'Neath the cover of October skies
While a good ghost story goes a long way all year round, there's no time like the season of autumn to hear tales of terror. It's not just the particular holiday of Halloween that makes it so; there's more to the spookiness of autumn than that.
Perhaps it's the way the branches of trees start to poke out from where they hid all summer under the leaves. They claw at the sky like bony fingers, making the baring trees look like skeletons rising from the ground.
Perhaps it's the way it gets dark so early and long shadows creep up on you in late afternoon, scaring the sunlight away.
Perhaps it's the crunching of the dead leaves underfoot, the crisp sound echoing in the open space of autumn like the cracking of bones.
Perhaps it's the bright harvest moon, whose eerie face seems to mock you as you walk alone down a dark street, or the sudden onslaught of flocks of sinister looking birds that swoop down by the hundreds with their cacophony of screaming caws and shrieks.
Or perhaps it's just the aura of death around you, as the grass turns a sickly brown and the summer's last hold on the once thriving flowers loses its battle against the cold, turning the flowers into dried out corpses.
I always loved a ghost story, especially if it was being told by a person who knew the art of storytelling; the pitch, the voice, the dramatic pauses all have to be done to perfection in order to make the story come to life. The right storyteller can make even a mundane tale seem frightening. Both my parents had this gift; to this day I get shivers whenever I think of my father's story about the evil Rigatoni. Sounds stupid, doesn't it? But it was told in early fall on a dark night in upstate New York, with bats flying into the window and trees rustling against the house. My father, by adding the right tone of creepy to what was some nonsense he had been ad-libbing, managed to freak us all out with the story of a renegade piece of pasta. That is a gift.
Of course, the way to ensure that any ghost story you are listening to will give you a good scare is to believe. Listening to my mom or dad share their tales of terror was even better when I was fully, 100%, unequivocally sure that the stories were either true or could really happen. As they recited the stories, I would mumble to myself I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts, like an incantation that would make sure the necessary goose bumps raised up on my arms. But believing in things that live in the dark has its downfalls, as once you actually got into the dark when the storytelling was done - in your bedroom, by yourself - you suddenly did not want to believe in ghosts. You wanted to believe in anything but. Scary stories are a lot of fun when you're huddled around with your favorite cousins and few adults and the smell of popcorn and hot chocolate wafts out from the kitchen. Alone in the night with no one but a stuffed kitten for company and the ominous smell of autumn coming in the window, the stories take on a life of their own. Your bed is an oasis and your feet must not touch the floor or even peek out from under the covers or the dusty corpse of a long-ago buried witch would surely grab you by your toes and proceed to eat you alive, not stopping until she swallows your soul. And when the bed creaks or a branch scrapes against the window, you wish, wish, wish with all your might and your eyes squeezed shut tight that never said you believe in monsters and spirits and evil that walks the night because if you don't believe they can't hurt you. When daylight finally arrives, after a night of horrific dreams, you do it all over again because daytime has a way of making you naively brave.
And so it is time for ghost stories again. Ghost story, in this case, is all encompassing. It's a catch-all for tales that scare, creep, frighten or chill. There could be ghosts or goblins, witches or zombies, spirits looking for revenge or bloody limbs strewn across a graveyard. They could be tales that people swear to be true or tales that are too bizarre to believe, yet scare you nonetheless. They are stories read from books or orally passed down from generation to generation; stories that take place in locations we know or far away lands we hope to never go. Sure, they are all scary enough on any day of the year but, told in the thick of autumn, they take on a more sinister, terrifying tone. Just the way it should be.
Todays's featured ghost stories:
Jen at cupandsaucer will be telling a different story each day this week. Today she recants some ghostly tales from when she lived in Hawaii.
Thomas Hardy's The Withered Arm
I'll be posting one of my favorite ghost stories later. Hopefully you'll print it out and share it with any easily-frightened friends or family you have. If you've got a ghost story to share, let me know. I can always use some new material.