Slightly Haunted Houses

Digital illustration: Transmitter

Perpetual Haunts

Children always know where danger lies—the goblin in the corner who’ll surprise

And bite you on the ankles as you pass—grownups forget to fear it, though, alas!

For in the passage of the years they’ve grown to fear only the earthly, and bemoan

Mere politics and taxes, while a child retains the wisdom that the brute and wild

Still hides among the passages of day, waiting to snag unwary young at play.

On Halloween, adults recall but faint and humorous details of ancient taint

And treachery, the light dust, if you will, of ghostly tracks upon the windowsill

Or campfire tales meant less to warn than joke at quaking children by the fires’ smoke,

Forgetting that what was, remains still here: the monster that can swallow all is Fear.

Digital illustration: Receiver

Foodie Tuesday: To Quell Your Fears

I suppose it’s only natural that if one is expecting a visitation from anyone scary or spooky, one might require a good drink to calm the nerves. After all, one of the most predictable symptoms of fear and trepidation is a dry mouth and that tends to heighten the other signs of nervousness in turn. One can quickly devolve into a quivering heap of ghostly dust at the mere thought of being stalked by ghouls and goons. And of course, the arrival of  the Halloween crowd is a virtual guarantee that such terrors will appear on the doorstep.Photo: Keep Your Glassware Handy

So I recommend that you keep your shelves of glassware well lighted for the occasion, and have a dram or two of life-saving elixirs handy as well. The thirty-first is nearer than you think, and close on its heels, a horrible horde of wandering souls planning to maraud your home and demand a ransom from your candy-related treasury in exchange for safety from their pranks.

For the dedicated defender of the home barricades, it might be apropos to do up one’s home like that belonging to the landlady of Hänsel and Gretel‘s nightmares, the formidable cannibal who lured them in with the decorative delights of her gingerbread cottage. One could sit on the porch of such a candy-dandy place and leer meaningfully at passers-by over the lip of a neat little glass of Hexenblut. While that might be a counterintuitive choice for threatening them, it could also be seen as a warning that you’re so tough you slurp up your own wicked witchy sisters’ veins just as readily as any flimsy little trick-or-treaters’.Photo: Hexenblut

Me, I tend to be content to assuage my fears far more moderately and without putting up such a frightful front. I’m more inclined to turn off the front porch light and hole up in the back room to watch a nice double feature of, say, The Innocents and Gaslight or perhaps Bunny Lake is Missing and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, all while drinking a nice soothing glass of dry white wine or Scotch. The family label of “dry Riesling” from the Hungarian Count and Countess Károlyi’s estate that we visited this summer is not a bad choice for a light counterpoint to some delightfully creepy movies, or if I want something to warm my chilled heart better, I can opt for a short medicinal snifter of Bushmills 1608 or the Macallan 12 year old single malt.Photo: Karolyi Trocken

Naturally, there are times and places and people not requiring the nerve tonic of alcohol. In that case, there’s nothing more quenching and comforting than the old standby of spiced cider. Nothing warms the cockles of the heart better while simultaneously moistening the dry and gibbering lips of a scaredy cat like me than a nice steaming mug of that stuff. I like mine very well when I get some beautifully unfiltered apple cider (happily, I’ve some on hand right now) and mull it well with stick cinnamon, whole cloves, and pieces of ginger root, but this too can be made more festive if one wants to get a little more playful with it or, when necessary, make it a more potent potion for warding off baleful beasts and cryptozoological creeps. One could, for example, add some black peppercorns to the spice blend for a little more bite. (Take that, ye murky monsters!)

Still, there are so many delicious directions to go with a mulled cider it can be hard to choose: add sliced whole [seedless] oranges, especially of course beautiful blood oranges if you can get them in late October; melt in a dollop of dark molasses before adding the spices to create a little liquid gingerbread effect; serve simple hot cider with hard caramel lollipops as stirrers, if you’d like to drink a caramel apple; and of course, you could go for all-out reassurance and flavor the apple brew, instead of with spicy flavors, with dashes of rose-water and almond essence and a steeping quantity of green tea leaves for something much gentler to soothe your quaking spirits. For spirits will, one way or another, abound on this night.

A Whispering Medium

Silverpoint is relatively rarely seen nowadays, but it remains a delicate medium for drawing. Putting a point of real silver onto gessoed paper allows the same kind of fine detail and fragility to be expressed that are characteristic of harder graphite pencils’ work. The effect is of pale and careful imagery, a wisp of smoke, a mist, a whisper.Drawing: Silverpoint Apples

There’s an appealing air of the arcane to a medium that’s old and seldom used nowadays, and silverpoint qualifies on both counts. It’s also effective, as I found in my little experiments, on a black background to create gently ghostly drawings, but as ghosts seem wont to do, has a tendency to disappear at the slightest whiff of air, since oxidation darkens silver and it becomes less and less visible against the dark ground. Of course, that very ephemeral quality might be a further attraction, an encouragement to see the medium as a passing fancy best appreciated ‘fresh’ and gone in the blink of an eye.

Drawing: Silverpoint Blueberries

This is, after all, an age in which change comes at an ever-increasing speed and in growing quantities, and we become accustomed to nearly everything having the shelf life of a mayfly at best. We adapt, we move on. Yet we crave the sense of permanence and connection, so here I am marking in graphite over the top of the silverpoint as it fades, or scanning the images to enhance the contrast while it can still be seen. And while I still love the sense of tactile attachment and involvement that writing longhand, pencil on paper, gives me even when I’m up to my elbows in graphite dust, not to mention hoping that the neural connections such physical action reinforces better than keyboard manipulations will stay with me longer somehow, what do I do with my writings? Transcribe the scribbles to the electronic medium by sitting at my keyboard afterward anyway.

So passes our world; we labor with new tools to speed things up, revisit and relish the old methodology and tools to slow down and remember, and then run back to catch up with the new again. We, too, are ephemeral as faint images, as ghosts, and we feel our mortality even as we strive to make our marks on the world while passing through it. Our tiny voices and messages may be lost in the ether forever, and that, almost at the instant of their making, but the urge to tell our tales remains. Our little silver trails will fade, but we will have moved on elsewhere as well.

Haunted Youth

digital illustration from a photoThat House on Our Street

The doorway was a toothy maw, the casement was an eye,

and all the children crept in awe each time they must pass by,

regardless what they heard or saw; they knew that they would die

if anything at all should draw them in, no matter why,

For bogeys, fiends and ghastly ghouls inhabited the place,

entrapping and devouring fools, and set on them apace;

those children who had left their schools and homes without a trace

now lay decaying in deep pools as dark as outer space,

Dug in the basement deep below, a catacomb of holes

filled up with youth who’d tried to go into this cage of souls

and found, not fun adventures, no, but rather, evil moles

of spirit-kind hid here–and so, for them the town bell tolls;

Lost children wail twixt yonder walls at night while moonlight creeps,

and roam like mists down endless halls while all around them sleeps;

no knowing parent ever calls again; the mansion keeps

its secrets tight, and silence falls, far as the deepest deeps;

At least, the children’s fears said so; the legend kept in thrall

the children thereabouts, who’d go timidly past it all

at anxious speed along the row, lest they lose their recall

to safety. As grownups all know: life’s scary when you’re small!

Ghosts of Our Former Selves

photoDaybreak Returns

From the grasslands, from the marshes, from the margins of the moor

Rise up misty ghostly creatures in the pearly light of dawn,

Some mementos, revenants or sylph-like spirits past and gone

To the brink of ancient memory and up to its creaking door,

People whom we, fond, remember or with some frisson of heart,

Those who populate our past, storied as fabled gods and kings,

Filled with magic and wild treasure and a million pretty things

That we wish we might have honored as such value from the start—

So at daybreak they come whispering, returning, silver-grey

Without tarnish in their sterling, as they rise up in our sight

And return to us those memories had fallen into night,

Bringing back that love and loveliness of theirs to present dayphoto

You’re Not Afraid? You *will be*!

digital collage

The Jitters

Remember the years when we were young

And captive among our babysitters?

Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,

The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.

Under the bed or under the house,

A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam

Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;

O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!

Anything dark and anywhere doored

Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;

They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:

The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.

Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?

Or was it the howl of the restless dead?

The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?

All around are the sounds of the things we dread.

That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,

And both of them proving that something is near:

We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions

And all the perceptions of what we fear.

This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,

And all of the fun known as children was moot

Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;

Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.

Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,

We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,

Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,

And sooner or late, we succumb to the Jitters.digital collage + text

Endless Falling

A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck

Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear

And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole

Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight

Inquisition & Desolation *

digital collage

Inquisition

Her lipstick was of fiery red,

Her mane wild copper, and her nails

Lacquered in scarlet by which pales

The rouge of which the pious said

Was made civilization’s end,

And surely, in her crimson silk

Cut down to there, she and her ilk

Wore carmine on that downward trend

That would someday blood’s red require

As she and they leapt in that fire

In meantime, sanguine all were those,

This ruby dame and all her kin,

And painted red from cloak to skin,

Until the bloom wore off the rose

And in wine-tinged despair, demise,

They fell in desperate gasps for breath,

Plagued by their past like some Red Death

Infected them; to their surprise,

This day their bad blood did require

They leap in that eternal firedigital collage

Desolation

Way out west of Petaluma,

Where the streetlights cease to go,

Only weeds and broken concrete

And barbed wire in one hard row

Braiding up the roadside grasses

In a knotted wind-strung quirt

To whip out and give ten lashes

To the devils in the dirt

There are houses still beyond here,

Long abandoned, though, and shot

Through with rust and melancholy

And dead dreams long since forgot,

And one tough and stringy lady

Hanging on by fingernails

To a past she can’t remember,

Out here where the flat wind sails

* Today’s post is brought to you by:   Zombies! Now 100% Recycled!