Our world is full of mysteries. They begin with the very creation of life (the Big Bang Theory for example) and continue right up to the present. Today, one of the largest group of mysteries, consists of who-dunnits, also known as murder mysteries. With a current worldwide population of 7 billion (and still growing) the ways that one human can kill another has grown at a staggering rate. This is good news for mystery writers, but bad news if you happen to be that unlucky soul who gets at axe embedded in your skull. Pictured above is one little mystery that surrounds an old house. The drawing was originally created for a short story, but this piece of artwork also works well this weeks Illustration Friday topic.
Like many things today, pumpkins carving is a re-discovered art that is reaching new heights. No longer are we graced with just the toothy smile of a Jack O’Lantern, but instead, today’s pumpkin carvers have dedicated themselves to creating strange, eerie nocturnal scenes, like the one visible above.
My 2015 Halloween Rant
I can’t believe it’s Halloween time again. The frost may not yet be on the pumpkin because of global warming and the World Series may still be playing live on your flat screen TV, because of increased TV revenues, but the calendar actually says October 31, which means its All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. And to make things better for those who like to party on the evening proceeding All Saints Day, Halloween 2015 happens to fall on a Saturday.
Like everything else in America and the world, Halloween is changing. Of course, our world is changing too, so it not at all unexpected to see evidence of these changes on this popular holiday that occurs right before the popular Celtic holiday of All Saints Day. Evidence of these changes can be seen just by viewing the new array of costumes that are released every year right about this time.
On The Dark Side
Images like this one are all over the internet and it is not inconceivable that the recent transformation of this nation’s beloved Olympic star is not playing well among the general public. Perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg or maybe just an overzealous outburst of the holiday season.
No not really, but Christmas time is a great occasion for storytelling and all those stories need not be about nutcrackers and sugar plum fairies. In fact, if you step back and take a close look at some of the tall tales that circulate on these longest of winter nights, you will find that quite a few delve into the darkness of men’s souls. From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, innovative storytellers have been more than willing to celebrate the Yule time with a grisly tale. And guess what……they have been very successful at capturing our attention.
Recently, Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted a Christmas Flash Fiction challenge. In this quest, he suggested that interested participants write a 2,000 word horror story about Christmas. To put things in his own words: “The holidays are in fact ripe with horror — meat and candy, mythological creatures who spy on you, winter hellscapes, animated toys. So many options for terror!”
My response ran a little over the suggested 2,000 word limit, but here it is anyway, a dark Christmas tale from the Canadian North Woods.
Le Loup Garou (the French-Canadian Werewolf)
a Short Story by Henri Bauhaus
The old timers said that the winters in the spruce forests of Northern Ontario were not as cold as they used to be. According to these elderly gents, there once was a time, when the Wendigo River would freeze solid as a rock from Thanksgiving till Easter. The frigid winter would even solidify Jim McKenzie Falls, a twelve foot high rock ledge that ran the breadth of the northward flowing river. They also often lamented that on some nights it would get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground.
But there was no need to tell Sam Wiggins that…for he learned all about the awesome North Woods winter, the hard way. The unfortunate event took place on an icy December night, when the trees of the forest were going snap, crackle and pop, as the temperature plunged well below zero. So cold were these solstice nights that not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Sam’s boss man, Patrick Munster, had given Sam and his crew both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. But in the year of our Lord, 1925, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so for the Monday following the most revered holiday, Mr. Cargill expected all twelve loggers to be present and accounted for at 8 a.m. at the Wendigo branch of the Tamarack Paper company. It mattered nil that Monday was Boxing Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen was nigh. To the delight of the paper bosses, Christmas had conveniently fallen on a weekend and come hell or high water Patrick Munster was going to get a week of work from his hardy gang. before the new year rolled in.
The loggers had put in a good day on the Friday before Christmas, so Patrick gave the whole crew the latter part of the day off. The earnest penny-pincher even had a modest cash bonus for all the men, including the ones, who had only been on the crew for just a few months. It had been a good year for the Tamarack Paper Company and the seasoned foreman had been given a small wad of cash and told to disperse it evenly among the crew. Patrick did so without fanfare or keeping even a token amount for himself, an unselfish decision that was rare amongst the company foremen.
Not only did Patrick know the woods well, but he also understood the ways of his men very well. For he knew that sooner or later many of them would end up in the same tavern and that one of the first subjects of conversation would be about their Christmas bonuses. When the subject did come up, Ole Patrick wanted it to be known that his crew got the best bonus possible. For his Christmas kindness, the old Irishman knew that he would reap the benefits in the springtime, when the work gangs were just getting together for the upcoming year.
With only an hour or so of daylight left in the gray, December sky, Sam and several of his fellow loggers headed straight for the Laughing Loon Saloon, which was located just a few doors down from the office of the paper company. From the twelve man crew, only Sam and two of his buddies, Gil McHall and Emit Harding, made it through the front door of the busy drinking establishment.
Once inside, they were promptly seated by an overworked barmaid, who quickly set the trio up with a round of O’Keefe’s Ale and a couple shots each of Seagram’s Canadian Whiskey. Sam lead the first toast.
With glasses raised he said: “Here’s to the overworked lumberjack and the cheap-ass timber company that can’t afford more than a couple days off for its dedicated employees.”
“Aye, aye,” said Gil and Emit in unison, as they clanked glasses together.
“And here’s to the two month furlough we got coming after the New Year,” said Emit, as he raised his second shot glass. “May God rest our weary bones.”
This time Sam and Gil chipped in with a hearty, “Hail, hail.”
After setting their empty shot glass on the round wooden table, each man instinctively started sipping their brew.
“So I hear you plan to spend the winter break up here on the river,” said Gil.
Sam responded. “You got that right. The company offered me some part-time employment and a bed in the bunkhouse until we get going again in the spring.”
“No shit,” said Gil. “Whatcha goin’ to be doin’?”
“Repairing snowshoes, sharpening axes and shit like that,” said Sam.
“That won’t last very long,” said Emit.
“I hope not,” said Sam. “Cause I was planning to set out some traplines, so I can catch me a bunch of snowshoe hares and maybe a lynx or two.”
“There’s always money to be made, ain’t there,” said Gil.
“One way or another,” said Sam, as he took a moment to down the beer from his heavy, glass mug. Then Sam summoned the barmaid, a sweet young lady named Heidi, who was aged somewhere around 30.
“You guys want another round,” asked the shapely lady, as she whirled by the table.
“Just the ale,” said Sam.
“No more whiskey,” inquired the barmaid.
“I’ll do another shot,” piped in Gil.
“Me too,” added Emit.
“One more shot all around,” asked Heidi, as she lay her hand on Sam’s shoulder and swung her long blond braids near enough the tired lumberjack, so he could catch a whiff of her spruce shampoo.
“Hell….make it two,” said Sam. “We got a lot to talk about tonight.”
“Be right back,” said Heidi, while swooping up the empty shot glasses and placing them on her circular tray.
Then she left the table and disappeared behind the bar.
“That’s one foxy lady,” said Sam, as he watched the barmaid fix up a new round of drinks for the hard-working timber cutters.
“You can look all you want to,” said Gil. “But that lady’s spoken for.”
“I can dream, can’t I,” replied Sam.
“No harm in that,” said Emit. “Just don’t get any nutty ideas as the night rolls on.”
“Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m headed up to Moose Crossing for the holiday,” said Sam.
“You ain’t goin’ up that ways tonight, are you?” asked Gil.
“I was kind of thinkin’ of it,” said Sam. “You have a problem with that?”
“No way,” said Gil. “It’s just that it’s a good five to seven miles on a three-foot snowpack.”
“I can handle that,” said Sam.
“Just checking,” said Gil.
“You’re not going to pass on some nonsense about the Loup de Garou,” said Sam.
“You mean the French-Canadian werewolf,” asked Gil.
Just then Heidi returns with the next round of drinks and sets them on the table.
“Here you go guys.”
“Thanks Heidi,” said Sam. “You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Just doing my job,” said Heidi. “By the way I didn’t overhear you talking about le Loup de Garou, did I?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emit. “That ghastly creature, which only comes out on the longest nights of the year.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Gil.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” replied Heidi.
“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you,” said Gil.
“I used to think like that,” said Heidi.
“What changed your mind?” asked Sam.
“A few midnight stragglers with the fear of death in their eyes.”
“Here at the Laughing Loon,” inquired Emit.
“Every winter, one or two show up with some weird tale about being followed by a strange creature. I used to pass it off as some drunken nonsense….but I just can’t do that no more.”
“Why’s that?” asked Sam.
“Some of them were stone cold sober!”
Heidi walks away leaving the three men to their drinks.
One hour later, Sam, Emit and Gil were outside the Laughing Loon strapping on their snowshoes, which had been left out in the snow, while the three men were inside drinking.
“You’re not serious about trekking up to Moose Crossing night,” asked Emit.
“Sure am,” said Sam. “And I hope you’re not serious about that French werewolf bullshit.”
“Of course not,” said Emit. “It’s just the night is turning into a real cold one and a lot can happen in five miles of night walking.”
Sam finishes lashing on his webbed walking contraptions and then stands upright.
“Don’t worry, Emit. I know where I’m going. Besides I got a rising full moon to guide me.”
“I’m sure Sam can take care of himself,” said Gil.
“Alright then,” said Emit. “See you bright and early on Monday.”
With those words, Sam left his two companions and began following a packed snowy trail down to the banks of the Wendigo River. The rising moon cast its rays across the frozen tributary, creating a spectacularly beautiful scene that rivaled the best paintings ever done. Sam reveled in the beauty of the wintry, nocturnal scene, for the white bark of the river birches sparkled in the moonglow with an eerie iridescence, unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed.
About half way to Moose Crossing, Sam heard some heavy breathing that seemed to be coming up the trail from behind. At first, the solitary walker thought that there was another person out on the trail……after all it was a popular path that connected the two wilderness outposts.
But every time Sam turned around, there was nothing visible.
Another mile along the river trail and the breathing seemed to be closing in, so Sam increased his pace….not a good idea on a sub-zero December night. Soon, Sam came to a top of a knoll, where the snow was particularly deep and the shoeing was overly strenuous. Naturally, Sam stopped to catch his breath. It was at this juncture that Sam noticed a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark forest and he thought he could dimly make out the condensation of someone exhaling amidst the thick cover of spruce trees.
In no time Sam resumed his march through the December night, but now a new urgency pumped his body full of adrenalin and pushed him onwards to his final destination at an alarming speed. The heavy breathing did not stop, as Sam kept his eyes fixed forward…..too terrified to turn around.
As the trail descended from the small knoll, Sam used the downward slope to propel himself forward underneath the frozen canopy. Another incline and Sam was sweating profusely, as he made his tired legs lift his long, wooden walking aids along the snowy path. Each step seemed harder and harder and instinctively Sam knew he would not last long in this arctic environment at his present pace. If the phantom behind did not get him, his overexertion would. There was no way out.
Then at the top of the next hill a glimmer of hope appeared. It was the glow of an occupied cabin that seemed to be situated about a mile in front of him. Sam did not trust his own eyes, but he had no choice….And that was to propel himself forward, as best he could, and hope that his vision was real and that he would reach the place of human habitation before being consumed by the spirit behind him.
The last mile was the most physically excruciating and mentally terrifying minutes that he ever experienced in his 45 years on the planet. The breathing from behind got heavier and heavier. At times it seemed like the breath of the monster was all around him.
Finally, Sam was a hundred yards away from the lighted cabin. He couldn’t believe it. It seemed so real that he could smell the woodsmoke pouring out the chimney and he could barely distinguish the muffled sound of human voices. They were joyous sounds like those that might come from a merry party.
At last, Sam reached out for the metal latch that kept the cabin door closed tight and separated the warm heated interior from the frigid night. Sam wholly-expected the whole building to be a figment of his imagination, but it wasn’t, as he released the latch and stumbled across a finished maple floor with his snowshoes still attached to his feet.
Immediately, the joyful banter turned to dead silence. The first thing Sam noticed was a huge fire burning in a fireplace that was located to his right. Directly, in front of Sam was a long bar with a banner hanging from the ceiling that said: “Welcome To Hell”. The bartender had a bright red, painted face and two horns emerging from the sides of his head. Worse of all he had an uncanny resemblance to Jim McKenzie, the brave logger who had died ten years before in a logjam right above the waterfalls that now bore his name in honorarium.
When the bartender spoke, Sam passed out.
Immediately, a small crowd gathered around the exhausted logger. A woman splashed her drink in Sam’s face and he came to.
Sam looked at the bartender and blurted out: “You’re Jim McKenzie and you’re dead.”
Immediately, the sounds of laughter filled the one-room cabin.
“No sir,” then the bartender paused for a few long seconds. “I’m Doug McKenzie, Jim’s older brother. Even though Jim passed away ten years ago, people still get us mixed up. It happens all the time.”
“What the fuck is going on here?” said Sam.
Another loud burst of laughter passes through the twenty or so people gathered in the lonely cabin.
“Welcome to Hell Night!” said Doug. “We do this once a year right before Christmas.”
Slowly, Sam surveys the room and notices that all the people are in costume, most of them quite dreadful.
“You’re kidding me,” said Sam.
“I kid you not,” said Doug. “But I do have one question for you.”
“What’s that?” said Sam.
“What caused you to come bursting through the front door with your snowshoes still attached to your feet?”
“I was being followed by the Loup de Garou,”
Another deathly silence swept through the room.
Then the fire flickered and one of the windows fogged up from the outside. A few seconds later another window fogged up, as two wolf-like eyes could be seen glowing outside in the night. And they seemed to be looking into the cabin.
Then the eyes disappeared and faint footsteps could be heard leading away from the cabin.
When things returned to normal, Doug leaned over and spoke to Sam.
“That ain’t no werewolf!”
“Then what the hell is it?” asked Sam.
“It’s a ghost wolf,” said Doug.
“An appearance by a ghost wolf is rare,” said Jim. “But when they do appear, they always take somebody back with them.”
Not too long around, I was hitching out of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in northern New Mexico. I got a ride from a gentleman from west Texas, who was returning to the Angel Fire area after a day of skiing on the western flanks of this most impressive mountain range. He had not had any problems with his his little condo, but a friend of his, who had just purchased an old miner’s cabin near the Enchanted Circle, had not been so lucky.
According to my newfound friend, this other person had just bought a mountain hut, right near the spot, where two desperados had been hung about the turn of the century. (For all you youngsters that’s about 1900, not 2000) Supposedly these two ne’er der waals had robbed a bank in Las Vegas, NM (not Nevada) and been caught red-handed with the loot. Instead, of taking the duo back to civilization, the local posse decided to hang the pair right then and there.
For the new property owner, the first night in the newly-purchased abode went without incident until way after midnight, when all of a sudden there was an incredibly loud banging on the side of the building. The owner rushed outside immediately, but not a soul could be seen. After a recurrance of this sequence of events, the new owner abandoned his property, vowing never to buy a haunted house again.
Do Ghosts Care About Their Appearance?
The advent of the camera has lead to increased specualation that there is a shadow world filled with spiritual beings that exists side-by-side with our own reality. Though no concrete proof has ever been proven, many people believe in communication with those who have departed the world of the living.
Ghost Stories Are Full of History Lessons
The Hammersmith ghost of London was so real that local residents set up patrols to watch out for the ghost, who was believed to have made several attacks on people walking down the sidewalk in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, a real person was mistaken for the ghost and shot to death. The shooter pleaded the case as an incident of mistaken identity, but the jury did not buy the story. In the end a plasterer returning home from work at night loss his life because he resembled an apparition.
Ghost Stories Are Everywhere
Walk into almost any bookstore and you will most likely find several versions of these intriguing tales. It doesn’t matter if you are in the remote mining country of the Wild West or the windswept beaches of the Atlantic; there are bound to be some spicy tales floating around the living realm of the local populace. All you have to is search out the tall tales……or maybe you will encounter your own supernatural apparition……and get a chance to write about that.