Happy Halloween to all my Hellions far and wide. As we slip into the spookiest of all days, I thought I’d share my one and only time messing around with a Ouija board. I wrote this article a few years back and thought it would set the mood perfectly. So light some candles, lock the door and call out to the dead…
Halloween is fun until the scares are real. I learned that in college.
This is something I and my old friends rarely talk about, not because we worry it might sound crazy to people (and it does). No, we don’t like bringing it up because of how deeply it affected all of us. Maybe it was the night (Halloween), the place (my friend’s apartment next to an old cemetery), our intentions (five dopes looking to talk with the dead) that took us down a dark path. It was most likely all three. Yeah, it had to be.
My friend Gene (all names changed to protect the quasi-innocent), rented a top floor apartment right across the street from a cemetery in New Rochelle, NY. We were in college and had started our own fraternity because we hated the dumb crap frats made pledges do. With us, if we liked you, you were in. No humiliation.
I digress. Four of us went with Gene to his apartment on Halloween night with the express purpose of having a séance. There wasn’t anyone in particular we wanted to reach beyond the veil. Any disembodied spirit would do. Oddly enough, we were all stone cold sober. That alone should have told us something was off.
We had a couple of problems. None of us were mediums and we didn’t have a Ouija board. It was too late to run to the toy store to buy one. That problem was easily solved. We drew up letters and numbers on paper, cut them into squares and lined them up on the floor in a circle. For a planchette, we used a cut-up plastic coffee lid. There, Ouija boards made easy! It wasn’t the best looking spirit board, but it would do.
The five of us sat around the carefully placed scraps of paper, each putting a finger on the makeshift planchette. We asked it questions. The wind actually howled outside the window. All we were missing was lightning and a black cat.
At first, nothing happened.
But then the planchette started to move. It was the oddest sensation. My finger was barely on it. Sure, one of them could have been moving it, but I got a strange rush that went through my body. Something was talking to us, answering our questions. And it wasn’t happy. The more freaked out we became, the angrier it got. As much as we wanted to stop, we just couldn’t. When we spoke about it later, we all agreed we were feeling the same unearthly vibe.
We learned the name of the spirit was Fran Turner. Fran wasn’t thrilled that we were disturbing her. We were no longer thrilled that we had called something into our little, unprotected circle (I later learned that homemade spirit boards are a biiig no-no. It’s like opening a portal without knowing how to close it properly).
Finally, we couldn’t take it any longer. We removed our fingers at the same time. Hearts racing, we were happy to leave Fran alone.
But it didn’t stop there. Even in the dark, we could see Richie’s eyes had rolled up to the top of his head. He began talking in a strange voice, saying he was Fran Turner! Now, Richie was one of the most innocent, unassuming guys I’d ever met. Still is. He’s not a prankster. For several minutes, this Fran Turner talked to us through Richie. I’ll admit, I nearly crapped myself. We were so flipped out, we shook Richie hard and scattered the pieces of the Ouija board all over the room.
That seemed to break the spell. Richie stopped talking, head rolling onto his chest. When he opened his eyes again, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. It took a while to settle him down. We left the apartment an hour later feeling an invisible set of eyes at our backs. We promised to never, ever screw with a Ouija board again. It took a few slugs of Jaegermeister to get me to sleep later.
We couldn’t let it go. The next day, we were all still shaken. Our usually boisterous meet up in the school cafeteria was markedly subdued. While I was in media class, a couple of the guys went to the boneyard. I’m pretty sure you can guess what they found.
Fran Turner’s grave was right there, the old headstone nestled in the middle of the cemetery. At one point that week, each of us went to the grave, mouths hanging open, minds blown, knees feeling as if they’d been turned to Smucker’s jelly.
It’s over 25 years later and we’re still confounded by what happened that night. Some guys refuse to even talk about it. Did we actually pluck the shade of Fran Turner from the ether? Was it our focused, collective unconscious that created the spirit’s actions on the board and Richie’s bizarre spell? I don’t know or hold out hope to ever get to the bottom of it. All I know is that it happened, and there are five grown men who would pay good money to have the whole night erased from our memories.
If you take anything from this, please don’t fuck with Ouija boards next to cemeteries on Halloween night.
Trick or treat instead. You can thank me later.
It’s Halloween, the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Ghosts and demons lay in wait for little boys and girls who prefer tricks over treats!
What better way to spend the season than watching great horror movies? Here are what I consider the 5 best haunted house movies of all time. For my money, ghosts are far scarier than monsters because we’re potentially looking at our own destinies. Will you be among the trapped spirits some day, haunting the family living in your former home?
5. THE SENTINEL
The 70s were a treasure trove for horror. This is the decade that gave us true frights like The Exorcist, The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left and Halloween. Lost in the mix is this chilling classic about a NY fashion model who moves into a creepy brownstone apartment. The residents are the most disturbing cast of characters you’ll ever meet. Part ghost story, party possession tale, some scenes in The Sentinel will haunt you for the rest of your life. And it’s loaded with stars, including Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Beverly D’Angelo, Ava Gardner. John Carradine and so much more.
4. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
This flick needs no introduction. Even if the story the Lutz family told the world is total B.S., this is still a spine tingling movie.This one has it all – evil spirits, bleeding walls, mystery rooms, imaginary friends with bad intentions and a home clouded by the spectre of a mass murder. James Brolin is brooding and terrifying as the spirit of the house drags him down. Almost 40 years later and this one still gives me chills.
3. THE CHANGELING
George C. Scott plays a composer who lost his family in an accident. Trying to put his life back together, he moves into a huge old house that, as we come to find out, is quite haunted. First of all, Scott may be the biggest-name actor in a horror movie – ever. His performance gives a gravitas rarely seen in the genre. As the story unfolds, you’ll find your goosebumps just won’t go away. That’s one haunted house I might skip if invited to spend the night.
2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
I wasn’t a fan of The Blair Witch Project and the whole found footage dealio, but Paranormal Activity changed my mind. This one actually made my wife and I nervous when we went to sleep that night (it doesn’t help that we live in a haunted house). I can think of better things to film in the bedroom, but I’m glad they concentrated on the demonic spirit here. I just watched it again last week and it’s still unsettling. Find the BluRay with the alternate ending if you can!
Hands down, this is my favorite ghost movie ever. Short on special effects because it doesn’t need them, a college professor gathers willing subjects to live in a haunted mansion in Massachusetts. As the caretaker warns them in the beginning, “No one can hear you scream in the dark. In the night.” Using the twisted history of the house to put your nerves on edge, The Haunting is all about atmosphere and odd sounds and tortured souls. This is a must watch for any true horror fan.
So, what would make your top 5 list? There were so many I could have added here, but I forced myself to whittle it down to the 5 that deeply affected me, long after the end credits.
My favorite day is finally here. And even though Hurricane Sandy has pushed the festivities in my area to Saturday, we’re all going to do our best to keep in the spirit today.
As a special treat, here is chapter 3 of my gothic tale of possession and intrigue, MERCY. The first 2 chapters were published on Pen of the Damned. If you need to catch up, you can read chapter 1 here and chapter 2 here. The 4th and final chapter will be posted in early December on the POTD site.
Now sit back by a roaring fire, turn down the lights and go back over 120 years to the land of Mercy, where evil is afoot and two girls find themselves alone in the Old Manse…
MERCY – PART 3
Father had to go to Royal Tunbridge Wells on business, and said he would be back in a week’s time. We so wished he would stay, but daren’t ask that of him. He was an important man, and his business kept us in a lifestyle that others envied.
Esther remained in hospital. Her condition had gown dire as infection spread from one leg to the other. Blood poisoning, they called it. No one knew what had done such a thing to her. It must have been an animal, perhaps a sick wolf that had come round our house. It was the only theory that made sense.
Mother had been sedated to the point where she was nothing more than a slip of a phantom, drifting throughout the Old Manse at odd hours. Most days, she didn’t even recognize us. Her occasional jabberings as she roamed the dark house at night chilled me to the bone. My mother had become the shambling embodiment of my nightmares.
Jessamine and I did the cooking and cleaning while Father was away, and made sure Mother didn’t waste away to nothing in between doses of laudanum.
I was bringing up a tray of broth, brown bread and cold chicken when Jessamine shouted from Mother’s room.
“Mercy, come quick!”
Placing the tray on the floor, I ran to the room. Jessamine stood by Mother’s bed, her mouth agape. Mother slept, unaware of our intrusion.
“Blood!” I exclaimed.
Streams of crimson stained the crisp, white sheets.
“Look!” Jessamine said, pointing at mother’s left hand.
Mother’s ring finger was gone. A nub of yellow bone poked out of the gore that remained of her finger. There was no trace of the finger itself; only the bloody show left in its leaving’s wake.
“What…what happened?” I said. My vision began to tilt and I felt ready to fall. Jessamine’s firm grip on my arm kept me upright.
“I don’t know. It looks like most of the bleeding has stopped. Here, press the sheet against it while I go get Dr. Fenimore”
Even though it was Mother on the bed, wounded yet serene, the thought of touching that space where her finger used to be brought a a wave of revulsion that threatened to spill from my mouth. I recoiled.
Jessamine was insistent. “I know what you’re feeling, but you must do what I say. I’ll return with the doctor before you know it.”
Before I could protest, she was down the stairs and out the door. I heard the clatter of our mare’s hooves pound upon the path to the Old Manse. Mother slept on while I prayed, my trembling hand doing its best to keep pressure on the nub. I looked longingly at my room across the hall, wishing I had Lucy under my arm to comfort me.
“And you didn’t see or hear anything?” Dr. Fenimore asked. His bulbous, veiny nose twitched when he spoke.
“Nothing,” Jessamine answered. “I was right next door, reading, and Mercy was downstairs preparing supper for mother.”
I nodded, slightly afraid of the corpulent, old doctor. His body and his personality filled the room.
He snorted. “This is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Not counting Esther, I thought.
“How on earth could an animal waltz right in and do something like this without either of you noticing? It makes no sense.” He reached into his valet and extracted a bottle of clear liquid and a thick pad of gauze. “Your mother is going to be disoriented when I wake her up. I need you both to keep her calm and help me get her to my carriage.”
He poured the liquid on the gauze and wafted it under her nose. Mother’s eyes fluttered open and she sat up gasping.
When she saw the blood, she asked excitedly, “What’s this? Why is the doctor here? What have you done?”
We did our best to sooth her, but when she saw her hand, she began to wail until she was in full hysterics.
“Get her on her feet and help me walks her downstairs,” the doctor ordered.
It wasn’t easy, and her blood, flowing once again, spattered the walls and floor. Once she was in the doctor’s carriage and sedated , he turned to us and said, “I’ll send word to your father. You mother will have to go to hospital. I don’t want what’s happened to your charwoman to repeat itself. Keep your doors and windows barred and be wary of any stray animals about. Do you hear?”
We both nodded. Before we could ask a single question, he cracked the whip over his horse and rumbled out of sight.
That night, the Old Manse was bathed in gloom. Not just from the moonless night, but from the heaviness in our hearts.
Normal sounds, like wind against the eaves or the bark of a stray dog, made us jump. We lit as many candles as we could to defy the dark. Jessamine suggested we spend the night in the parlor, surrounded by our family’s books, craft works and piano.
“We could play music until dawn. That always cheers you up,” Jessamine said. Her fingers nibly braided my long hair.
“I’m not in the mood for music,” I said. I sat on the settee with Lucy in my lap. Her painted blue eyes looked into my own. Lucy wasn’t afraid. I so wish I could be like Lucy, a creature of porcelain and fabric, fearless and unaware of the dangers that lurked about our home.
Jessamine sighed. “It’s just as well. I don’t think I have the mind to play anyway. What should we do?”
An idea blossomed. I exclaimed, “Father always said that knowledge is power. We’re afraid because we don’t know what’s happening. Like when you were…”
“Possessed,” she said, staring at the floor.
I didn’t want to hurt her, but most of all, I didn’t want to open the doorway for the evil to return, not even the slightest crack, just as Father had warned me.
But then, I thought, wasn’t some form of evil alive in the Manse yet again?
“Well, when it first started, we were all so terrified. We spent months in a kind of daze, ” I continued.
“I remember, at least in the beginning.”
“It wasn’t until father began reading, searching for the cause of your sickness, that things began to get better. Once he knew what was happening to you, he also knew what needed to be done to stop it.” I was beginning to grow bold, bolstered by my own logic.
“Do you think the demon is back, within me? Do you think I’ve done this to Esther and Mother?” Jessamine’s eyes were wide and wet, shivering like disturbed pools with terror.
I violently shook my head. “No, of course not. Believe me, I would know if that was the case. You were unrecognizable when you were under the devil’s spell. No, this is something different. Maybe if we look in the books that Father gathered back then, we can find our answer!”
The old grandfather clock chimed nine o’clock. We both let out a sharp cry.
“Look at us, afraid of clocks,” Jessamine said with a quivering laugh.
“Not for long,” I said. I pulled an armful of books from one of the shelves and poured them onto the floor. “After you.”
We read deep into the night, skimming through Bibles, books on witchcraft, Medieval monsters, essays on chimeras, beasts and tales of shape shifters. They should have frozen our blood with their stories of godless creatures and death, but we remained true to our task.
To find the truth of the matter.
Some time after midnight, I closed a heavy book with a loud thunk and leaned back against Father’s chair.
“My eyes are going cross,” I said with a yawn.
Jessamine didn’t reply. Her head remained within the pages of a black, leather bound book that was almost as big as me.
“What do we know so far?” she eventually asked, her voice muffled behind the book.
“That Esther and Mother both had parts of their bodies eaten by a supposed animal. Yet no one has seen or heard anything.”
She slammed the book down on the floor and pointed. “I think I found our culprit.”
I moved round to sit by her side.
Her finger rested on a drawing of a horrid creature. It was short, standing on two deformed legs, skin the sickly color of an algae-infested pond, with warts suppurating along every inch of vile flesh. Sharp fangs sprouted from the overbite in its mouth and talons dangled from fingertips that were twisted like an old tree.
“That’s disgusting!” I gasped.
“Most ghouls are,” she said. “They can transport from one place to another with merely a thought, and people claim they are able to change shape in order to camouflage themselves within the real world. Here’s the part that caught my eye.”
I read aloud. “Ghouls exist for one thing: to consume the flesh of humans, whether dead or alive. Demonic in nature, ghouls have been known to lead people, especially small children, astray so they can feast upon their flesh. Once a victim has been marked by the bite of a ghoul, it will come back often, taking what it can, until life can be sustained no more. A man or woman marked by a ghoul is marked for death.”
I felt hot tears well up in my eyes and my vision blurred. “Mother’s going to die?”
“Not necessarily,” Jessamine said. “Read on.”
“To free a victim from the ghoul’s poison, one must catch the ghoul in the act of extracting its scrap of human meat. The ghoul can be destroyed by the kiss of flame to its evil eyes. Be wary! Ghouls are as hard to restrain as they are to find. Beware of its bite, lest you be marked as well.”
I wiped a tear from my eye. “That’s little help. It doesn’t tell us how to find or catch one, if that’s truly what’s plaguing our family.”
“But it does say it’s demonic in nature. Mercy, I’ve already danced with a demon. I know that I would be able to feel its presence if it came near. I think that’s why it’s gone after Esther and Mother. It’s kept clear of me to remain hidden.”
“So what do we do?” Despair began to take hold of me and all I wanted to do was saddle our mare and find Father, even if it meant riding all night, alone in the dark.
Jessamine closed the book and pulled me close. “Tonight, you stay by me. I doubt any ghoul would dare come to you as long as you’re in my embrace. I’ll stay up and watch over you. Get some sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll think of something.”
I fought sleep for as long as I could. I desperately wanted to stay awake. However, my eyelids felt like great slabs of stone and I couldn’t stop from yawning.
“You promise you’ll hold me all night, and never take your eyes off me?” I asked.
She smiled, and brushed a lock of my hair from my face. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
I nestled my head into her lap, pulled Lucy under my arm, and let the sandman in.
I’m back from a tiny vacation and working like a madman down in my dungeon where I keep my computer and ghosts in a jar. I’m very happy to share my first ever gothic horror tale, MERCY. Part 1 is featured on the Pen of the Damned website. It starts with an exorcism, and goes into dark, myserious places from there. You can’t beat the price (Free!). Check it out when you have a chance and hit those share links at the end of the story to let folks on FB, Twitter, and everywhere know where to find it.
Special thanks to my ghoulish assistants, Ivy and Veronica Shea, who dreamt up this creepy story and gave me inspiration.
Now, Part 2 isn’t scheduled to be out for another 7 weeks, but if I get enough demand, I’ll feature it right here on the blog sooner, followed by Part 3 on Pen of the Damned. It’s all in your hands now. (cue sinister laughter)
And if you dig this, Evil Eternal is right up your alley!