From our family to yours: Happy Halloween.
(you’ll find out more about the dog later)
It’s late. I’m sitting by an open window, listening to the wind rattle leaves down the road and bump the ghost against the side of the house. It makes a pleasant “dut…dut…dut” sound when it hits the cedar planks. From time to time, everything grows still, silent, and we wait. We wait for the next gust of wind, we wait for the temperature to drop futher, we wait for winter to come and hibernation to begin. Then the breeze tickles the branches and a dog barks in the distance, bringing us all back to the present, us being me, the leaves, the thumping ghost, maybe the moon, though it’s only a little fingernail clipping in the sky.
I’m out of ghost stories. I thought I had more but I don’t. This doesn’t bode well. Next October, I think I’m just going to post a picture of me in a different festive outfit every day. Not costumes, I’m not that ambitious, but Halloween-themed clothing. I mean, what else do I have now that I’m emptied of paranormal tales? Worse, what am I going to tell you tonight, what will I have for you to read tomorrow morning?
I’m going to tell you about my first nightmare, the first one I remember. I must have been around four-years-old at the time and I think it was the first instance of me realizing just how badly my own mind could betray me, would throw me into dangerous territory, could make me doubt everything I thought I understood about my world.
I woke up in my dream and it was morning. I was wearing my favorite nightgown, a full-length affair with a ruffle at the neck and the ankle as well as around my wrists. It had stripes of blue and orange flowers and a ribbon tied across my chest and another that went above the ruffle at the hem. I got out of bed and walked to the kitchen where breakfast was waiting. It was a fancy breakfast which was exciting as that was definitely out of the ordinary. Mom was at the sink, washing dishes. The basin was full of hot, sudsy water, the foamy bubbles coming all the way to the tops of Mom’s yellow rubber gloves. I was talking to her and she was listening, probably even replying, but I was more interested in the yellow rubber gloves. There were lines all the way down her arm – the line of her short shirt sleeve then the line of her skin then the line of the glove and, finally, the line of the bubbles and the sink. The world turned on its side, then. My mother’s skin started turning green. It crept from inside the glove up her arm, up under her sleeve. Soon, I saw the green creeping up her neck, then her jaw and chin, then her face. Her features transformed, became grotesque and monstrous, witch-like. Her eyes, now red, bulged and she turned them on me. She started shrieking and I started screaming in response. I was terrified. This was my mommy, my caretaker, my protector and she’d just turned green and hideous. (I blame “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s no surprise I have always hated that movie)
I started crying. I wanted to fix the whole thing but when I stepped forward, she grabbed a knife and said she was going to kill me. I took off running. I ran and she chased, caterwauling like a banshee, coming after me, gaining, intent on ending my life. I ran out the front door to find my dad chopping wood. He was in full woodsman regalia and looked nothing like my actual dad (I know exactly where I got that image; it was from my Little Red Riding Hood book with the dark-haired, handsome wood-chopping man in his red and black flannel, suspenders, knit hat, rolled pants, and tough boots) I stumbled to him and he immediately saw the situation. He knew what had to be done. Placing me away from the danger, he took up his axe and calmly went toward my mother, ready to chop her to bits.
I woke up after that. It was still dark. I was tangled in my tiny bedsheets. I wasn’t wearing my favorite nightgown but some undersized adult t-shirt, instead. I was paralyzed with fear, lying alone in my room, the moon shining in through the window. After some time, my heart stopped racing and a terrible sense of loss descended. I started to cry. There was something i needed to do and it was so scary, so terrible for a tiny tot whose world had just come to an end in her dream. I had to go see if my Mom was 1) a monster or 2) dead from being axed to bits.
I crept out of bed and down the hall to my parents’ room. I did that thing that kids do, sneaking up to the bed and lurking, hands on the edge of the mattress, peering at my sleeping mother’s face. Though it was too dark to see, the force of my horrified stare snapped her from her own slumber and she asked me what was wrong. When I answered in what I thought was a normal voice but she said was the saddest little mew she’d ever heard, I asked her, “Mommy…are you green?”
We, the sisters, the daughters, try to go to Mom’s every Saturday to help with chores around the house. Jim’s not doing well right now (he’s sick, too. He thinks it’s leftover shingles, we think it’s a likely alien infestation in is body cavity but he thinks we don’t know what we’re talking about. Like we don’t read books and watch movies, or something. Sheesh) so he’s not quite as energetic as he had been.
Most days, we go over, do the chores, Jim makes us lunch, then we sit around and visit for awhile before finishing up and heading home.
Unrelatedish thought: You know, this is the best way to lose someone. That might sound like crap but I cannot begin to express how thankful I am that we get to spend this time with our mom as a family. She said she knows that she is loved and she hopes we know that we are, too. We do. We wouldn’t have had this had she not gone through chemo; it would have been really ugly. The ugly will still come but now we’ll be better prepared because we’ve had this time to buffer, to say the things we want to say, but, most importantly, just to be together and be a dysfunctional, loving family. It’s the end of the party for her but we all get to stand at the door and chit chat for a little while before she leaves and…man, it’s been amazing.
Back to the story: We kept telling the grandkids that it was important for us all to make good memories right now. I don’t think any of us bought into that, I think we were just trying to make this all a little less horrifying for the children. But you know what? We actually have done just that, enjoyed some shining moments.
The first happened early on. Mom hadn’t started chemo yet but she’d had her hair buzzed in order to prep for the hair-falling-out part. Noelle – and let me just take a minute to say that Noelle has hair vanity like you wouldn’t believe – wanted to do something to support Mom so she suggested we all buzz our own heads. We agreed. On the day we had planned to go baldish, our uncle Charlie, Mom’s brother, and aunt Paula came out for a visit. Uncle Charlie did the hair-butchery for us. He has three boys and a girl and he was in charge of keeping those boys buzzed up all summer long for many, many years. In other words, he was old hat at this game. Speaking of hats (and heads), Charlie and Paula brought pink ballcaps for us all to wear afterward, you know, so we wouldn’t burn our fragile skulls since they’d be mostly naked, and all. Thoughtful!
It turned out to be a fun day. Mom hated it, at first. She didn’t want her daughters to look like Marines. Now, though, she references that day and loves the pictures we took.
Today was another memory-making day, though totally by accident.
Our chores included tearing the tomato plants out of the greenhouse and inspecting the bodies to find any tomatoes that hadn’t been hit by the cold snap. Most of them had been frostbitten, were holey and wormy, or were too underdeveloped to ripen on the windowsill. We put all those bad tomatoes in a bucket and decided to throw them over the fence for the fun of it. But then Noelle remembered how much she loved fried green tomatoes and how do you fry green tomatoes? IN A FRYING PAN! So Britt ran off to get the fying pan that lives in the sandbox and we started a game of Whack-a-mater. It’s like if you mix cricket (the game, not the bug) and tennis…only with tomatoes and a fying pan.
It was such a random thing but we all had the best time laughing, getting tomato splatter all over ourselves, and enjoying each other’s company in the late autumn sunshine.
Had Mom and Jim been able to do the tomato-clearance themselves, this never would have happened but because it was our job, we made a delightful memory, one we’ll talk about for years.
These are the beautiful moments that will carry us all through.
You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.
This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.
April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.
We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.
Oh how wrong we were.
We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.
As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.
That didn’t really help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.
It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?
That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.
I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.
Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.
I’m going to skip the part where I make excuses for my long absence and, instead, jump straight into the meat of things: It is time for HALLOWEEN!
That means it is time for stories and this all crept up on me, despite my watchfulness, so my first ghost story is going to be one that is short and sweet, though a little sad.
I’ve mentioned a time or two that ghosts and I don’t exist on the same plane. I can’t see them, feel them, hear them, sense them. They pass right through me (haunted humor – I’m hilarious) and I am unaware.
Except for this one time.
To back up: A couple of weeks before I was born, my grandmother’s Siamese cat had kittens, a whole litter of ’em. After I was born, my mom and I lived with my grandparents so the kittens and I were raised together. No joke.
Because these kittens were made to be sold, they all found new homes pretty quickly. One was kept for me. They named him Chopin. Apparently, he and I got on quite well and the household felt we should grow up together and so we did.
When Chopin and I were around 12, he came down with feline leukemia and was put to sleep. Well, not all in one day, but it happened in a short span of time.
I’d gone to school knowing my cat was sick and I came home to find no cat at all. That was a hard day, probably the worst of my life up to that point. It still rates in the top 10.
I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so lonely. My bed companion, a constant for my entire life, was gone. There was an empty, cold space where he would have slept. It was horrible.
But then, in the wee, dark hours of the morning, I woke up for no reason. The moonlight was seeping in, I could hear my sisters breathing in their part of the room, and I felt Chopin jump onto my bed. I looked for him and he wasn’t there but all the same, he walked up my side, sat down and purred. I pet him, pet where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t feel him but I could feel him. There was no warmth, no fur, no softness but I could trace his outline all the same. He purred. I cried. And then he was gone. Forever.
He came to tell me goodbye.
Not all ghost stories are scary.
Tonight, I am going to start my cider. I will figure out how to put my Halloween costume together. I will revel in the beginning of my most-favorite season and I think I’m going to take a moment to thank Chopin, my cat, for taking such good care of me.
Welcome to October, my friends. The fun begins!