What, are you scared?

Comic, Face, Fear, Fright, Horror, Man, Panic, Retro

Why do some people seem to get a kick out of scary stories? Whether on the page or screen, they stimulate that tingly feeling down your spine. The fact is a lot of us enjoy when our heart speeds up, and we can’t catch our breath… that rush of adrenaline, and all those lovely endorphins. Sounds kind of like falling in love doesn’t it.

 The writer Neil Gaiman said, “Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open, and you will step out into the daylight once again.” That’s how I like to take my horror – in small doses. I prefer a controlled environment, and a horror movie’s a great example of that. 

 Scary films are generally about one and a half hours long. Buying a ticket, and armed with snacks, I settle into my seat. All those childhood fears of things that go bump in the night rush forward. If I’m out with someone, I find I can control my fear response better than when I’m on my own, especially if it’s a good film – otherwise, I have to do a lot more self-talk to keep myself in the seat. Hopefully, the filmmaker has tucked in a bit of comic relief that will diffuse the tension just enough for me to take a breath before the terror rushes back. 

 And, I’m not talking about being grossed out or repulsed either. Watching humans being tortured and hacked up isn’t my idea of a good time. Even if they were stupid enough to go inside that house when I told them not to…

 While I’m compulsively reaching for the popcorn, my brain’s busy checking out the perceived threat portrayed on the big screen. Intellectually, I know I’m in no real danger, but my amygdala needs some convincing. My heart’s pumping and my feet tap restlessly against the floor, as the tension runs through me. My stomach feels fluttery, it’s almost the same feeling I get when riding a roller coaster. As my brain recognizes the threat isn’t real – It drops a rush of hormones and chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin. This puts me into an elevated state – I feel happy and, surprisingly, less anxious – able to enjoy the thrill of the moment. The movie comes to an end. The credits roll – the lights come up – and the ride is over. I walk out of the theater, stimulated, excited, and, best of all, unscathed. 

 It’s very different when I’m reading, that’s where the scary gets to me. I don’t seem to have the same regulated emotional response that I have when watching a movie. Turning the pages of a novel, I stir the written words into my own overactive imagination. The story intensifies, and the pages turn faster as I race to the end of the book. I’m suddenly aware that the house is quiet – too quiet… the tension builds. My eyes dart uneasily at the shadows, my nerves have me starting at sudden noises. When the story becomes too intense, too scary, I put the book down. It’s getting dark, I turn on all the lights and switch on Hallmark or the Cooking Channel and hunt for the chocolate – only to settle my nerves. My body’s gone through the same flight or fight response as when I’ve watched a horror movie. It’s received that same flush of adrenaline, but, instead of feeling elated and less anxious – I’m still a little on edge and need to distract my brain. Only then will the frightening images fade. For some reason, when reading, my brain has greater difficulty dealing with the stress of being scared.

 Monsters are generally symbolic. Some psychologists say they reflect our fears or worries, whether we realize it or not. Freud asserted that monsters were created by our unconscious – for me, they have to live in my conscious mind, at least while I’m working on a novel. My writing group finds it amusing that sometimes I have to put a story away because I’ve creeped myself out. I realize that’s a bit perverse. However, as I read through my own work, I hope that readers will enjoy the thrills and chills that evolve in my stories, and want to come back for more. 

It’s another New Years’ Day

I’m so happy that the winter holidays are almost over. People keep asking me what I’m doing for New Years’. My response is usually – “Oh, I’ll probably be spending a quiet night at home.” But in my head, I’m thinking, Nothing. Why?

I know its a big night for many, whether standing in Times Square watching the ball drop or watching it on TV. Around town, the restaurants and hotels are booked, and there ‘ll be plenty of fireworks… I’ve never been much of a partier – my nod to the New Year comes on New Year’s Day with the Rose Parade.

 When I was a young child, my dad would take us to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, to celebrate New Years’. My sisters and I would bundle up in our pajamas and car coats and make ourselves comfortable in the old family station wagon. Dad would find a good spot along Colorado Blvd., stretch out on a cot, and save us a place to watch the parade New Years Day morning with the thousands of other parade attendees. He froze his ass off, sleeping out in the cold night air. Dad could sleep anywhere and soundly enough to sleep through a bomb blast, so the revelers and drunks and tourists wandering about the street didn’t bother him at all. Meanwhile, Mom watched over us as we slept snug in the warm car until it was time to get up and hunt for a bathroom before finding our saved place on the boulevard with Dad.

 The parade’s a mega-event, and when you’re standing on the parade route, it’s a real assault on the senses. The sound of the marching bands passing you by can be deafening. It’s not just the rousing music, it’s the hundreds of feet against the asphalt – as well as parade watchers pounding their feet and clapping their hands to the music. The horses clip-clop down the street with colorfully costumed riders on their backs. Everybody loves horses, and they get a lot of appreciation from the parade watchers. When the beautifully and intricately decorated floats appear, there’s a mixture of oohs and ahhs and lots of applause. 

 By the time the last parade entry brings up the rear, you’re feeling warmed by the sun, and your belly is sending you hunger pangs. The crowd begins to fold in on itself. Many people get up and walk away, as if they’d stopped by chance to watch the show. Others meticulously gather up their gear and the kids and try to remember where it was they parked. Then there’s the long walk back to your car.

 After the parade is over, you can go over to the lot where they park the floats and get a close-up view. On television, those floats look big and beautiful, but up close, they’re enormous! Every flower, petal, and seed is put on by hand, and the work is stunning. They are genuine works of art. You can’t smell the fragrance of the floral work watching on the TV – but in person, WHEW! It’s overpowering.

 Having watched the parade on television annually over the last several decades, the memories all blend together. I can only recall the feelings of the sights and sounds of those family adventures. Well, that and going to my grandmother’s house to eat Menudo.  

 I did make it again to the parade when I was in high school with my church group. It was a bunch of teenagers and a couple of adult chaperones. As exciting as the idea of staying up all night sounded, it didn’t turn out to be much fun spending the night out on a cold street along with the drunks and panhandlers. We were tired and grumpy by the time the parade began… and I think it was the only time I didn’t enjoy the big event.

 Many years later, when my own children came along, their dad would take them to see the parade. He had a friend who had offices on Colorado Blvd., and they were able to watch the extravaganza from the rooftops. It was a great way to avoid parking hassles and the crowds of people on the parade route. And from their vantage point, they could see everything. They still remember those adventures with their dad.

 Though I left California years ago, I watch the Tournament of Roses Parade every year on the television. I still choke up as I watch the Air Force flyover, the Marine Corp Color Guard, and the Marine Corp band. I look forward to some of the marching bands and floats, and can’t wait to see what the two Cal Poly University schools have cooked up as their entry. I ooh and aah and applaud until the very end. Corny – I know.

  That’s the way I start my New Year. Oh, and I always have a bowl of Menudo at breakfast – it’s tradition. After that, I call my folks and wish them a Happy New Year… Then I get on with my life.  

 For me, that means keep writing. I just finished my book DEAD RINGER and sent it to my beta readers. In a week, I’ll meet with my writing group and have them go over the copy one last time before it goes for publishing. I’m also going to be working on my next book – (which was my first book) BLACK CAT. I’m doing a rewrite. It’s a good story but has too many words. My blog needs regular entries, so I’ll be agonizing over those also. It probably doesn’t sound like a lot to you… but I’m not a great multitasker. For me, it’s a lot.  

Happy 2020. My wish for you is the same for me…

Don’t make excuses. Pursue your dreams.

Ghosts, Spirits & Phantoms, Oh my…

Before deciding to move to Colorado Springs, I did a thorough investigation of weather patterns, tax rates, housing, population, demographics, crime statistics, employment – in other words, the works. I was able to find about everything I needed to make an informed decision. Needless to say, I relocated to the Centennial State. I knew as soon as I settled here that I’d come home. Sometimes you have to make a move to find yourself.

 Wanting to pursue writing but not having a lot of extra cash, I found affordable courses online. Rob Parnell was offering his  Easy Way To Write series at the time, and I found them quite helpful. While taking his  Dark Fantasy & Horror Writing For Profit class, a story idea began to form in my head. It developed into my current project, Dead Ringer. Since I wanted to locate the story in the general area of Colorado and Manitou Springs but didn’t want to tell someone else’s story – I dug into research mode again. This time on a paranormal level.   

Colorado Springs is a large city covering about 186 square miles. Downtown is the city’s hub, and there you’ll find what’s now the Kimball Peak Three Movie Theater. Tales of a ghostly little girl who skips up and down the hall of the projection room and screams in the bathroom can put you off your popcorn. Folks have also seen the specter of an old man, thought to be the projectionist who died in a fire. 

 Down the street from the theater, the Antlers Hilton is a hotspot with several ghosts. Employees and guests report encounters with a little girl that appears in some of the rooms. In Judge Baldwin’s Bar, a man with a mustache appears after hours. There are also sightings of an elegant young woman dressed for a night on the town.

 The Broadmoor Hotel is a five-diamond hotel with beautiful, spacious grounds, a first-class golf course, and enticing restaurants to tempt your palate. Many have seen the apparition of a young woman late at night – usually floating down the hallways or up the staircases, wearing clothing from the 1930s. Talk is she’s Julie Penrose, wife of Spencer Penrose – founder of the Broadmoor. Employees note lots of activity in the penthouse Julie lived in until the 1950s – cold spots, lights going on and off, and objects moving on their own.

  At the former Ward’s location in Colorado Springs, which is now the Memorial Hospital Administration Building, sounds come from the walls. And in the women’s restrooms, toilets flush on their own, and lights turn on and off. It was reported in the 1990s, a young girl and boy went into the restroom while the parents waited outside the door. The children never came out. 

 In Colorado Springs, the reports of ghostly activity go on and on. Other well-known locations around town are St Francis Health Center, Garden of the Gods, Evergreen Cemetery, Gold Camp Road, Rock Ledge Ranch, Pioneer Museum, and The Underground. 

  In Manitou Springs, it’s hard to find a place that isn’t haunted. Situated between Garden of the Gods and PIke’s Peak, Native American tribes lived in the area and held it sacred. 

 Miramont Castle was built in 1895 by the French priest, Father Jean Baptiste Francolon, and later used as a care facility for tuberculosis patients by The Sisters of Mercy. It’s considered one of the most haunted places in America. Staff and visitors alike have recounted unusual experiences at the castle. Orbs of light appear from nowhere, and in the chapel, disembodied voices can be heard, and things go missing from the castle from time to time. One guest was startled when her cell phone played a religious song, and she didn’t listen to that type of music. Curiously her phone wasn’t connected to a music source or have any music files.

  Next door to the Cog Railway and The Incline is Iron Springs Melodrama & Dinner Theatre.  Former owner J.G. Heistand (who died in 1916) is often spotted around the place. A Woman in White haunts the theater and has been seen in the bathroom mirror and an upstairs window. Unseen mischief-makers have goosed employees as they’ve left the kitchen, and props and costume items randomly disappear – reappearing days or weeks later.

 Briarhurst Manor Estate offers a deliciously decadent dining experience and an event venue for weddings and conferences. It’s also one of the more famous spots in town. GhostHunters came to town several years ago and did a thorough investigation of the actively haunted manor. Things move on their own, lights go on and off, chimes and music can be heard coming from nowhere. Small footprints appear mysteriously, and visitors say they’ve been grabbed or touched. Apparitions are plentiful – children are seen and heard playing outside or running on the stairs. There’s also a little red-haired girl who likes the dining room and appears to diners. Guests and staff claim to have seen Mrs. Bell, wife of Dr. William Bell, who built the current Brianhurst in 1889, wandering the grounds.

 Some of the other active locales are The Peacock Bed & Breakfast Inn, The Cliff House, The Oneledge Hotel, The Crystal Valley Cemetary, The Craftwood Inn, the Avenue Hotel B&B, and Cave of the Winds.

  Researching Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs was an eye-opener. I found no need for concern about the originality of my story idea but instead found lots of inspiration for future tales. Great news for this horror /paranormal writer. 

10 Movie Favorites for Halloween

There are lots of memorable horror movies out there. The Wolfman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Poltergeist, The Shining, It, The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, Alien, The Sixth Sense, Saw, Crimson Peak – to name a few. I love going to the movies, sitting in the dark with a couple of hundred other people, munching on popcorn, and holding my breath through the scary parts. Watching those movies on the small screen, well, they’re a little less scary. No matter – frightening or not, I enjoy the stories. 

The following are some of my favorites. Not necessarily big films or money makers, or even great movies – but something about them draws me back to them again and again. 

1) The Uninvited (1944)

 The 1940s were a heyday for scary movie monsters. The success of the 1930’s Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, etc. continued. Watching those creature features on the old black and white TV provided hours of thrills and chills for me while I was growing up. But of all the horror films produced during the ’40s, my very favorite is RKO’s, The Uninvited, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. This little gem is a sophisticated, well-written ghost story that never fails to put a shiver down my spine.  

2) The Other (1972)

This creepy thriller is the story of twin brothers, Holland and Niles Perry. The setting is a beautiful family farm in the 1930s. Holland’s a sweet and gentle little boy while his dead brother Niles likes to do “bad things,” getting Holland into trouble – He should never have played The Game

3) Ghost Story (1981)

I remember practically jumping out of my seat during the opening scenes of this dark tale of revenge. Between nightmares, ghost stories, and the undead, the Chowder Society, played by veteran actors Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Melvyn Douglas, are being stalked by a real terror… And it wants to take its vengeance on all of them.

4) The Lady in White (1988)

I didn’t realize when I put this list together how many of my faves were about spirits. This ghost story about innocence lost is based on the memories of the main character, Frankie Scarletti – a born storyteller who grows up to be an author. He retells via flashback his own experience with a ghost when he was just nine years old. The Lady in White gives the audience a peek at a simpler time, but not a happier one – A child killer lurks. 

5) Dead Alive (1992)

This is an oddity among my usual flick picks. I came across it one day while looking over Peter Jackson’s filmography. Dead Alive was on the list, and having never heard of it – I had to check it out. Listed as Spatter Horror – It is gross, funny, gory, stupid, violent, sick, and silly. I’m not a zombie fan but will make an exception for Dead Alive…  and Shawn of the Dead. I suppose the only way I can bear to watch zombies is if they’re stupidly funny. 

6) The Prophecy (1995)

I was tempted to see this movie simply because one of my favorite actors – Christopher Walken, starred in it. But a story about an ongoing war in heaven caught my interest. This dark fantasy peppered with sarcastic humor had me thinking it was right up my alley. When Viggo Mortensen appeared as the Devil, I was sure. Good, evil, and faith are questioned as angels, demons, and humans face the consequences if the war is not resolved.

7) The Relic (1997)

 Set in the Chicago Field Museum, this sci-fi, thriller – chiller has people losing their heads over the new exhibit – Superstition.  Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, and James Whitmore lead the cast in what I think is an underrated monster movie. It’s fun and creepy with plenty of decapitated bodies strewn about to keep you wondering who or what is killing all these people… and why? 

 The Relic introduced me to co-authors – Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, who wrote the book, and they quickly became favorites. Of course, the book’s better than the film. But now, as I read – whenever I come across LT. D’Agosta, I still imagine him looking like Tom Sizemore.

8) 1408 (2007)

  Based on a short story by Stephen King, 1408 is a showcase for actor John Cusack. (Who knew he was so versatile?) Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a gifted writer who’s lost his love of life after the death of his daughter. He’s settled on writing books about haunted and supernatural places (of which he doesn’t believe) to make a living. That is until an anonymous someone sends him a postcard from the old Dolphin Hotel on Lex. in New York City and a warning – “Don’t enter room 1408.” 

Researching the hotel, Enslin discovers there’ve been over fifty horrible deaths in that room since the hotel opened. Thinking it might make a good chapter in his next book, he’s determined to check it out for himself. Well, you know what they say…  Be careful what you wish for. Writer, Mike Enslin finds all of his nightmares coming true in 1408. 

9) Devil (2010)

 Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None is a classic. M. Night Shyamalan has taken a cue from the story and made it his own. Devil is only 80 minutes long, but the tension sets in early in this supernatural- horror film and runs all the way to the last minute.   

 A troubled police detective is on scene at a Philadelphia skyscraper investigating a suicide – the note talks about the Devil approaching. Meanwhile, in the same building, five strangers become stuck in an elevator between floors. Things start to get scary when the lights fail, and one of them’s attacked. Fear and suspicion build, and when the lights go out again, one of them is dead. Unable to gain access, the detective and security crew attempt to identify the individuals as they watch on a closed-circuit camera as events unfold. Ramirez, one of the security guards, thinks he sees an image of evil in the elevator. Recalling the tales his mother told him as a child about the Devil, he shares the story. As expected, no one gives any credence to the old fables.

 While the fire department attempts to cut through the walls and access the elevator, the detective confirms the identity of the unlikable occupants – except for one. It becomes a race against the clock to get the survivers out and stop the killer – but the Devil has other plans.

10) Cabin in the Woods (2012)

  I’m an admitted fan of Joss Whedon’s entertaining imagination. Having enjoyed Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly – I try not to miss anything he puts on the screen. When my daughter and I walked in to see Cabin in the Woods, we thought we’d walked into the wrong movie – couldn’t figure out who all the people in lab coats were. A few minutes later – we got it. I am not a fan of bloody, slasher movies. Still, this horror movie bends and twists all the rules about horror movies. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular ride by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon as they show just how twisted their little minds really are.

 As usual, there were lots of familiar faces – I love the way Whedon uses actors from past productions in current projects. And was happily surprised to also see Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Sigourney Weaver in this devilishly sick and twisted monster movie mash-up. 

   

 

 

Devils in the darkness

I was eight years old when I had my first paranormal experience. Funny that I can remember it happening as if it were yesterday – when I have so few memories of my childhood.

We lived in a large, three-bedroom green stucco house that stood at the back of a deep lot. I can still see the orange Spanish tile roof on the house. Mom was way ahead of her time with the xeriscaping and had a large garden out front, mostly made up of succulents, cacti, and rocks.

At the time, my brothers hadn’t come along yet, so it was just my folks, my two younger sisters, and me. Life was pretty ordinary. Mom was a housewife, yes, that’s what they called stay-at-home moms at the time. Dad was the breadwinner, working as an auto mechanic.

School was out for summer vacation, and Daylight Savings Time wasn’t even a thing yet. That made no difference; Mom’s always been a structured soul, and though it wasn’t dark out, we kids still had to go to bed at the usual time. It seemed wrong somehow that we had to be in bed, and it wasn’t even night time – but at eight years old, you don’t get a vote. I remember faint sunlight glowing through the curtains as I fell asleep.

It was the middle of the night. The house was quiet, but something must have wakened me. I thought I’d gone blind because I couldn’t see anything but dark. It was unnerving, and I was afraid. The hairs on my neck stood up, while my eyes probed the darkness for the source of my fear.

Across the room near the door were two red eyes staring at me. Set at an adult’s height, they blazed in the dark. My breath hitched in my throat, and I was momentarily speechless. When I found enough courage to call out, my voice shook, “Da-dad, Daddy?” There was no response.

I pulled up the covers and hid my eyes; maybe it was just my imagination. Lifting my gaze, I saw the glowing eyes still looking directly at me. My heart pounded in my chest – I tried calling for my dad, mom, anyone to come to help me. Nobody came. Pulling the covers over my head, sobbing and trembling with fear – I heard a voice telling me to pray. I did, never looking outside the blankets again, but crying myself to sleep.

The next morning, I told Mom what happened. She’s a very rational person and assured me that no one could have gotten into my bedroom – the house was locked up at night. It was only a bad dream – that neither she nor dad would let anything happen to me. Mom hugged and patted me, trying to make me feel better. I didn’t feel any better.

From that time on, I was afraid to be alone in my room at night. I often sneaked the light on if I woke up in the night. Dad must have had radar or something because he’d come in and turn the light off. I never felt safe in that house again and developed a deep fear of the dark. Fortunately, we moved out of the house a couple of years later.

PostScript – At eight, I had a child’s faith, and when I heard a voice telling me to pray, I knew God would protect me. I believe HE did. Over the years, I’ve learned that many have reported seeing glowing red eyes in the darkness. The most common answer to Whatis Shadow People. The WhyNo one knows for sure.

Shadow people – w:User:Timitzer [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D

Putting Myself Out There

I’ve told stories most of my life. Yes, even the kind my mother told me were wrong and shouldn’t tell. As the oldest of five siblings, I was always looking for a way to escape my real world. Mom introduced me to books at an early age. A reader herself, she knew the power of stories as a means to escape. I devoured stories and went through almost every book in my mom’s collection. At school I read endlessly in the library, and couldn’t wait for those days the Bookmobile would drive into the schoolyard with even more books to borrow. When I discovered the public library, it was like being given the keys to the kingdom.

As a Baby-Boomer, I am unapologetic about being a TV addict. Its a whole other wide world of stories. In my house, we watched a lot of family-style entertainment, but my favorites were the shows like Thriller, Chiller, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Creature Features, and Night Gallery to name a few. I became so enthralled with these old horror shows that my parents would use them as leverage – If I didn’t do my homework, or wasn’t being nice to one of my siblings I wouldn’t be allowed to stay up and watch that night’s favorite.

I know now that many of our best horror writers contributed to these shows, but at the time I simply enjoyed the outpourings of their broad and twisted imaginations. Their stories have been an influence for me to write my stories.

While my own children were growing up I fantasized about being a writer, but simply didn’t have the time or the energy. It’s taken me many years to arrive at a point in time where I can take the time to write. I have no excuses. Now that I’m here, I want to put myself out there and not be afraid to share my stories. Fear is a theme in my writing – it’s something that’s held me back from a lot of living – I refuse to let it stop me now.