"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Thursday, September 27, 2012

5 Tips For a Proper Haunting

October is just around the corner.

When I was a kid, that meant excitement was in the air.  It meant it was almost time to decorate the front porch with pumpkins and the back room with antique (or at least very old) cardboard cut-outs of skeletons and black cats, goblins and werewolves.   We’d tape them to the windows and, from the inside, they displayed a glossy array of spooky merriment, colorful scenes and detailed faces.  But from outside, the windows cast eerie silhouettes, faceless, vague.  Indistinct features creating a distinct uneasiness.

Almost-October also meant it was time to start heading out to the back lot at dusk to stare at the old ghost shed and watch for things.  Because October was the time of year when things happened out there, and once in a while, they happened in late September too.

It was during October that the ghost of Old Bill Edwards used to stir.  I guess he was
restless.  Maybe his spirit was troubled.  Or maybe once a year, he just liked to stretch his old bones and move around a little bit.  Whatever the reason, it was always in the weeks before Halloween when we would see things.  Dark shapes in the back lot.  Gray smoke rising from the trees.  Once I even saw a fire ball shoot out of the chimney of the ghost shed, Old Bill Edwards’ former home, a chimney that was no longer connected to any stove or fire place.  We heard things too—moans and creaks.  Being kids, we were terrified, but we were also excited.  We wanted to see more!  So we tiptoed as close to the shed as we dared and threw rocks at it, trying to get Old Bill Edwards to come out. 

One time, a rock flew back at US.

Many of my friends believed me about the ghost and it became a great slumber party game.  Sneak out to the back lot in the dark, dare each other to throw a rock, see who was brave enough to get the closest.  Other parents probably thought my family was pretty weird, but I didn’t know that at the time.  Taunting the ghost may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those other little girls, but it was just another Friday night at the Kinder house for me.

Some kids didn’t believe.  They noticed the fact that my dad always seemed to be absent when the sightings took place.  Running an errand maybe or at least back at the house.  He was never with us when we saw anything.  They said it was all him, and he was just trying to scare us.  But I knew better.  My dad would NEVER throw a rock at me, I told them, not that close to my face.  He scolded US when we did that!  And the fire ball?  That wooden shed was so old and filled with so much paper and cardboard, if it ever caught fire there’d be no stopping it.  My dad would never risk something so dangerous.  I shook my head and knew I was right.

Besides, it was always in October, when my dad was working on the annual Halloween party, that his hammer would start disappearing.  He’d be working near the well, hammering some stakes into the ground for tombstones, set his hammer down for a minute, then go to pick it up again and it would be gone.  A search of the property would find it on the back porch or lying in the middle of the back lot or, once, inside the ghost shed.  My dad said it was so aggravating each time it happened.  Of course, I understood.

Even in the daylight, the ghost shed was scary.  Even in the daylight in JULY.  It was cluttered and musty and eyes peered out from every wall, some painted on and others forming themselves out of knotholes or shadows.  There were mystery bottles lining the shelves and the floor was rotted in places, threatening to catch your foot and hold you if you tried to leave in a hurry.  To make matters worse, this is where my dad stored the Halloween decorations during the year. 

And these weren’t your typical Halloween decorations.  These were the ones used for the annual haunted house, the Kinder tradition that’s been going on for… come to think of it… 50 years now.

Inside the ghost shed today-- it's had some renovations since my childhood, but it's still creepy.

Giant Styrofoam crates held homemade dummies folded in half, their eyes staring up blankly, their white-gloved hands reaching out over the sides.  Cardboard boxes contained various “parts”, heads mostly, an arm here and there, maybe a foot.  Somewhere there would be a bag of old rubber masks—a smell like no other, I can tell you—that had to be peeled apart and aired out, their scraggly hair combed for spiders.  Then of course there was the cast-iron cauldron in the corner, and the tombstones.  (More about those later.)

As an adult, the start of October still brings the same sense of excitement for me.  While I don’t have the thrill of a haunted shed nearby, I do have the joyful task of spookifying my house and yard for trick-or-treaters, and therein lies my purpose. 


Carie’s Halloween Decorating Advice: 5 Tips for a Proper Haunting

1.  Celebrities Not Welcome.

You know the phrase fear of the unknown? Let it be your mantra when decorating. 

I never understood how people could think that those plastic store-bought Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers masks were so creepy.  Easily recognizable horror movie characters are not scary.  If you want a kid to hesitate before knocking on your door on Halloween night, don’t sit Freddy Krueger in your porch swing.  He knows it’s not Freddy Krueger.  Instead, stuff an old pair of overalls with newspaper, put some black boots and white gloves on it.  Hang a nondescript skull or pumpkin mask on its head, draw eyeballs on the cloth behind the cutouts for the eyes, and – just for good measure – stick a real ax in its hand.

You’re thinking, That won’t look realistic.  Will it?  And now you’re having the same conversation with yourself that the poor trick-or-treater will be having on Halloween night.  Realistic or not, it is at least unknown.  If you’re just trying to show your neighbors that you know there’s a holiday coming up, decorate however you want.  But if your goal is to SCARE people, then you have to get creative.  If any part of your victim’s brain will be thinking, Oh yeah, that’s the guy from that movie, or even worse, Oh yeah, I saw that thing at Target, then you have lost the battle before it’s even begun.

2. Name-Drop.

While masks and dummies should be nondescript and unfamiliar, the place to get very, VERY specific is with your tombstones.   The cemetary that my dad always creates for the parties is full of homemade wooden gravestones propped up by bricks or stakes, the messages hand-painted and extremely… personal.  By that, I mean that every family member and every party guest has a tombstone in the back yard, each with an original and detailed inscription.  Mine says, “Here lies Carie.  She tried to outrun the goblin.” At the bottom, scrawled in a different hand, it says, “I got her!  YUM YUM!”  My aunt’s was always my favorite.  “Leona—taken on this road by the thing.  She left behind a loving family, one arm, and her head.”  I loved the grave markers, and my dad’s creativity, until the year he included one for my cat.  “Here lies Spots—Stupid little cats should not ride brooms.  He fell far, landed hard, buried deep.”  NOT funny, Dad. 

Anyway, I highly suggest you get specific with your tombstones too.  Know the names of the neighborhood kids?  Invent fun ways of killing them off and fill up your cemetery.  Think their parents won’t find that amusing?  Then make up names.  Anything is better than the plain old R.I.P.  However, those cheap store-bought R.I.P. markers can be a good starting point.  All you have to do is flip them around to the blank side and get a white paint pen or some shoe polish and create your own message.  Easy and effective.

3.  Keep It Simple.

The simpler the better, in my opinion.  Those elaborate displays of mechanical hands and ear-piercing screams and flashing lights are good for a startle, but not a real scare.  It’s too much, too quickly.  It will cause a brief heart attack, sure, but before long the former victim will be laughing and activating it again just so they can prove how fake it is.  That’s not fear.  The scariest decoration we ever had, the one that sticks best in my memory, was just an old, white, button-up shirt on a wire hanger with a white plastic skull on top, wearing a simple black witch hat.  It didn’t do anything, but it was terrifying. 

First, it had that unknown quality.  What was it?  A skeleton?  Or a witch?  Or what?  It had no name, no easy identification.  We like things to have names.  Second, when hung from a bush or tree branch, this… thing… was light enough to sway eerily in the breeze, turning this way and that, nodding and spinning at will.  Its free movement, especially at night when the whiteness of it almost glowed, increased its creepiness.  Plus, sometimes one arm of the shirt would get snagged on a leaf or twig and suddenly the lifeless shape seemed to be jauntily leaning on an elbow or waving at passers by.  And third, as I said before, it didn’t do anything.  And these days, sometimes that’s the scariest thing of all.  Kids are expecting the big display.  Everything these days blinks and speaks and reaches and grabs.  So that’s what they’re waiting for.  And if you think about it, the anticipation of the scare is usually worse than the scare itself.  This skull-witch-creature looked like it might do something.  And that was enough. 


(Got masks you aren't using this year?  Decorate with them!  
Nail them to a tree or stick them on a dummy.)

[Sidenote:  The first time that I stayed home on Halloween night in my own house and handed out candy to trick-or-treaters instead of going to a party, I bought a large ceramic bowl with a large ceramic hand in the center of it to hold all the mini Twix-es and Snickers I bought.  This was the year AFTER the plastic candy bowls with the plastic hands that moved became popular.  My hand didn’t move.  But the kids were terrified of it.  It took them SO long to get their candy and many of them spilled pieces when they jerked back with lightning speed.  I spent the whole night consoling, reassuring, saying, I promise, it doesn’t move.   But these kids had been trained well and they didn’t believe me.  One little girl—she was maybe five years old, so small I had to kneel down in front of her with the bowl—would NOT stick her hand in.  I told her, It’s ok honey, the hand doesn’t move.  She looked me right in the eye and said, I think I saw it move.  Not cool.  I shoved a Milky Way in her bag and closed the door.]

4.  Perfectionists Be Gone!

Don’t organize everything to death.  (Those of you who know me know that this is the rule it is most difficult for me to follow.)  Evenly spaced bats and symmetrical tombstones are not scary.  DISorganization is scary.  The unplanned, the haphazard, the unexpected—THAT’S scary.  Scatter some bones randomly in the yard.  Hang most of your ghosts and goblins, but take one or two and just jam them in a bush or toss them on the roof and see where they land.  Maybe leave one dummy face down in a flower bed somewhere.  At first, the neighbors will think you just forgot it.  Then they’ll start to wonder.   Eventually some kid will dare another kid to kick it.  He will.  DON’T MOVE IT.  At that point, you’ll finally have the twisted, mangled, half-slumped, dirt-encrusted body that will lend authenticity to the rest of your display.

5.  Beware of Scaring Yourself.

If you follow the tips above when decorating this year, you will have a truly terrifying house and/or yard.  And that’s great!  But if (like me) you also have the attention span of a goldfish, the first heart attack you inspire will probably be your own.  So, if you are prone to bouts of paranoia or tend to drop things when startled, you might want to stick some handy post-it notes around your house for a few days.  For instance…
* Note inside the front door—“There’s a clown on the porch.”
* Note on the kitchen trash—“There’s a giant spider on the garbage bin.”
* Note on the dog’s leash—“Do not trip over the severed head.”
(Safety first, after all.)

Then again, my problem isn’t usually the random accidental scaring.  My problem is karma.  Every year, I try to scare my husband with something.  A skeleton hanging in his bathroom, a fake tarantula on his desk chair, etc.  The first problem is that I have no patience.  Instead of waiting until right before he gets home to set the trap, I set it hours early, WAY too long for my poor little goldfish brain.  The second problem is that I honestly think part of my brain is working for the dark side.  Because not only do I forget about my prank, but then I end up doing something extremely uncharacteristic which puts me in the path of horror.   I think I’ll clean Mark’s bathroom for him.  Wouldn’t that be a nice surpr… AAAAA!  Time to watch that internet video.  Hmm… Mark’s computer screen is bigger than mine… AAAAA!  Oh well, at least then I know that it works.

Happy almost-October, everyone! 
And may you make at least one trick-or-treater pee his pants this year.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just a Peek: Excerpts From My Journals

January 11, 2000 – 7:05PM

It’s a shame that nail polish bottles are so small.  Otherwise maybe the colors could have better names, like “five minutes before sundown in a smog-infested city” and “jack-o-lantern in December”.

April 29, 2000 – 5:45PM

I am at Eeyore’s Birthday Party.  He is 37 this year.
I love this city.  Earlier, I saw one of the many dogs here bite one of the many puppies here on the nose.  Apparently it looked bad to the owners because various people studied and caressed the victim’s nose for some time.  He seemed slightly confused but otherwise ok.  The attacker’s owner took a different approach.  He bit his dog on the nose and asked him how that felt.  I guess it was a lesson on treating puppies the way you want to be treated. 
I love the costumes.  I saw a middle-aged unicorn smoking a while ago.  And a scantily clad girl with a rooster on her shoulder.  And a topless girl painted in silver.  And a yellow teletubby.
I find it hard to believe that this began when some frat boys wanted to impress their sorority girlfriends, but that’s how the story goes…

October 30, 2001 – 10:47PM

I have been wanting a Tarot deck for some time now.    Ever since I saw the selection at Book People, I have been interested in getting one.  But how to choose?  There were so many different designs.  I kept putting it off because I wanted a deck that was really me.  Well, the other night in Borders, I was buying a new Austin map and while I was in line I saw a deck of Halloween Tarot cards on the counter.  (Yeah, it was a total impulse buy.)  So I looked at them and noticed that every card had a black cat on it and they were all Halloween designs.  That sold me.  It seemed like the perfect deck.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, while I was doing a reading at home, I pulled up the “Devil” card to find that the devil looked just like me in my costume this year!  It was so bizarre.  Instead of the devil being some big burly demon guy, it was a woman.  She had long brown hair, and she was wearing a short tight blue dress, blue elbow-length gloves, red fishnets, and black boots.  Plus, of course, she had the horns, tail, and pitchfork.  Except for the color of the gloves that was my exact costume.  It really freaked me out.  But it also told me I had made the right choice.  I love my cards.

July 15, 2002 – 11:12PM
[Note:  This was two days after moving into a new apartment.]

Around 10PM I was arranging my books on my various bookshelves.  I wanted to put all of my Halloween/Tarot/Astrology books together on the new little bookcase that I painted red.  So I put all of them in there, but it didn’t look right.  After searching through my poetry books and novels for more that fit the theme, it still was not completely full, but I decided to leave the space thinking I might get more Halloween-related books later to fill it up.  Then I decided to take a break from books and work on organizing my bedroom closet.  While standing on a chair in my walk-in closet, I reached up to the highest shelf, the one that I can’t even see it’s so high, and my hand landed on… a book.  I picked it up and looked at it and got butterflies in my stomach.  The title was The Good Witch’s Guide to Wicked Ways and the inscription inside said, “Lexi—Maybe we can brew up some spells for a fabu 2002!  I love you sooo much.  XOXO—Zalith”.  (Or Zabith or Zolith or Zobith, not sure.)  It creeped me out, in a good way.  It was like, “Man, I wish I had a new Halloween book.  I think I’ll go look in my closet.  Oh, here’s one!”  I’m definitely keeping it, but I don’t know how much use I’ll get out of it.  The only spell I’ve read so far is for “a more spiritual and tranquil cat” and involves me wearing a bag of catnip and oregano around my neck for three days.

March 19, 2003 – 9:15PM

There is popcorn popping in the microwave.  The president is on TV right now talking about the war that just started.  There is a half-patched hole in my bedroom ceiling where a man fell through it today.

[Note:  Though I apparently did not write about it in my journal, I later discovered that the roof worker who fell through my ceiling while I was at work also brought with him the skeleton of a dead rat or squirrel, which landed (somewhat appropriately) in the basket of cat toys below.]

July 14, 2004 – around 11:20AM

I have an announcement to make.  Christopher Lloyd is not dead.  Let me repeat, Christopher Lloyd is not dead.  It seems that a year or two ago I was involved in an unfortunate miscommunication in the lunch room at school when I heard (or thought I heard) another teacher (who was reading the newspaper at the time) say that Christopher Lloyd had died.  I was shocked and saddened that Doc Brown was gone and told several people of the tragedy.  Well, good news.  Christopher Lloyd is not dead.  He is alive, 66 years old, and will be starring in a new TV show airing Tuesdays this fall.  I apologize for spreading such an upsetting rumor.

January 14, 2006 – 10:28AM

“Under Covers”
Here I sit
In my PJ’s
Soaking in
Midmorning sun rays
Eclipsed in purple
Shrouded thickly
Some might think
That I am sickly
‘Tis not true
I’m well enough
It’s my idea
To surround in fluff
The day is mine
No work is destined
So though my habits
Some might question
I choose to spend
My hours in bed
Hot tea in hand
A book half-read
Three warm felines
Napping near me
My needs quite clearly
Together we gather
Our group of four
Caring not
What lies in store
Outside the window
People scurry
From one place
To next they hurry
For me a different
Path discovered
I’m spending my Saturday
Under covers

February 24, 2006 – 5:39PM

I fell down last night.  Yup.  REALLY bit it on my living room floor.  Flat on my back.  If I was 40 years older, I would have broken a hip.  As it is, I just bruised my pride a little (the left side mainly) and wrenched my neck so bad that this morning I was paranoid that I had meningitis.  I’m a dork.

June 18, 2008 – 11:02PM

If I am reading the label correctly, my bottle of rubbing alcohol expired eleven years ago.  Yeah.  November 1997.  Now, this disturbs me for various reasons.  One, what happens to rubbing alcohol when it expires?  What does that mean?  Is it poisonous?  Is it less alcoholic?  More alcoholic?  Will it infect my wound rather than disinfecting it?  All very curious.  But I think the bigger question here is why I have been carrying around this bottle for eleven years???  Think about it.  This means that I’ve had this thing since BEFORE 1997, which means I most likely acquired it in college.  This means that I have packed up this bottle and moved it at least FIVE times, from the dorm to my apartment on Riverside, to my apartment in Tarrytown, to my apartment on Bent Tree, to my OTHER apartment on Bent Tree, to my current duplex.  I mean, how many other things in my house have been with me for eleven years?  I’ve had that thing longer than my cat.  I guess I should throw it out and buy a new bottle, right?  That’s the sane thing to do, right?  And yet it’s still in my bathroom cabinet as we speak…

November 6, 2009

Today I didn’t like my boring beige knee socks, so I put blue, permanent marker polka dots on them.  But I did it while wearing the socks and now I have blue polka dotted feet.

February 10, 2010 – 8:30PM
[Note:  This was written just a few weeks before I moved in with Mark, just three months before our wedding.]

Ok… so, I am starting to not like my black cat fortune birthday gift from Crazy Cousin Kelley too much.

I haven’t used it since October or so.  But tonight I am packing and enjoying the fact that I called in sick for tomorrow (cough cough) and I decided I needed to take a look at my future.  Or really, my present.  I asked the cards to tell me about my upcoming move and I shuffled them and let Gink cut the deck, sort of.  Read on for the shocking results.

“The Past” Card: 
“You have had an eventful past.  You have borne trouble with fortitude, but, unless you are careful, your future will be still more eventful.”           
(Not too bad.  “Eventful” isn’t bad.)

“The Present” Card:
“You have made a resolution to wed someone who is very wealthy and you will succeed in your undertaking, but your future partner will regret it.”
(Um… ouch.)

“The Future” Card:
“Your friends will oppose your prospective undertaking and try to persuade you from taking the important step, but if you will be firm, all will end well.”
(Well, as long as it ends well…)

“Love Matters” Card:
“The one you love is not rich in money, but rich in love and if your married life is not a paradise on earth, it will be because you are very hard to please.”
(You could sugar coat it at least.)

“General Advice” Card:
“Never sing or play while you are in company or when neighbors are at home, as it may have a tendency to make them wish you lived in different parts.”
(Ok, the truth is the truth.  As long as my bad singing won’t make my husband leave me, I’m fine.)

“Danger” Card:
“If you do not stop flirting, it will deprive you of the love and esteem of one who loves you sincerely and who is in a position to make you happy.  So beware!”
(Yea, I kinda saw that coming.  Why weren’t the other cards labeled DANGER too?  Sheesh!)

August 28, 2010 – 9:55AM

Last night I was SO TIRED (“How tired were you?!”) that I couldn’t stay awake in my dreams!  In my dream about being at meditative yoga and my dream about being at my friend Kristine’s house, I kept falling asleep in my dream!  Then I had nightmares about a small panther and a bobcat chasing me trying to eat me and then a very strange dream about playing mini-golf (which was really more like bowling) with a blind guy in a wheelchair, but the ball was a cooked potato and there were some really annoying cheerleaders in the way, one of whom I hit in the belly with a small piece of potato and then got in trouble for it.

June 5, 2011 – 3:19PM

            Wow… my house is so dirty right now.  I mean really dirty.  Whatever you are picturing, it’s worse than that.  Example:  There are shoes on my dining room table.  Yeah.  Shoes and piles of mail and some tissues and some cat food and dirty dishes from yesterday and an empty Jamba Juice cup from two days ago and a couple of books and a couple of journals and a set of dominoes and a towel… And that’s just on my dining room table.
            See, my house always gets like this the last week of school.  When summer looms just around the corner, I get bold in my slothy-ness.  Everything from doing laundry to doing dishes to throwing a dirty paper towel into the trash can meets with the same response:  “I’ll do it next week.”  Maybe I’m revealing too much here, but it’s true.  I take care of the necessities, such as bathing and clothing myself and feeding the cats, but the rest… can wait.  And the dirtier and messier my house gets the more satisfying it is to clean it and get it back in order when summer begins.  My M.O. used to be to drink a bunch of caffeine (most in the form of Starbucks chai lattes), put on an old favorite movie or some classic Crazy Cousin Kelley mix CDs and clean like a maniac until 3AM.
            It was awesome.
            But last year, for the first time, I had a husband (who still had to get up and go to work) and I had to adapt my crazy cleaning mode to fit more reasonable hours.  It still got done though, and if I remember correctly it was still pretty awesome.
            But THIS year, I still have a hubby who has to get up for work and I still have a giant mess to clean, but I also have a puppy.  A wonderful puppy who complicates matters a bit.  A)  He has helped to take the end-of-school messiness to a whole new level (i.e. shoes on the dining room table) and B) he is not going to let me go into crazy cleaning mode for 6 hours without needing my attention.  Plus, he’ll probably just follow me through the house messing up what I just cleaned anyway.  So this could be interesting.

September 6, 2012 – 8:32AM

            Yesterday morning in the shower, I was singing “Calling You” by Blue October.  You know, “I will keep CALLING YOU to see, if you’re sleeping are you dreaming, if you’re dreaming are you dreaming of me?”  It’s a song that Mark put on the first mix CD he gave me.  And I decided that if Mark is ever in a coma, that’s the song I will sing to him in his hospital bed to try to wake him up and bring him back to me.
            And then, I thought about what if I’m the one in the coma?  And I realized that he should definitely sing that horrible horrible song “Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders, the one that goes, “Gonna use my FING-ERS!” because I HATE that song and Mark constantly sings it just to make me mad and it works every time.  So if he sang that to me when I was in a coma, I am fairly sure that I would wake up to slap him.
            But last night, as I was lying in bed, hyped up on an Excedrin that I took too late in the day, I realized how horrible it would be if I didn’t wake up, so I told Mark, “Mark!  This morning in the shower I decided that if you’re ever in a coma, I’m going to sing ‘Calling You’ to you, and if I’m ever in a coma, I want you to sing that horrible fingers song to me so it will make me mad enough to wake up, but if I DON’T wake up in, like one minute, then you have to sing something else!  Something sweet!  Because that horrible finger song CANNOT be the last thing I ever hear!  So think of another song.  Tomorrow.  Please.”
            I think he thinks I was kidding, but I wasn’t.

September 6, 2012 – 3:24PM

Hmm… Maybe I’ll post some old journal entries to my blog.  Think anyone would want to read that?