Monday, October 27, 2008

Day 41/365 Laissez les bons temps rouler! 5 days till Samhain

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (less-say lay bon tonh roo-lay) Louisiana Cajun for:
Let the Good Times Roll!

With my natural bent towards creepy things that go bump in the night, maybe it was only a matter of time till I moved back to New Orleans as a young adult. Growing up there as a child doubtlessly left its mark on me, happily warping my outlook permanently. My first Mardi Gras memory is one of having a string of beads thrown to me from a float, catching them, then dropping them in the push of the crowd. A tall, hairy man in a lime green Jackie O dress, complete with matching heels, a pillbox hat, handed them back to me and smiled. I have never had any problem with gay rights since then.

New Orleans was also where I broke the barrier at the public library and vaulted from the children's section to the adult bookstacks, at age 8. Nevertheless,my mother had to take the librarian aside and personally speak to her, before I was allowed to check out an adult book on Louisiana hauntings and folklore.

That book is where I met the haunted side of the city, the side that is so commonplace that most residents don't even blink when told a place is haunted. With a city dating from 1718, there tends to be a great many spirits about, and most don't bother waiting for Halloween to make an appearance.

In addition to ghosts, Nouvelle Orleans also has Marie Laveau, the Voodun Queen. Her influence and reputation still run rampant through the city, even though she may have died in 1881. I say may have, because there are those who believe she still lives.

Marie was born a Free Woman of Color in 1794. She became the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, respected and feared by all. Voodoo in New Orleans was a blend of West African religion and Catholicism, with deities called Loahs that are closely paired with the Catholic Saints. Like almost everyone in New Orleans, Marie was a devout Catholic and attended Mass daily. She began as a hairdresser and later became a nurse during the Yellow Fever epidemics while becoming skilled in the practice of medicine as well as the healing qualities of indigenous herbs of the Louisiana delta.
She was the first commercial Voodoo Queen specializing in romance and finance (what an unbeatable combination!), and was known as a very astute business woman. Marie was all-knowing and all-powerful. She could easily help you get a lover, keep a lover or get rid of a lover.
White and black, rich and poor, pillars of the community and slave alike, they all visited Marie to ask favors: she would say prayers and create mixtures to drink, to rub on, to throw over the shoulder or to throw into the river. In the end, everything would happen just as she predicted.
Marie married Jacques Paris at St. Louis Cathedral when she was 25. He disappeared one year later without a trace, never to return. A year following Paris' disappearance, Marie became the common law wife of Captain Christopher Glapion and had 15 children by him. The youngest of these, also named Marie, followed in her mother's footsteps and succeeded her.
She died just a few days shy of the eve of St. John, the highest holy day of Vodun, and one that, for the previous 24 years, had seen her leading the bayou celebrations as High Priestess.
In voodoo it is believed that when a Voodoo Queen dies, her spirit re-enters the river of life and moves to the next realm that lies adjacent to this one. Her spirit will always be here, close at hand, in New Orleans. To this day, people still visit her tomb, leaving offerings of money, cigars, white rum, candles and candy, and marking scratched charcoal X's on her tomb to mark voodoo spells.

To truly appreciate Marie (and New Orleans), you need to stand in front of her tomb at night(preferably with at least two very large friends to watch your back -St. Louis Cemetary #1 is not usually on the recommended tour list).
All those ghost stories, voodoo spells, and Anne Rice vampires come pouring into your mind as the thick humid air turns to midnight fog - fog so thick you can't see the owner of that hand that brushes your arm. Fog so thick it muffles the soft footsteps of booted feet until they pass you only inches away, close enough to feel their breath on your cheek.
Fog so thick you really have no idea who else may be there.
It could be anyone.
It could be Marie.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day 40/365 When Eviction Is Not An Option ....6 days to Halloween

After 238 years, the homeplace in Bland County Virginia was sold to non-family buyers.

Sometimes a sale like this is perfect: a historical property is sold out of family, to wonderful people who respect the house and are dedicated to updating it while retaining it’s original character and qualities.

Sometimes you get buyers who put shag carpeting over slate floors, and tear down handmade walnut wainscotting. Sometimes the buyers think the stone fireplaces are not *quite* the shade of stone they wanted, and so they buy that flexible permastone, and glue it over the real stone.

We got those people.

However, when the original family is of Scottish descent, they do not suffer fools gladly. The fact that they have been dead for more than two decades is irrelevant.

This is my great-grandmother, Josephine Ellen Green Muncy. As a young wife and mother, Josie had been responsible for the “elegant” touches around the homeplace: the slate entryway (stone off their own farm), the hand-carved walnut wainscotting lining the downstairs rooms, the English boxwood hedge (she had ordered the plants and had my great-grandfather haul them in the horse-drawn wagon from the train station), and the crowning touch, the goldfish pond just outside the bay windows of the music room.

When the house passed out of the family, the new owners tore out the original solid chestnut
front door, and installed an elaborate extra wide door, with leaded glass sidelights, and a huge handle. It’s proportions threw the look of the house off, but they loved it. It never hung properly, never stayed shut, came open at the oddest times, whether locked or not.

The next two changes worked in tandem with each other to clean up the yard: the English boxwoods were hitched, one by one, to the pickup truck and torn out. Every boxwood gave the truck a run for its money (anyone who has dug up a boxwood will understand this), and promptly burned out the truck’s transmission.
After the boxwoods were banished, the goldfish pond was drained and filled in, and a barbeque placed on top of it.

These changes greatly irritated my great-grandmother. Not having known her while she was alive, these new owners did not realize just how likely it was that she would feel compelled to correct their mistakes.

From that point on, the edges of the yard, where the boxwood had stood, would not tolerate another plant being placed there. The grass would not grow there. The weeds would not grow there. Entire flats of beautiful pansies would be carefully set out, watered and mulched. The next morning, they would be strewn around the yard, pulled up and tossed aside.

No matter how much fill dirt was added to the goldfish pond, it sank. The barbeque kept turning over in the soft fill, often times while it was full of briquets and steaks. And the area was always wet and muddy, which was odd, since the goldfish pond had never been spring fed, but had to be lined and maintained.

To add insult to injury, whenever they turned on the televison, the new owners would hear angry footsteps stomping down the front stairs, and watch that touchy front door fling itself open and slam shut. My great-grandparents had never tolerated a television in the house, as Josie was of the opinion that it was only for those of low intelligence, and a person’s time could be much better spent reading.

As it quickly became apparent to the newbies that they had made poor choices in home ownership, they nevertheless continued down their merry road of catastrophe. But this time, it was not just Josie’s attention they caught.

This time, it was my great-grandfather, Jesse. He was the one who had to cut the trees, plane, carve and stain the boards, and finally carry them all up to the house and install the beautiful walnut wainscotting. So when the new owners decide to tear it down, and put up imitation pine paneling, it was just too much.

For several months, a magnificent struggle ensued. During the day, the new owner would take down the wainscotting, lean it against a wall, then use his electric nail gun to put up the new fake pine paneling (courtesy of Home Depot). Perhaps his mistake was in not taking the old wainscotting out and burning it, or at least putting it in the barn. But every morning, the new paneling would be taken down and thrown across the hall, with the original walnut stock back up in its proper place, as if nothing had happened.

My great-grandfather was nothing if not stubborn, and consistent. In the library, the same deluded person who was trying to put up fake pine paneling, was also trying to glue fake Permastone to the actual stones of the fireplace. And every morning, he’d find the sheets of the fake stonework thrown out in the hallway, on top of the pine paneling.
The one change they tolerated (and who knows why) was the lime green shag carpet the wife laid over the slate entryway. Perhaps because it made less noise when they threw the paneling and Permastone on it.

The situation continued to escalate to the point that my great-grandparents felt the only way to get their point across was to simply look the intruders in the eye.

So one night, while the couple sat in their living room watching TV, the wife heard footsteps on the front porch. She turned to look out the front window, and saw Josie looking in at her, with an aggravated look on her face. Her husband saw Josie too, and got up to go to the door.
Of course there was no one there (you knew that was coming).

Several weeks later, the couple were keeping their 4 year old niece. That afternoon she stood
On the front porch waving up and shouting “Hi!”, and asking her aunt who was that man up on the hill. The aunt saw no one. The little girl said it was a tall old man dressed all in black, who waved back at her.

The stories all simmered for several years with the new owners, until one day when my mother and I decided to stop at the farm, and see if they might let us take pictures, even look inside.

Turned out they weren’t from the immediate area, but were very interested in the history of the house. We filled them in on the 238 years prior to their arrival, and then started listening to their stories.

They wanted to know who we thought was “in” their house. Seeing the wainscotting still leaning against the wall, the permastone leaning up on the front porch, and the sunken circle under the teetering BBQ, it was real apparent who was in “their” house.

Then the pictures I showed them of Jesse and Josie made their faces turn white.

I think they were trying to make amends when they offered us the elegant French doors that had been the entryway to the music room. Fortunately when they removed them, the furthest the doors went was the loft in the barn.

And they were happy to offer us the last remaining boxwood that they had never been able to pull out. Oddly, for us, it came up almost like it knew we were family.

Today the boxwood is three times as large as it was and perfectly happy planted in my dad’s
garden. The French doors have been cleaned and are ready to fit in my daughter’s bedroom.

Are Jesse and Josie still at home? I don’t know—I haven’t been back since. It wouldn’t surprise me. Scots are known for their tenacity and their attention to detail.
Even in the afterlife.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 39/365 Family is Always Family... 7 Days to Halloween

This is my front yard, complete with yucca plants. Although we live in a historical district, in a pre-Civil War home, we do not have the traditional Southern family cemetery in the front yard.

At least, not one you can see.

I am a hybrid: a product of 2 Southern family trees, with seven generations accounted for in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, but through farsightedness on my father’s part, raised a government brat (always referred to as “Yankee” by my cousins).

My great-great-great-great grandfather Holton was a young man living in Rockingham County when he bought approximately 700 acres of land from Abraham Lincoln ( not that Abraham Lincoln, but his grandfather). It was 1750, and 100 years later that land would become Bland County, Virginia, less than a year before a civil war broke out that would define Mr. Lincoln’s grandson for all time.

Holton built his first house and barn by hand using giant logs of American chestnut and hemlock, pegged together. The house caught fire during the War, and the one piece of furniture that was saved ( Holton’s handmade walnut table with one drawer and handturned legs) now sits upstairs next to my bedside.

The “new” house (as it is still called today), was re-built within months, even with the war raging, and even though my great-great grandfather was serving in the war, had two nephews imprisoned at Camp Chase, and a son fighting with Stonewall Jackson. It was again built of American chestnut and hemlock, again pegged together, with wide-plank flooring and big stone fireplaces. It featured a connected kitchen, a novelty at that time.

By 1917, my great-grandfather had inherited the homeplace, become something of a well-known horse breeder and bear hunter (Teddy Roosevelt came hunting on our mountain).

This is my great-grandfather, Jesse Archibald, and his favorite horse Kentucky. He was showing off for the new-fangled camera the girls had just gotten. Minutes after this, he led the horse up the steps and down the big center hall, to that conveniently connected kitchen. The screaming woman was my great-grandmother, because Kentucky found the huge pot of soup simmering on the stove. She discovered this because she followed the big muddy horseshoe prints down the hall

Jesse also had his sons courting their girlfriends on his front lawn. This would be my grandfather, and his then-girlfriend (later my grandmother). My grandmother came from the Virginia Eastern Shore, and was then teaching school in a one-room mountain schoolhouse, the only building precariously balanced at the very top of a ridge, reachable only by horse, or horse and sled in the winter. Grandpa brought her home on horseback to meet the family.

She stayed.

Of course time moves on for everything and everyone. Generations were born, lived, married, marched off to war, came home again and died in the homeplace. Then they were buried up on the hill, in the family cemetery. Initially it was unfenced, with big cedar trees planted on the corners after the War, to compliment the yuccas that Holton brought with him from Rockingham County back in 1750.

Sometime in the 1930s, a wire fence was put up to keep cattle from wandering through.
Holton is there, his son Tunis, their wives and families. Then the next generation, Andrew, his son Tunis, his nephew Tunis, an infant son my dad was later named for, as well as markers for the two boys who died in Camp Chase in Ohio as prisoners of war. They never made it home, but the family still held their places open.

My great-grandparents are buried here, as are my grandparents, and my great-aunts and uncles, and a couple of the cousins.

Several years ago, we made the two hour drive up to the farm, and helped my uncle clear out the brush and overgrown plants from the tombstones. Many of the stones are so worn they can’t be read. If we hadn’t made notes years ago, we’d have never known who was there, and where.

These are my yucca’s and my family cemetery —literally. We transplanted all of them from the family plot up in the mountains. So that’s Holton and Alcey, Tunis and Rhoda, Andrew and Sarah, my Great Aunt Onie, my Aunt Lucy, and my cousin Jo-Girl. They’re all out there.

Makes a house a home.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day 38/365 Weird Wisconsin ....8 days to Hallow'een

Ah, legendary rural America, home of cornshocks and neatly groomed fields dotted with haystacks. One memorable quote from The Waushara News refers to rural Wisconsin as “It is a wild country that could hide violence for years and perhaps never give up its secrets.”

That wild country, in this case Plainfield, Wisconsin, gave up some of its secrets on Saturday, November 16, 1957.

Recognize this photo? No? Think Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre— they were all born in this Wisconsin farm house, courtesy of the warped inspiration of Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield.

The author of Psycho, Robert Bloch, lived less than 30 miles away in Weyauwega at the time of Gein’s arrest and created Norman Bates with "the notion that the man next door may be a monster unsuspected."

Through the years, the fictional Norman Bates morphed into the most monstrous characters the public could envision: Leather-face, Buffalo Bill, Freddie Kruger, Michael Myers, they all sprang from the Ed Gein vein of bizarre imagination.

But I digress.

What has Ed Gein to do with today’s Samhain tale?

Summer late 1980s, and I’m on a road trip with my BFF Cathy. We have been in Chicago, and instead of driving back to the Twin Cities via I-94, we decide to take the scenic route through Wisconsin, with me mentioning a somewhat vague destination of Plainfield and Ed.

Our rambling takes us past a monument to the old-style tourist attraction and roadside kitsch:
La Reau’s World of Miniatures.

La Reau’s rivaled any gator farm or wax museum on any roadside in America. Entering through
gray medieval castle walls, we found a sub-sized world of Stonehenge, New England fishing villages, the United Nations, Empire State Building, Lincoln Memorial, Monticello each carved in miniature, out of styrofoam. We spent a long time at La Reau’s—I mean, really, it was the chance to travel the world for a mere pittance.

It was a perfect late summer afternoon sporting a crisp, blue cloudless sky with trees already turning reds and yellows. As we left La Reau’s, we turned to the right, traveling on a two-lane state highway. I drove while Cathy checked the map, noting what roads we needed to watch for, explaining we had three major turns, and figuring out it would be an hour and a half until we reached the Wisconsin Dells, where we planned to get back on I-94, so as to make the Twin Cities before it got too late.

And then we were there. Twenty minutes later, without making a single turn.

We were simply there. Sitting there looking at the Dells, all noisy and loud with the last of the summer tourists, and the gaudy attractions— Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Ducks, the miniature golf.

Except we really weren’t due for another 70 minutes.

Whatever route we took, wasn’t on the map. No matter how we figured it, there was no way to get from La Reau’s to the Dells in twenty minutes without turning.

The good news is we ended up where we wanted to be, in the Dells, in spite of whatever time gap we passed through. We could have ended up a few miles north on Hwy 39— in Plainfield, where I could have photographed Ed Gein’s three-year-old grave, just before someone borrowed his tombstone.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Day 37/365 Helene Times Four.... 10 Days to Hallow'een

My grandmother died in February 1982.

She left each grandchild the same amount of inheritance. I really wanted to buy a 1955 Corvette, but upon finding I had nowhere near enough to do that, I put money down on a duplex

My new investment was built in a blue-collar neighborhood called Frogtown in St. Paul Minnesota. My duplex had started life as a 2 story log cabin, originally built on a half-lot that lay 4 blocks over and 4 blocks further east from its current location. The Prussian immigrant that had built it had been playing cards one night, and while in a drunken state, he “bet the farm” and lost it.

Realizing that the exact wording of the bet only specified his land, he rounded up his brother and friends and some hefty logs, and in the wee hours of the morning, literally jacked up and rolled his home over and down 4 blocks to his brother’s lot.

Presumably the winner of the property never noticed it was missing a house.

Eventually the man landed a job in the Burlington Northern railyards, then brought his fiancee over from Prussia.

By this time he had improved the cabin, building on rooms, putting in windows, doors, gables, porches –and finally adding that mark of success: clapboard and white paint.

Shortly thereafter, their first child was born, a little girl named Helene. Her room was carved out of the living room, a compact little nook with hardwood floors and a big sunny window.

One day when Helene was four, she sat on the front steps, waiting for the postman. When he arrived to hand her the mail, Helene told him she wouldn’t see him again. Thinking the family was going on a trip, the postman wished them a good time. Helene explained no one was leaving, but she was going to heaven and wouldn’t see him again.

That night, Helene came down with a fever, and four days later she was dead.

Four years later, her parents had another child. That little girl inherited what had been Helene’s room, and her name. When she was four, her mother overheard her talking in her room. She stood and listened long enough to learn Helene had an imaginary friend, also named Helene.

And then she had a long talk with her daughter, and explained that before she was born, there was another Helene.

Years passed, the parents died, and the grown-up daughter sold the house to an single man. He was somewhat of a hermit, keeping to himself. After living there for four years, the man died alone in his home.

The house was sold for taxes, and the family that bought it were delighted to move their young four-year-old son into the child-size room right off the living room.

From the day they moved in, the house had voices—nothing frightening, but voices just the same. In the basement, they could hear a little girl giggling, and sometimes feel a little tug on their shirt and the steps to the second floor resonated with heavy footsteps they assumed belonged to the old man who had died there.

But, most interestingly, their little boy had found a new imaginary friend named Helene—a little girl wearing a long white dress and high-top black boots, who lived in his room, and liked to giggle and play.

Four years later, the couple sold the house, to me.

In time, I married and had a child, and that room off the living room seemed perfect for a baby room.

My baby slept through the night from day one. No midnight feedings, no crying and getting mama up.

Until one night, when she was almost a year old, and able to pull herself up in her crib.
I woke up—one of those mom things—and thought I’d check on her, just in case. She was standing in her crib, laughing and smiling at the other side of the room, at something only she could see. When I stood in front of her, she leaned around me to continue looking at…...what?
She actually waved her hand at…..what?

We had heard the giggling in the basement. The first time I thought the kids next door were outside and even went up and looked, but no one was there. The next time I felt a little breeze and then the soft laughing over by the furnace. The dog would stop and stare at nothing, and follow the nothing around the room sometimes. It didn’t feel scary or dangerous. It was just one of those things.

One day I was out painting my front porch and a woman stopped her car and came over to introduce herself. She had grown up in the house and wondered if maybe she could see the inside just out of curiosity.

This nice lady was in her sixties, and her name was Helene. She told me the stories of the house, including when she use to play with her long-dead older sister, mentioning her sister always dressed in a white dress and high-top shoes.

But I was the one who called the couple I bought the house from, and they were the ones who put their twelve-year-old son on the phone. He was the one who told me all about his “imaginary” friend, the one named Helene, and how she always wore a long white dress, and wore those funny old-timey high-top shoes.

And then his mom told me how they heard the giggling and the old man on the stairs, right up till the day they moved out and I moved in.

There was a long silence on the phone when I told them about my visit from the now-sixty Helene. They had never met her and had never heard the stories.

They did ask about the re-occuring numeral four: The house was moved 4 blocks over and 4 blocks down, Helene was four when she had her premonition she would die four days later, four years later her parents had another child, that child was four when she met her long-gone sister, the second owner—the old man—died after owning the house for four years, and the couple’s son was four years old when he met Helene in his room.

The four’s stopped there—I had been in the house for eight years when my daughter was born, she was almost 12 months old when she met Helene, and we moved long before she was four.

But me being me, I went and dug up the original deed to the house, the one dating it to the first lot the house stood on—before the poker game– located at 444 Edmund. The cabin's original construction on that lot was in 1874, by four brothers from Prussia, who paid $4.00 for the half-lot it would stand on.

All coincidence of course, one of those bizarre little twists of serendipity the universe thrives on.

Of course the second Helene—the one I met— had met her husband in 1944, had four children (one of whom is named Helene, and has four children herself, including a daughter, named Helene—making her the fourth Helene).

Do I need to tell you she lived in an apartment at 444 Grand Ave.?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 36/365 - Last Days of This Year's Late Great Garden

Only 11 days to Halloween but still time for a brief memorial to this year's garden.

Last night was our first frost here in southwestern Virginia. Temps were down to 32 and I could see my breath when I took the pups out around midnight. We moved all the delicate plants into the greenhouse and the garage, then brought the rest up under the carport, put sheets over the fountains and water plants, and picked the last tomatos on the vines.

The vines are still putting out yellow blossoms, and are heavy with little green tomatos. I picked the largest of those to fill this basket, and will set them out in the sun every afternoon while they work their way towards being red and juicy.

All the blueberry bushes are flame red now, the green peppers are covered at night since they produce best this time of year, and the Adam's Needle yuccas are covered in baby plants. Being high altitude plants, they must thrive in the cold nights and warm days.

Now - when I least need it - my rain barrels are full to the brim. Before we get a lasting hard freeze, I'll need to dump all that water so the barrels don't freeze and crack.

In a week or so, I'll sit down and write out notes on what worked this year and what didn't as well as seeing if I can come up with ideas on how to control wiregrass before it consumes my entire yard and garden, and possibly at some point my house. Then just after Christmas I can start planning next spring's garden and make lists of what to order and how to plant it for the best yield.

Next spring sounds so far away.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 35/365 ....13 Days To Halloween or Pots, Pans and Poltergeists

Here it is 13 days till Halloween, surely some sort of cosmic vortex sort of date.

There are dates and places like that - times and locations when and where "stuff" just seems to happen. Sometimes they have circles of standing stones, sometimes they have four story brick apartment buildings, built in the early 1900's.

In this case, it's the apartment building.

Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, I lived in a very similar apartment building to this one,during 1977 and 1978, in a first floor left-hand apartment.

As far as I know, our building had no ghost-creating traumatic events, no murders and certainly no tragic suicides.

It did however have a poltergeist.

Fortunately for me, the poltergeist lived across the hall, in the first floor right-hand apartment,
with the landlord's daughter.

When I first went to look at the apartment, the daughter reviewed our application in her apartment. She was busy putting away pots and pans at the time, straightening up her kitchen.
She yelled: "Hey, I looked at your app, you seem cool, wanna move in?"

Having passed the rental interview, I gave her the first month rent, while she explained that she worked nights, slept mornings, and would be available if needed in the afternoons.

The next day, I moved into the "shotgun" apartment. Just like shotgun houses in Louisiana, this meant that if you came in the front door, all the rooms were arranged to one side, so if you shot a gun, the bullet would go straight through the apartment and out the backdoor. My livingroom was carpeted, and the central hallway was hardwood floor, with my bedroom halfway back on the way to the kitchen. The phone, a heavy old-fashioned black phone with a dial, sat in a little wall niche, at the far end of the hallway, by the kitchen.

The day I moved in, the phone wasn't turned on yet, so I went across the hall to the landlord's daughter, to use her phone. "Yeah, no problem" she said while she pointed down the hall towards her phone, as she carried pots and pans into her kitchen.

After making my call, it occurred to me she seemed to have either an amazing number of pots and pans or else she was very into re-arranging her kitchen, on a daily basis. Upon mentioning it to her, she matter-of-factly said "Oh, I have a poltergeist. He prefers the pots and pans in the livingroom."

Every night, about 10, she trotted off to work, returning around 8 am, finding, without fail, every morning, every pot and pan she owned stacked in a single column, in her livingroom, from floor to ceiling. And every morning, she went directly to bed, getting up around 1 pm or so, and spending the next half hour or so, putting away her pots and pans.

And after living there for a year or so, I can honestly say I never heard a cingle clink or clatter, or banging of pots and pans, but they continued to be stacked, every night, without fail.

Sometimes I think her poltergeist got lonely when she was sleeping.

One morning, I heard my boyfriend walk down the hallway from the kitchen, past our bedroom door, hard-soled shoes resonating on the hardwood floor. I heard the front door deadbolt flip open, the squeak of the hinges, and the slamming of the door as he went off to work.

A few moments later, I heard the front door open again, the steps come down the hall, and the dial on the phone clicking as it turned. The next sound was the one the little pegs on the phone made, the sound of someone tapping on them, to make sure the connection was made. Then there was a ripping sound, and a crash against the front door.

Followed by silence.

Getting out of bed, I was prepared to find him dealing with car problems or something similar. I found nothing and no one. I was completely alone.

The front door was deadbolted and locked. The phone sat in its niche, complete with its cord, and its four-prong, modular plug.

The neighbor's poltergeist never came to visit again, but pots and pans continued to stack themselves, from floor to ceiling, every single night, without fail.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day 34/365...Or 22 Days Till Halloween at The Maxwell Cemetery

May 1974 found me between my first and second year of college, applying for a summer job at Hardee's, more than willing to slave away for the summer, up to my neck in hamburger grease, working at the beck and call of the owner, who quickly surmised that I was an employee that would always show up, do the job, and would rather work than stand around, due to my low level of tolerance for boredom.

This meant I worked nights and "close", from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., with the restaurant closing at midnight, followed by two hours of intense cleaning.

Theoretically anyway.

Those two hours were actually pretty fun, since we were all college age. The supervisor (and I use that term loosely) was Steve, an engineering major and mature man of 22. He was quite the ladies man, and had recently bolstered that position with the purchase of a green MG convertible, which, in retrospect, I realize he loved more than any of the girls he went out with.

The MG was All. Steve drove it to work, parked it across two spaces at the back of the restaurant, washed it, waxed it, gave it a name, and did everything but marry it.

One Friday just after close at midnight, he and the MG left to pick up his date. We labored on, and two hours later had just about wrapped up the evening's work, when Steve came swerving back into the parking lot, complete with the girl crying in the passenger seat.

After bringing the two of them into the restaurant, re-locking the doors, we sat down and waited for some sort of explanation, since Steve's dates normally did not return crying (at least not for the first month or so).

As usual, he had picked up the girl, and launched his patented master plan - a trip in the MG out to a nearby supposedly-haunted cemetery in Maxwell. The time-tested plan was to tell spooky stories on the way down, hang around the cemetery long enough to scare the girl, then drive her back to his place and reap the benefits of being the big-strong-guy-who-keeps-her-safe.

Except this time, things went a little differently.

The cemetery was very large, bordered on two sides by residential streets, and the other two sides by cornfields. Then as now, there was no fencing, no curbs and no streetlights. This particular night, the moon was weak, providing only an occasional glimmer of light bouncing off a tombstone.

Steve had pulled over along the street, two wheels on the grass, put the top up, and was in the middle of a ghost story. He looked over at the girl to see whether his story was having the desired effect. She was staring beyond him, over his shoulder, with an odd look on her face. He turned to see what had caught her attention -just in time for it to register that something large was coming at the car. Something very large, something leaping, something with teeth, something making noises.

His mind filtered the possibilities -even while his hand was slipping on the window crank - too large to be a dog, too massive to be a coyote, too mad to be anything but rabid. The girl was screaming and unable to take her eyes off the thing. His hands couldn't seem to grab the keys - he kept fumbling while the car rocked from side to side. That thing appeared to be throwing itself against the car, and its hot breath was fogging up his drivers window from the outside.

Finally the car started, his foot found the pedal and the MG came through, flying them back to Ames on I-35. All the way, he kept looking back, wondering how fast that thing could run and whether or not it could track them.

Now, he and the girl were sitting in the back room of our Hardee's, safe and sound, telling us their story, both still white-faced and shaky.

It being 1974, we were wondering where we could get some of whatever they'd been smoking. But Steve was insistent - he said come out and look at my car.

He had parked long ways, across a couple spots, with the passenger side facing the restaurant door.

Then we walked around to the other side, the driver's side.

No creature, no hot-breath fog, no growling sounds.

Just ten, perfectly spaced, sharp-edged, down-to-the-shiny-bare-metal, claw marks, running top to bottom, right through a creased dent just shy of the width of the door.

The kind of claw marks something would make if it really, really wanted in.