Category Archives: GhoStory Guru
I’ve long been a fan of Asian horror films—not only the originals, but in certain cases, the American remakes too, if they do well with adapting for our culture yet preserve the story without going all too-much-cheesy-gore-and-CGI (part of what makes the Asian variety so scary is that you see very little, and what you do see is sparingly rendered and/or subtle).
Still, one of the best wins in a film is usually the atmosphere—it’s cold, stark, and unforgiving, and for some reason, lights are always flickering. I always used to think it was an affected set piece—come on, lights don’t really do that unless there are ghosts around, right?—until I went into a bathroom at a local office building. Read the rest of this entry
I was skeptical given the “Class Project” description, but I love how this little film is shot and I’ll tell you the truth: although it’s the kids camping in the woods cliché, I thought this was genuinely scary. http://vimeo.com/27546506
This short telefeature, although I found the ending a bit abrupt, is worth watching just because the setting is really interesting. http://vimeo.com/27466836
I’m a story-teller. I tell stories. It’s what I do. So sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story about my house. Is it a true story? Well, I’m going to tell it to you the way it happened and then you tell me if it’s true or not.
We moved into our house in a sweltering hot August ten years ago. It was not our dream house. It was a “best we can afford right now”—in the height of the real estate boom—fixer-upper with “potential charm” but no actual charm. The day I first went to look at the house, there was six inches of water in the basement and I joked that it came with its own indoor swimming pool. However, it was still the best we’d seen in our price range and so we bought it.
At first there were only “oddities” that made the house seem interesting: it was the only historic property not included in the town’s thorough and detailed book and files of the town’s historic properties; none of the neighbors seems to know the history of the house even though it’s the oldest house in the immediate area (in fact, this was the main homestead/farm in the area and all of the neighboring properties AND the state highway that runs past the house were all sub-divided off of this property); I couldn’t trace the deed for the property beyond 1850 though the construction of the house indicates it is much older; Mapquest and GPS devices have no record of the house’s address (despite the fact that the house has been here for at least 200 years)—using our address sends visitors to an empty field in a neighboring town. The address of all of the surrounding properties (some built only fourteen years ago), however, works fine with Mapquest and GPSes; the gold crucifix hanging on the chimney in the basement (a dirt-floored, fieldstone-walled, low-ceiling, spider-infested, fancy root cellar type deal
typical of an ancient farmhouse); the black flies covering the third-floor windows that always returned no matter how many times we killed them and vacuumed up their dead bodies; and, perhaps strangest of all, the various people—contractors, repairmen, area store clerks, and even the state highway inspector who, when told our address, always replied, “Oh, I know *that* house.” When probed further they always answered, “Oh, nothing. I just know it is all.”
There were no overt indicators of strangeness at first. Just a lot of forgetfulness on our part—“Honey, have you seen the flashlight? I thought I left it right here“ or “Honey, have you my keys? I can’t find them.” That sort of thing. Invariably, the missing item would show up several days later, usually right where we thought we had left it (and had looked several times). We had just moved in and most everything we owned was still in storage, so it seemed that it should be very hard to misplace items, but misplace we did. My husband, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, finally said, “Things seem to move around a lot in this house.”
Our forgetfulness increased. My husband locked himself out of the house three times; each time he had stepped out for a minute and had no recollection of locking the door behind him. Once I came home to find him shoveling snow with no coat on. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was trying to keep warm—he was locked out and waiting for me to come home.
Then the noises began. The sound of a crying child in the hallway when I was in the spare bedroom. The sound of someone in the next room calling my name when I was home alone.
Then one night, I had a very vivid dream—the result of an overactive imagination, stimulated by the noises, no doubt. I dreamed that I awoke and standing at the foot of the bed was a young woman with frizzy red hair, wearing an old-fashioned lavender-colored dress and an elderly man dressed in a black stove-pipe hat, a black suit, and a black, many-caped overcoat. They didn’t speak and I had no sense of malevolence from them. They just stood there, observing me. So I closed my eyes, rolled over, and went
back to sleep.
Finally, there was “the incident.”
I was home alone. My husband was traveling for business. I awoke in the middle of the night to the light in the hall—visible through the bedroom doorway—tinged a strange, greenish color, a noise, a crashing, clanging, banging, as if someone was throwing pots and pans down the hall stairs, and my bed was shaking, as if it was vibrating in time to someone’s cranked-up bass.
I threw back the covers, jumped out of bed, and ran across the hall to the spare room, where the telephone was. I frantically dialed my husband, who thankfully answered his cell. He said, in some confusion, “What are you doing up? Isn’t it like one a.m. there?” In a panicked jumble I explained what had happened and told him that I was scared, I wanted to leave and go to a hotel.
“Oh, honey,” he said impatiently. “Nothing is going to happen to you. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
The logic of this statement stopped me cold for a moment. I remember very clearly, standing there, blinking in stupefaction, my jaw hanging open. Thinking perhaps he hadn’t understood properly, I explained again that there were noises and lights and shaking beds and I was leaving for a hotel.
“Look, honey, I can’t talk right now. I’m at a party,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Then he hung up on me.
Now, for most women that probably would have been grounds for divorce; however, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was over-tired—it WAS one a.m. after all—I had been frightened (which always puts me in a bad mood) and now I was mad. In fact, I was very mad and since my husband—the target of my anger—was there to choke, my anger sought another target. Slowly, the crashing, clanging, banging noise, which I had apparently blocked out while talking on the phone, filtered back into my consciousness.
Only now it wasn’t scary—it was annoying! Annoying as hell! I wanted to sleep, damn it!
“Shut up!” I screamed to the house, the air, the world in general. “Just shut the hell up!” I stormed back to bed, screamed “Shut up!” once more, and pulled the covers over my head to block out lights, noises, and all other sensory inputs. In a minute, I fell back to sleep.
There were other attempts to get my attention over the following months, but I was no longer in a mood to be receptive. The sounds of a crying child in the hall were met with, “I don’t care. So you can just shut the hell up,” and the sound of someone calling my name was met with a simple, “Bugger off!”
Soon I had the sense the house was puzzled and then finally resigned. My husband and I finally regained our memories—tools and flashlights and keys stopped being misplaced and we stopped getting locked out.
Only the mysteriously recurring black flies on the third floor remained. Finally, several years ago, we decided to do some renovations to the third floor. As we were pulling down sheetrock, my husband called me over to where he was working. “Uh, honey, I think you should see this.”
There, nestled IN the wall, hanging on wall stud, was a crucifix. A feeling of dread and horror washed over me—crucifixes are something you hang ON the wall, not IN it. Even to a non-religious person such as myself, putting a crucifix in the wall at the top of the house, as well as one in the basement, seemed to indicate a protection spell of some sort, an attempt to guard against something.
“I think I’ll just leave that where it is,” my husband said.
“Damn straight!” I said. “It’s there for a reason. It’s doing something.”
Oddly enough, after that day, the black flies disappeared from the third floor, and all has been peaceful ever since.
But my house still doesn’t show up on Mapquest.
P.S. For more of my real-life experiences with ghosts, visit my guest post at Happy Tails and Tales (http://magluvsya03.wordpress.com/) on August 31st for the story of an encounter I had with one of my cats after she had passed away
An excerpt from Terri Bruce’s new novel, Hereafter
At that moment, the front door of Mrs. Boine’s house opened and two little girls in long pigtails pelted down the stairs, leaving the door hanging ajar.
“Grandma! Grandma!” they cried, tumbling across the lawn. “Push us! Push us!”
“Oh, they want their buggies,” Mrs. Boine said, her face going soft with fond indulgence.
Each girl threw herself onto a three-wheeled toy—the preschooler version of a tricycle—and continued to cry for Mrs. Boine like a chorus of baby birds at feeding time.
“Okay, I’m coming.” The old woman heaved herself out of her chair.
Before she could reach the children, though, the silhouette of a woman appeared in the open front
door of the house. “Girls? What are you doing? Get in here.”
“Grandma’s going to push us!” the girls cried in unison.
“You know you’re not allowed in the yard when I’m not there! Get in here this instant!”
The girls reluctantly complied, climbing off the “buggies” and dragging themselves back to the house, whining, begging, and pleading the entire way. The front door closed with a decided snap. Irene gave Mrs. Boine an inquiring look. The old lady beamed. “My grandbabies.”
“They can see you?”
“See? No, but they know I’m here.”
“How do you know they know you’re here?”
Mrs. Boine didn’t seem in the least bothered by the incredulity in Irene’s voice. “They talk to me and leave me little presents. See here…” She drew a wilted dandelion from her pocket and held it up for Irene’s inspection, beaming as if she’d just pulled a lump of gold from behind Irene’s ear. “I tuck them in and sing them to sleep every night. Oh, they know I’m here alright.”
“What about your daughter?”
Mrs. Boine set the flower down and then waved a dismissive hand, her smile disappearing under a heavy-browed frown. “Oh, Gloria was always too stubborn by half. Thinks the girls have too much imagination.” She said the word as if it was something catching. “It’s a damn shame how the living only see what they want to see, but that’s life, I suppose.”
A car rattled by. Mrs. Boine swore.
Mister MacKenzie appeared in his yard, closely inspecting his lawn, and seeming not liking what he saw. Mrs. Boine raised a hand in greeting. “Yooo-hooo!” she called.
Mister MacKenzie didn’t notice.
Mrs. Boine dropped her hand with a wistful sigh. “That man,” she said with a regretful shake of her head, as if she deeply pitied Mister MacKenzie.
Irene was still thinking of Mrs. Boine’s daughter. “Well, can’t you just write Gloria a note or something? Provide irrefutable proof that you’re still here?”
Mrs. Boine looked at Irene over the rim of her glasses. “Let me give you some advice, dear. Don’t upset the living and they won’t upset you.”
Irene gave a stubborn shake of her head. “There has to be a way to make people believe that we’re here. I can’t believe that I’m just…stuck. That I…I just have to hang around…forever…doing nothing.”
Mrs. Boine gave Irene another disapproving look. “There’s plenty to be doin’. Who’s gonna watch over your mother now that you’re gone?”
“My mother is just going to have to learn to take care of herself for once,” Irene snapped without thinking and then instantly wished she could take back the words.
Mrs. Boine’s face twisted in an affronted pucker. “Oh, well…if you don’t have anything to keep you here, then I suppose you’ll be going off to the city to live again…” Mrs. Boine said coldly, her nose rising into the air as if catching a whiff of something unpleasant. “…or going off to look for your angels and harps
“Well, if there’s somewhere else to go, why wouldn’t we leave? Why would anyone hang around here?”
Mrs. Boine looked at Irene as if she’d lost her mind. “Why would I leave? I’ve got everything I want right here. This house has been my home for fifty years, and now Gloria and the girls live here. I would never dream of leaving.”
Terri Bruce’s Hereafter available everywhere. Amazon easiest? Just click here for the Kindle Edition: http://amzn.com/B008S6K8GE It’s also available in print.
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
This student project—a University of Colorado BFA thesis—is a quiet little film with some genuinely unsettling moments. What I liked most about it, though, is that it’s really about coming-of-age rather than haunting. http://vimeo.com/4462690
Written and directed by Antoine Colomb and Guillaume Rio this surprising, surreal animated feature is beautifully rendered. If you like any of Pixar’s shorts, then this will appeal to you. Well worth two and a half minutes…and I’m sorry it isn’t longer. http://vimeo.com/43180571
This just under 12-minute short film was shot on location in Glasgow, Scotland, and was nominated for a Royal Television Society award. Sweet rather than scary, this ghost story is probably the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee. http://vimeo.com/13292694
I suppose it could be argued that there isn’t a “new” way to write a haunted house story—how many unique things can you really do with a haunted house, after all?—but after reading Haunted Houses: The Greatest Stories, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, if such an argument were ever to be presented, I’d be on the side of the defense.
This collection isn’t short on classics—Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and Stoker’s “The Judge’s House”—nor is it short on some standardly-hallmarked, but still fun, pieces: Henry Slesar’s “The Right Kind of House” if you love a nail-biting mystery; Robert Aickman’s “The School Friend” if you love a little odd romance; “The Haunting of Shawley Rectory” if you like a ghost hunt; Michael Raeves’ “The Tearing of Graymare,” if you like a good scare.
But it’s the several stories with unique takes that make this collection a must-have.
Robert Bloch’s “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe,” while I found had one unbelievable moment as a character leaps to rather sudden conclusion (I would have founded this with at least one mention or thought earlier on in the story so it didn’t feel like it came out of nowhere), is a riveting page-turner while simultaneously creating a sense of leaden, pondering dread in the middle of a summer day through the use of a decay motif. And the subtly-foreshadowed ending is a total shocker. I won’t provide any other spoilers here except to note that the story is not about Lizzie Borden, but if you really want to make this one hell of a ride, you’d do well to read Angela Carter’s “The Fall River Axe Murders” first (Carter’s short was first published in 1981 and again in 1985; Bloch’s was first published in 1946. Who knows if Carter read Bloch’s story, but I find the connection between the two makes me think Carter may have been directly inspired).
Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Doll” is what you’d expect of her unique psychological horror, but when applied to the haunted house story, it’s definitely not what you’d expect (think about the story’s title a little bit and you might figure out why)—and deals a wallop of a commentary on the long reach of our childhood’s shadows. Similar in theme is William F. Nolan’s “Dark Winner,” which isn’t surprising, since he’s the genius behind Logan’s Run. What is surprising about “Dark Winner” is the storytelling itself. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it’s tough to pull of this particular style and not bore the crap out of your readers. Nolan not only nails it, he gets the job done quick and dirty. I couldn’t put the story down. Charles L. Grant’s “The Children, They Laugh So Sweetly” also looks at the haunted house in connection with children, but through the eyes of—if I even mention it, I’ll blow the story’s surprise ending.
Years ago, I’d read Jack L. Chalker’s “No Hiding Place” and had loved it—and given its completely odd take on the Haunted House, I’m not surprised it was included in this collection (it appeared in his 1988 collection Dance Band on the Titanic, which had, that year, been a birthday gift from my Dad): this one will trash everything you know about haunted house lore.
The most fun piece, though, is Margaret St. Claire’s “The House in Bel Aire.” This is one take on a haunted house story that was so fresh I had to read it twice. For all the haunted house tales I’ve read over the years, I can’t think of any even remotely reminiscent of this one. I have never read anything like this and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.
Anthologies and collections can be uneven, and this one is no exception. Just as there are solid and creative stories in this collection, there are weaker ones, too.
I felt that Edward Bryant’s “Teeth Marks,” which started off in a gripping, chilling voice, collapsed because it was told from alternating POVs; it was like walking on an uneven floor. Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Cat Jumps,” despite its well-developed atmosphere, was peopled with cardboard characters, lacked suspense, and had a what-the-hell-does-this-have-to-do-with-the-last-five-pages-I-just-struggled-through? ending.
I didn’t mention all the stories in here; there are a few more, and Greenberg’s introduction alone, in which he examines why tainted home stories are scary, makes the purchase of this book a worthwhile endeavor. So if spooky dwellings are your thing, you should own this collection.
It definitely puts a fresh coat of paint on the old haunted house.
You can purchase Haunted Houses: The Greatest Stories by Martin Harry Greenberg at Amazon here: http://amzn.com/1567311687.
Dolls don’t scare me the way they do most people. Honestly. I enjoy the unsettling feeling I get staring at creepy dolls.
I’m in a Facebook Group called The Spirit of Halloween. What I love about it is that, although sometimes we promote our work, it’s not a see-me board; rather, it’s a group of people who love talking about what scares them and horror books and films, among other things. Mostly, it’s lots and lots of really amazing scary artwork.
One of my favorite weekly events over there is “Creepy Doll of the Week.” Everyone contributes and it’s a ball. But seeing doll after doll, week after week, I began to wonder what it is, exactly, about dolls that scares us.
Enter Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “The Doll,” which I just recently discovered. I won’t put spoilers here, but I will say the theme of lost innocence (as a type of death) is prevalent. After I’d finished, I put my finger on what it was about dolls that unsettled me.
Their eyes are dead.
And those eyes foreshadow our own post-mortem.
Okay, that was my dark thought for the day. Here are a couple of recent “creepy doll” photos which I either have or will be contributing to “Creepy Doll of the Week”–a couple from my friend Kristina Hals Strobel, who has a collection to be envied and who’s been generous enough to share her photos with me. Enjoy.