bag so that he would soon leave. All the while, I was thinking don’t let him see that you’re afraid.

As soon as I held the candy out to his bag, he lunged forward, grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. I wrenched my hand out of his grasp and ran away from the front door back through the house headed towards the back door. I couldn’t scream. All that I could do was, to run. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. He was now up off of his knees, as I heard his footsteps pounding after mine and his breathing muffled from the ski mask. I remember glimpsing my mother, as I ran by, sitting on the couch in the family room, putting her hair up in rollers with the TV on and a book or magazine in her lap. I remember this so clearly and my not being able to scream or say anything, I was so afraid; I was running for my life. He was after-- me.

I burst out the back door onto the driveway, letting the storm door slam shut, running to who knows where. The back storm door then immediately slammed a second time as he followed. It was then that I distantly  heard my father laughing and hollering at me to stop running, and I turned to see my dad holding a ski mask wearing a previously unseen fatigue jacket.

And people think that the parents of teenagers have it rough! :-)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

PSP Citizen's Police Academy: Week 1


by Annette Dashofy

It’s been over two years since I attended the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Citizen’s Police Academy. My certificate, pin, and class photo maintain a prominent spot above my desk. If you’re a writer who isn’t a cop, writing about cops, I doubt there is a better source of information and research than your local Citizen’s Police Academy.

So when I heard about another CPA, this one held by the Pennsylvania State Police, I printed out the registration form, filled it out and popped it in the mail in record time.

Class began last Tuesday evening at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, a mere half hour drive from home (beats the hour and a half drive through rush hour traffic that I endured for the Pittsburgh classes).

Troopers Robin Mungo and Joe Christy led the orientation. First tidbit of knowledge gleaned: PA State Police don’t wear a badge. They have one, but don’t have to display it.

Once we’d all been officially signed in, Officer Mike Spagnoletti of Allegheny County Police Department took over and gave the class a rundown of his department.

Most counties have sheriff’s departments. Allegheny County, however, also has their police department, which originated in 1932. It has four divisions: Headquarters, Uniform, Detective, and Training. The Detective Division is further broken down into Homicide (and Allegheny County’s clearance rate is very high on homicides), Narcotics, and General Investigations.

Just a few odds and ends that you might find useful in your writing:

Part of the General Investigations unit involves audio-visual forensics. They clear up video or reconstruct damaged or destroyed tapes, CDs, or DVDs. I kept picturing NCIS’s McGee and Abby.

Those computers in police vehicles are called MDTs or Mobile Data Terminal.

Next week I’ll be back here on my regular Wednesday slot with CPA Week #2: the Driving Simulator.

In the meantime here are a few photos of our class room at PTI.

This is a poster of the evolution of police uniforms.

And a couple of posters showing forensic firearm identification. Very cool.
I'm not sure who this guy is, but he hangs around in the front of the room. He's definitely the strong, silent type.

To give you an idea of what else is coming up, a few items on our agenda include making some traffic stops, 
a visit to the ME's office, a tour of the jail, and an evening in night court. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Five Things I Learned on My First Ghost Hunt (and some really fun other stuff)

By Tamara Girardi

So, this month is spooky October. I love October. It's my birthday month; the fall colors are gorgeous, and the weather is perfect. But nothing beats Halloween.

One of my coolest ghostly tales involves my ghost hunting adventure at Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio. It's been a while, but the experience has stayed with me for sure. For your enjoyment, I'm reposting my blog entry from immediately following the ghost hunt. Enjoy!

1. I am nothing like Leia Angeletti, my brave, 17-year-old ghost-hunting heroine.

2. I am a big scaredy-cat.

3. Fear of heights and a cell block with a low railing do not mix.

4. I am not patient enough to hang out and wait for a spirit to manifest.

5. I'm a really bad ghost hunter!

The picture to the right is my favorite from last night. In it, you can see down the long hallway of the West Cell Block at the Manfield State Reformatory. If you notice the cells are on the right, and to the left is basically a cage.

The East Cell Block has no cage. There is simply a hip-high railing, and as you can imagine, several inmates were thrown to their death as a result.

The building itself is amazing. In the video posted here yesterday, a former prisoner compared it to Dracula's castle. That's an incredibly appropriate comparison for several reasons.

The exterior is spooky yet gorgeous. The architecture demands attention and fools new visitors into believing the interior could be palace-like. As you can imagine, though, that anticipation doesn't deliver.

Inside, paint is chipping from the cell bars, walls, and ceilings. Wooden floors in the former wardens' living quarters soften as you walk over them creating nearly as much fear and anxiety as the graffiti on the walls and the violent history the tour guide revealed, which plays in your mind throughout the night.

The Attic

As the stories go, an inmate was helping with work in the attic once upon a time. The guards left him, and he committed suicide by hanging. Although many of the members of Spirited Ghost Hunting have been to Mansfield several times, they had never been in the attic. It was too dangerous - because of the mess, not because of the ghosts.

But after scarfing some pizza, we headed for the attic above the East Cell Block in a group of 8 around 11 p.m. We wandered around in the dark, flash lights bouncing off the walls and lingering on massive holes in the ceiling where plaster was peeling and hanging low, feet shuffling against the mounds of dirt and dust.

Across the attic were what appeared to be shower stalls like this one, which brings me to our first point of investigation.

My husband and I were standing in this stall while other groups were in adjacent stalls. Everyone was doing their best to be still and quiet while we recorded some electronic voice phenomenon or EVPs.

Rachelle, Spirited Ghost Hunting's fearless leader, was asking questions such as why are you here, what year is it, and what is your name?

She asked if anyone was there could they give us a sign. We heard a bang on hollow metal. I recognized the sound immediately. A few minutes earlier another hunter Tonya and I had squeezed through a small door frame to find an old furnace and stairs to other aged heating or water devices. That area is on the other side of the wall from the shower stalls.

Rachelle asked more questions and again asked for a sign, a noise of any kind or movement in the room. At that moment, Dom moved next to me.

"Did you hear that?" he asked.

"Yeah, stop moving," I told him, fearing we were going to get yelled at for improper ghost hunting etiquette. We were supposed to be quiet!

"No, someone threw something at me," he said. I was standing in the doorway of the stall, so it didn't come from that direction.

The rest of the group came into our little stall. We flashed lights on the floor and found a piece of glass. Glass hitting the floor made sense with the sound both of us had heard. I assumed he stepped on something or dropped something, but he insisted the glass either fell through the hole in the ceiling of the stall or the hole on the wall.

Tonya and I insisted no one was in that room. We had just been back there. To investigate, we all filed through the doorway into the next room to find a few other ghost hunters enjoying the joke they'd just played on us!

A couple more things about the attic before we move on. The history in the building is obviously incredible. It was opened in 1896 and first housed youth offenders. They were taught trades and "reformed" before being released. Then around World War I, more serious adult offenders called it home. At one time, it housed Death Row. Although its capacity is 1,100 prisoners, the most it ever held was 3,600. Clearly, overcrowding was an issue.

That's one of the reasons why in the 1970s, officials were pushing to have it closed. The decision was made in 1978, and it took 12 years to transfer all of the prisoners before the doors closed to corrections in 1990. Now, it's privately owned and preserved as a historical landmark.

I'm not sure why so many prisoners were up in the attic or why the place hasn't gotten a paint job for 80 years. I guess it's always possible that someone got creative and jotted some notes more recently than that, but above, you can see one of the many "I was here" notes.

It's hard to make out the details, but it's from prisoner 30890, who was transferred from Cleveland to serve at Mansfield in 1933. Some of the notes included reasons for incarceration.

A number or name. A crime. A date. I guess in their everyday lives, those were the most relevant attributes.

The notes illustrate a desire similar to Brooks' need to be remembered in The Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed at Mansfield. The halfway house Brooks lived in when he left the prison was filmed in one of the prison's administration rooms.

But back to the attic. We had one more experiment for the spirits, if they were with us. Four people set their flashlights in the middle of the floor. We crowded around them.

We got our voice recorders ready, and Jami, a really nice guy and fun ghost hunter, started with the questions. The main request was for the spirit to use the battery power in the flashlights as energy, thus shutting the flash light off. A particular line of questioning yielded a flicker in one of the lights.

"Did your family not visit you? Were they ashamed of what you'd done?"

The flicker was very visible. Not groundbreaking research or ironclad proof of paranormal activity, but clearly visible. After a few questions, Jami went back to the family questions again, but no more flickers, and none of the lights were extinguished.

When you're hoping for something to happen, it's hard not to assume or conclude prematurely. For instance, take a look at this photo of Rachelle and Colleen in the attic.

If you look closely above both of their heads, you see orbs. You can see one to the left of Rachelle (who's in the brown shirt and black shorts) and one right above Colleen's head. Farther above them, you see a few other orbs floating around.

I'd conclude these are dust particles. The validity of orbs carries a heavy debate. Some people believe if there is any color to them, it means they are paranormal whereas colorless orbs are simply dust particles. Others rule them out completely. Some, still, jump at any orb in a photograph and are excited about the implications.

*If you're interested in the followup to this post and want to hear some spooky Electronic Voice Phenomenon, link to the post on my blog here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting in the spirit...

By Pat Remick

I have not been visited by the ghosts of dead heroes, pets nor family members. The spirits apparently prefer to spend time with more interesting -- or receptive -- human beings. Therefore, adhering to this month's spooky theme has been a challenge.

My husband suggested writing about our Lhasa Apso (seen here in the most mysterious and ghostly photo I could manage) because legend has it these dogs were bred to guard Tibetan temples against evil spirits.

My dog does have an annoying habit of barking at the wind, but not strangers who come to the house. Perhaps I should give more credence to the possibility that he is preventing ghosts from calling on us. However, I have a difficult time viewing our happy-go-lucky Buddy as a ferocious guardian against otherworldly beings.

Next, I considered writing about what terrifies me, which would be things that could harm the people I love. Fellow New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult readily admits the themes of her best-selling books center around subjects that most frighten her and her hope that by addressing them in fiction, she can prevent these horrible things from happening. I do the same.

Then I gave a great deal of thought to what might frighten others and concluded the unusual thinking processes of people who enjoy writing about crime and murder might very well qualify as spine-chilling.

For example, Buddy and I sometimes take early morning walks through a wooded area and I often wonder if something, or someone, other than the usual forest creatures is watching and waiting to pounce. When the hair rises on the back of my neck, I become very aware that it would be easy for someone to attack, kill me and escape. (At just 18 pounds, Buddy isn't much protection -- remember, he only barks at the wind.) What's more, there are several locations that offer excellent opportunities to conceal a corpse. Believe me, I've looked.

I think that if other people knew how much time mystery writers spend thinking like this, they might find it ... well, unsettling, to say the least.

I can't even engage in recreational activities, such as attempting to climb a mountain with my spouse, without thoughts of murder and mayhem. As I complained to a National Forest Service official recently in an entry on my personal blog, "Because we're mystery writers, we also know that mountain trails provide optimum opportunities for serial killers and other wackos. If we could figure out that someone hiking without ski poles to defend themselves – and no emergency button to push – easily could be dragged off into the woods and murdered, so can they."

It is impossible for me to drive by an overgrown highway median, enjoy the view of a large body of water or even visit a historic fort surrounded by vegetation without thinking: "That would be a good place to hide a body." My husband and I often discuss ways to commit murder -- and not get caught. Reading the ingredients on household products can prompt musings about new opportunities to dispose of people and evidence. An intriguing news story can trigger imaginative and macabre discussions of "what if....?"

Normal people might find these traits peculiar at best -- and possibly even horrifying. But I consider them just part of "getting in the spirit." How about you?

Monday, October 11, 2010


by Gina Sestak

The topic of the month is scary things, so I sat down and tried to think about some things that frighten me.  I had to stop.  I got too scared . . .

It's odd, though, that things that terrified people for centuries seem to have morphed into things that are downright attractive.  Take the vampire, for example.

Many cultures have legends about beings - the dead or undead, corporeal or in spirit form - who suck blood from the living.  Sounds pretty horrible, doesn't it?  Early depictions of the vampire on film showed a repulsive creature, one you wouldn't want to run across in a dark alley - or anywhere else!

Bela Lugosi may have been a leading man on stage in his native Hungary, but when he played Dracula in American horror films, he managed to look pretty scary.

I know I'd run screaming if I saw him coming after me.

Anne Rice's vampires are attractive, but they are killers nonetheless.  Even Louis, with all his angst, slaughters humans.

Nowadays,  though, vampires are depicted as attractive, even relatively harmless.  Think Edward Cullen from the Twilight films.

Who wouldn't want him sneaking in through her bedroom window?

[Yeah, I know he's way too young for me, but this is fantasy, OK?]

The werewolf has undergone a similar metamorphosis.

When Lon Chaney transformed beneath the full moon, we knew we'd better run and hide or else he'd tear us
limb from limb.  He couldn't help himself.

Neither could Professor Remus Lupin, the werewolf in the Harry Potter films.  He, too, is a tragic figure, doomed to turn into a monster every month.

Even a man who is pure of heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the moon is shining bright.

Jacob Black, on the other hand, is a hunk, no question.  Even in wolf form he comes across as a nice guy in the Twilight films - at least, if you are Bella Swan and not a vampire.

[Yes, I have read Breaking Dawn, but let's not go there.   That book creeped me out in ways that are neither fun nor even horror.  I mean, the Jacob part was just plain icky.]

So, what do you think?  Do vampires and werewolves scare you?  Or would you rather date a few?

Friday, October 08, 2010

I’m (Not) A Believer

by Ramona DeFelice Long

On a shelf in my office is a collection of quirky, inspirational items: My Jane Austen finger puppet. My collection of Beatles buttons. A clay sign that says “Future Bestselling Author at Work.” My Good Citizen Award. A sheet of paper with “Compliments of Mrs. Long” written over with comments—You rock! Best sammiches ever! I freaking love you!—from when I brought homemade chicken salad sandwiches to the high school book group. A plaster cast of my beloved Marcie’s paw. My Mary Roberts Rinehart Chapter SinC button. A framed placard of the Cajun Ten Commandments.

Smack in the center on the shelf are my four voodoo dolls. I had six, but one got sent to a friend during a painful divorce and another to a friend undergoing a painful surgery. I own voodoo dolls because I was raised in south Louisiana and the dolls represent home, history and power. I bought them when the New Orleans French Market opened after Hurricane Katrina. The dolls were on sale, six for two dollars. Being French, I could not pass up such a bargain.

Attached to each doll’s dress is a small card explaining How to Use the Voodoo Doll. I have read these instructions and, yes, I have followed them. So far, when I reach step #3--“Pick white pin for good, black pin is for evil!”--I’ve gone for the white pin. That’s not to say I haven’t been tempted to skewer somebody with a black pin. I mean, you’re not an interesting person unless you rack up a few enemies, right? Nevertheless, I’ve resisted inflicting harm on my nemeses through the use of supernatural powers.

Here’s why: It’s not because I rock or because I’m such a good citizen or because I have a bestseller in my future. It’s because I’m not a believer.

I don’t believe in voodoo. I don’t believe in black magic, or white magic, either. I don’t believe in ghosts, vampires, witches or warlocks. I’ve never had a supernatural encounter. No hairs rising on back of my neck from an otherworldly presence. I’ve never seen a cat’s face morph into another cat’s face. Never experienced a premonition, an omen or any déjà vu. None of my deceased relatives or lovers from a former life have swept in to say hello. I don’t worry about what goes around or fear the wrath of karma. Heck, I don’t even believe in Satan.

You might call me a skeptic, but it’s not that simple. I don’t disbelieve the experiences of other people. If you tell me you’ve seen a ghost, who am I to doubt you? Just because it’s never happened to me doesn’t mean it’s never happened to you. Many people I know and respect have experienced the unexplainable, and I’m not about to start calling people liars or demand proof. No “Unless you post pictures, it didn’t happen” from me.

I’ve been pondering this as I try to write a blog post about haunting experiences. Reading the Stiffs’ tales this week, I’ve started to feel resentful. Everybody else has been tripped out by some weird encounter--why not me? I’m from Louisiana, for Pete’s sake! I own voodoo dolls! Why the heck won’t some apparition take pity and haunt me?

Is there something wrong with me? Or is it that I’ve closed my mind to the possibility?

I say I don’t believe in Satan, but I certainly believe in evil. One look at this week’s news—the home invasion trial in Connecticut, the parents who duct-taped their child to a wall—and yeah, I have complete faith in the evil that man can do. But I believe that man is perfectly capable of doing bad stuff without assistance from the beyond.

It’s not that I’m fearless, either. Put me in a small room with a big spider, and I will show you fear. Heck, put me in a big room with a small spider, and I’ll show it to you then, too. But if you put me in the woods, alone, late at night, with no cell phone service, I won’t be worried about the Blair Witch; I’ll be praying not to get eaten by a bear.

So I feel a little deprived. Maybe it’s my own fault, for not being imaginative or brave or spiritually grounded enough to accept the possibility of ghosts and goblins and what-not’s. Thinking about it, I suppose it’s silly for someone like me to own voodoo dolls.

But I can’t get rid of them. And if you think about it, when it comes to voodoo and other formers of mental treachery, is it really necessary that I believe? No. It’s only necessary that my enemies believe.

And that they not cross me. *evil laugh*

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Other fun surprises

By Paula Matter

I'm hijacking my own post to add a video. It's too large to e-mail to my sister, so I am hoping I can add it here. (Just checked and it is working. Yay!)

Here's the story behind the video.

Last month my two sisters, (my older sisters as I like to remind them because I'm still apparently a bratty younger sister) planned a trip to Boston. One lives in New Orleans (that would be the oldest of the three of us), and the other lives in Florida.

Boston is only a 6-7 hour drive for me depending on how many cops are on the road. I decided to surprise my sisters with a visit. Long story short, I found out where they were staying, and where they were having dinner the first night.

I asked the restaurant manager (Yay Matt at Legal Seafood in Cambridge) if I could surprise them. I explained my plan and he, sweetheart that he was, agreed. The wonderful bartender, Shannon, asked if I wanted her to videotape it. She's the one holding the camera. Another helpful restaurant employee handed me a tray and off I went.

Hope you enjoy.

Trick or Treat

By Paula Matter

I'm not a fan of scary stuff. I don't watch scary movies; I don't read scary novels. Well, not the gory horror ones. Suspense, yes. Thrillers, yes. But all of those Halloween/scary ass dolls/chainsaw movies? Nope. You'll never catch me watching one of them. I took baths for weeks after watching Psycho.

About the only thing I like about Halloween is I get to buy an assortment of candy. I also like seeing the neighborhood kids dressed in their costumes come to the door. Y'know, the ones who will get the so-so candy we bought while we keep the good stuff. And by we of course I mean I.

Otherwise, forget it. I do not like scary, spooky stuff.

This is my way of saying I couldn't come up with a single story that goes with our theme. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

No ghosts, human or animal. No visions of any kind. Oh, sure, there have been a couple of instances where I've had funny feelings--premonitions, I guess. And there have been times when I felt the presence of a lost loved one.

But everyone has those. Right?

In order to be a good sport and follow our theme, I pored over the Internet searching for some fun, not-too-scary videos, or games, or quizzes. I finally found one that I liked:

Now, that was funny.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Ghostly Visitors

by Annette Dashofy

I love Halloween and all the ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. However, as I’ve been struggling to think of a scary story in keeping with this month’s theme, I fear I’ve come up empty. Oh, I believe in ghosts. And I’ve had my own personal experience with those who have passed. But in my case, the experiences have been peaceful instead of scary.

Back when my grandfather died, I felt his presence for months. He watched over me after his death much as he had when he was alive.

And then there are my animal ghost stories.

Years ago, a good friend of mine moved across the country. Her parents drove her to her new home and left their kitty, Miss Jenna, in my care. I visited her daily and could tell she was grateful for the company. After that, every time I went to their house, Jenna, who was cool and aloof to everyone else, would run to me and demand to be petted. Time passed and Jenna grew old. One day I was sitting in my house with my own Sammie cat, who I might add looked NOTHING like Jenna. But when I looked over at her, it was Jenna’s face I saw so clearly that I had to blink twice to make sure it was indeed my own Sammie purring at my feet. In that moment I knew that Jenna had passed and had stopped by to say good-bye. A phone call from my friend a couple of hours later confirmed my suspicion. Jenna’s appearance at my house coincided almost to the minute of her death.

Then there’s Gypsy’s tale. Gypsy was my pony. She was born on our farm and sadly foundered at the age of two. Founder, for those unfamiliar with such things, is a condition which leaves the horse or pony chronically lame. Thanks to my wonderful blacksmith, we were able to keep Gypsy comfortable for many years. Eventually, though, the lameness grew more intense. When I could no longer ease her pain, I made the dreadful decision to have her put down. Many tears were shed over that decision.

A couple of nights later, I had a dream. But it was more than a dream…so vivid that I can recall each detail decades later. I stood in a field of tall grass. On the hillside above me stood Gypsy. She whinnied and began to gallop down the hill. Two fences separated us, but she cleared them both with ease and came up to me, placing her muzzle in my hand, clearly telling me that it was okay. Now, at long last, she was free.

When my beloved old Jenny mare (not to be confused with Jenna the cat) passed, I had no hope at all that she would revisit me in my dreams. Jenny’s personality was more self-serving. She couldn’t be bothered to check on me when heavenly green pastures beckoned. And I was right. She passed in 1996 and I never heard from her again.

Until a month or so ago. Life has been stressful around here. Horseback riding, a wonderful source of release, hasn’t been on my agenda this summer (my friend whom I ride with is expecting a baby). But one night in my dreams—another vivid one, not to be forgotten—I had one more ride on my exquisite mare. I touched her dark chestnut coat and felt its texture. I even fingered the dimple in the muscle of her hip…a scar from an old injury I’d long forgotten until that moment in my dream. Her jog was every bit as smooth as ever. She was as light on the bit as any horse I’ve ever ridden. Thanks, Jenny, old girl, for giving me that gift.

And I apologize for not offering our readers a Halloween fright today. But not all ghosts are bad.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Ballad of Slim Bonham

By Martha Reed

First off, let me say, I know my sister accuses me of exaggerating sometimes for effect but I would put my hand on a Bible right now and swear that every word I’m about to tell you is true.

What I’m about to relate happened 22 years ago, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and way before the Internet was even thought of. I had almost actually forgotten about it until the spooky theme was suggested for this blog and them I remembered this story:

22 years ago I was living in a small town in Texas just south of Dallas. Living in Texas was a bit of a culture shock because I was born and raised in the Midwest and we didn’t study any southern history. I knew some American history but it was the Boston Tea Party and George and Martha Washington so once I got to Texas I realized that there was this whole other culture and history that I knew absolutely nothing about which is why I had to go visit The Alamo.

At this point I might have known a little about Davy Crockett from the Fess Parker TV show and maybe I had heard about Mexican General Santa Ana and poor sick Travis but truth be told most of the defenders of the Alamo were nameless and faceless to me. Google hadn’t been invented yet and I know I didn’t spend a minute going to the reference library to look up anything about them. Basically, we got into my truck and drove to San Antonio to see it for ourselves.

We went in August when it was smoking hot and got to San Antonio late in the day. Instead of rushing around we decided to get a room and head over first thing in the cool of the morning when it was only 80 degrees instead of 115. Now I will admit I had a vice back then that I carry with me to this day and that is that I like to drink a lot of coffee in the morning and get juiced up on caffeine. Yes, I know it’s bad for me but there it is. So, first thing the next morning, while Tim was off gassing up the truck, I drank two full cups of coffee and took a tall third cup with me as a traveler to enjoy on the way.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Alamo, but it’s a sacred site. Men are required to remove their hats and women should cover their bare shoulders. It’s about respect. So in we go, through this rough garden and into the Chapel. First thing I notice is a 15 degree drop in temperature but I figure, okay, three foot thick adobe walls, of course it’s going to be cooler inside and I continued on.

The chapel has stubby pillars running down both sides, from what I remember, and there was a hallway down the right side all filled with flags representing the different authorities that have controlled Texas during the course of its history. Tim went off in that direction to look at the flags while I went forward into the chapel by myself.

This next bit is a little tough to explain so bear with me. As I moved forward, I felt the hair on my head prickle and I realized that there was someone lying on the floor propped up against one of the big pillars. I couldn’t see him but I knew he was there, every bit as real as I was. He had his back to the pillar and he had a horrible chest wound that had something like a shirt stuffed into it to staunch the bleeding. He knew he was dying, and when I realized he knew that I felt just how horribly tired he was because he’d been fighting without any sleep for three days and he was actually okay with dying because then he would be done with it and he could close his eyes and finally get some rest.

All of this was going through my mind but none of it was thought; I was feeling this. And then he spoke to me only I didn’t hear it through my ears I still “heard” it through my brain, and he made a joke and I recognized it as gallows humor because he said: I’m dying for some coffee and I know he said it to me because a) I had a skin full of the stuff, b) he really was dying.

I was paralyzed by the raw feeling of this going through my brain when my eyes weren’t recognizing that anything was on the floor in front of me but I still had enough presence of mind to think the message: Who are you? And he replied, like a whisper: Slim Bonham. Then I heard a snap like static electricity and it was gone.

At that moment, Tim came back from the flag hall to find me and he looked at me funny so I know I must have been a sight. I remember he asked me: what’s wrong? And I told him what had just happened. He walked me into the flag hall and there on the wall behind all the flags was a list of the defenders who died at The Alamo in alphabetical order and there he was, listed under the Bs: James Bonham, only he told me to call him Slim.

Okay, so like I said, all that was 22 years ago and I had almost forgotten all about it except that I told a friend of mine about my blog idea now and she asked: have you googled him? Well, that wasn’t even available back in 1988 so I did it after I wrote this blog and what I found in Wikipedia gave me chills.

“He is believed to have died manning one of the cannons in the interior of the Alamo chapel.”

Huh. You won’t get an argument out of me. Rest in peace, Slim Bonham. I still remember you.

 PS. 22 years ago I was thirty years old so now, looking back on it, I think Slim might have been a bit of a rascal, flirting with a woman even after he was dead. I wouldn't put it past him. I know he had a delightful sense of humor!