Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Dare"...A Halloween Story...

What follows is a story I wrote a number of years ago (c. 1995). I initially wrote it with the intention of submitting it to children's short story contests...which I never got around to. I did do quite a bit of looking in search of competitions to submit it to, but finding them proved difficult. Anyway, since it is written in the spirit of the current season (All Hallows), I'm posting it here. :)

The grey evening was chill. Chaotically shaped dead leaves danced in the playful breezes of the approaching night. Naked trees stood like sentinels, their bare and twisted branches creaking ever so slightly. Amid the moaning winds, there could be heard the faint eerie laughing of the spirit. The spirit of Halloween.

This was the scene that surrounded the house. It was the only company the old mansion had. No one had lived inside its walls for quite some time...and no one ever would. You see, no visitors from the town came here. The word had been out for years about this place, and that word was ‘haunted’.

Young Billy Jenkins had grown up in total belief. Every year, he and his cohorts would don the creepiest costumes their imaginations could create (they always made their own costumes), and then they would troop past Trenton manor, each grasping the others hand with a small sweaty palm, their knuckles whitening with the grip of fright. Sam Crandal, the group’s self-appointed leader, would stop just in front of the rickety gate. In a loud bold voice, he would challenge anyone from the group to steal up the long gnarled path, and mount the front steps to the sagging porch to remain there for a count of ten. To most it would not have sounded like such a tall order. Walk up the path to the porch, and stand there while you counted to ten. Easy, right? No one ever took up the challenge. They knew better. All were convinced that nothing but doom lay in wait for the fool who entered the fenced in yard. There were all sorts of stories of victims past, but the cold feelings of evil unseen were all they needed to keep them to the sidewalk. The challenge unmet, the throng would continue on their night of sweet gathering and mischief making.

It was perfect. From the black high collared cape his mother had made him, to the white face make-up he had smeared over his features. A black eye pencil had accented his eyebrows and lips. He now retrieved the finishing touch from his dresser. Opening wide, Billy inserted the plastic hinged fangs into his mouth. The package had said ‘Frighteningly Life Like’, and Billy had to agree. He would be the scariest Count in the neighborhood. Maybe this year he would be the proud winner of the costume contest at Danica Miller’s Halloween party. After dripping fake blood at the corners of his mouth, Billy trotted downstairs to answer the ringing doorbell.

It was the gang. They were all decked out in their new costumes and looked appraisingly at Billy’s Dracula cape. Sam Crandall stepped forward to the front of the group, silver plastic bolts protruding from his green neck. Behind Sam, Billy could make out a wolf man, a zombie, and a wizard. It appeared that he wasn’t the only one who had out done themselves this year. Grabbing his candy bag from the entryway table, Billy stepped over the threshold and into the crisp night air with his friends. No one spoke. They all knew where to go. Another year had passed and their ritual had begun once more.

They met several other groups of ghouls on their trek to Trenton Manor. As they neared the patch of land on which the house stood, the houses in the neighborhood became fewer as did the street lamps. The air seemed to grow cooler and the moaning of the wind became louder. It was as it always was.

The house loomed larger as they approached, the only sign of its presence being a huge house-shaped black mound. They were almost there. What would happen this time? Billy felt that tonight there would be something more, and the feeling made him shudder.

As the small group of monsters arrived at the decrepit fence, Billy took out his teeth and popped a chocolate he had taken from the bowl of candy his mother had bought into his mouth. The sweetness of the candy gave him a strange sort of reassurance, but it didn’t last long.
The ritual continued on its usual course. Sam Crandal stepped to the gate and stood there, the dark shadow of his flat green head blending momentarily with the shadows of the house. Crossing his arms across his chest, Sam made his challenge. His dare.

Who would do it? Billy knew deep inside his gut that someone was going to walk up that rough and craggy path. But who would it be? Just as the question entered his mind, he had his answer.

Dave Williams spoke up from the back, his wolf teeth slurring his speech. This was different. No one had ever responded before. There had always been a silent answer that had come from all of them as a whole. Now Dave was breaking the chain. He was issuing a new challenge…and it was directed at Sam Crandal.

Sam had always dared them to go up to the house. He was the one who had announced that day long ago that HE was in charge. Well, if he was so smart and so fearless why didn’t he walk up to the house? He had always called them chickens when they had backed away from his challenge. Well, now it was time to see who the real chicken was.

Sam’s heart began to pound in his chest, and a swarm of butterflies began churning around in his stomach. He looked around at all of their painted and masked faces poking at him through the darkness. Would he go? Could it be that he was the biggest chicken of them all? Cold sweat popped out on his face, the black scar drawn on his forehead smearing. Sam knew there was only one thing he could do. Swallowing back the lump edging up his throat, he nodded. Sam would go.

As if on cue, the bright full harvest moon pulled a blanket of wispy grey clouds over its face. What light had been filtering down to earth was now gone. Sam Crandal looked over at his companions once more, the glow of Billy’s white face standing out among them. His eyes paused momentarily on Count Dracula, a twinge of helplessness touching his panicked eyes. He tried to force the lump in his throat away all together. He swallowed hard, the sound audible to all. Slowly turning to the rickety gate, Sam reached out a shaking hand.

The long unused hinges had turned to rust. When they were put to work the rotting wood gave and clattered to the ground. Behind Sam the boys all jumped, barely able to breathe at this point. They were all petrified with fear, but glad it wasn’t them going.

Stepping over the fallen boards, Sam stopped for a moment and stared up the winding path. Through the darkness he could faintly make out the huge double doors leering at him through a gap between two gnarled trees. The mouth. Trying to chip away a little of his fear, Sam reluctantly stepped forward. Slowly he took another step. And another. He was no more than twenty feet away from his friends, but the distance felt like miles. He wanted desperately to look back to reassure himself that he wasn’t alone, but he knew that if he did that it would break down what little courage he had. Most importantly, he would lose whatever respect the rest of the gang had for him. Reluctant fear coursing through him, he continued up the path.

The wind whispered his name. Scattered rocks poked at his feet through the soles of his tennis shoes. Pulling his blue windbreaker closer about him, he looked ahead. There were the front stairs. Weeds grew up around them, and a couple of boards were missing. His steps faltered, but he pushed himself on. After all he couldn’t let them think he was a chicken. Could he? A twig cracked loudly under his feet and he jumped. His mind shifted into panic mode for a moment. Were they still there? Were his friends still waiting for him on the safety of the sidewalk? He desperately wanted to look back. No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He was almost there. Up to the porch for a count of ten. That was all he had left to do. Then he could run away.

As he reached the bottom step, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. His head snapped to the right. Who’s there? The form of a thin rabbit bounded into a bramble bush. His heart was beating feverishly now. Lifting his foot, he placed it on the bottom step. It creaked. Then the next. It snapped a little, but held. Now for the final step up to the porch. As his weight shifted forward, the boards of the old porch groaned. It was as if the house was giving Sam a malevolent salutation. It was as if it had been waiting for his visit. Okay. He was here. Time to get this over with. As loud as he could, he started the countdown. “ONE!”

Back at the sidewalk, they had been whispering nervously to each other. They were glad that it wasn’t them walking up there. Billy pulled his Dracula cape around him for warmth. It had seemed like forever since Sam had left them. Just when he was about to give up, Billy heard a voice bite through the murky air. It was Sam. Sam had made it. Billy visibly calmed and he sensed the same reaction around him.

Sam’s voice invaded the air again. “TWO!” And again. “THREE!” Billy looked over at the wizard, who was chewing anxiously on the end of his wand. “FOUR!” He looked at the zombie, who was gnawing vigorously on his lower lip. “FIVE!” He looked at the wolf man, who seemed to be scratching at imaginary fleas. Billy swallowed and looked back toward the house. Halfway there. Sam was halfway there.

Back at the porch, Sam’s heart was beating even harder. It felt like it had risen several inches up in his throat. “SIX!” He had really begun to yell now, and was starting to get a little hoarse. “SEVEN!”

What was that behind him? He spun around and stumbled. The sensation of his hair standing on end washed over his body. A broken window shutter banged lazily against the side of the house. That must be what he had heard. Sam turned back around to face towards his friends and the safety of the street. He was almost finished. He was more than halfway there. “EIGHT!”

Billy and the others heard Sam call out, mouthing the number along with him. They shifted nervously in their places next to each other. Again they heard him. “NINE!” Collectively the boys felt a surge of excitement. A surge of relief. Sam was almost done. He was almost there.

They waited. The clouds moving across the bright moon caused the shadows in the Manor’s yard to twist and shift eerily. They were met with silence. Billy felt the fear from before start to move through him again. There was supposed to be a ‘ten’. Just one more and Sam was done. They waited. And waited. It didn’t come.

Was this some sort of joke? They had questioned Sam’s strength of courage. Maybe he was trying to teach them a lesson. Billy wouldn’t put it past him. They did call Sam a chicken. He had probably left through the side of the yard and was on his way to Danica Miller’s house. It would be just like Sam to leave them standing there in sheer panic while he was laughing all the way to the party.

This wasn’t funny. Several minutes had passed and there was no sign of Sam Crandal. Billy called out for him, his breath faint smoke on the chilly air. There was no answer. The scary thing was he hadn’t expected one. They could go up to the house and look for him. No, it would be ridiculous to even suggest that.

They all stood looking at each other. What were they to do? It was at that moment that the moon decided to throw off its blanket of clouds. Thick, bright beams of moonlight angled their way to the ground. Billy and his companions could now see the fence covered with its peeling paint. Their eyes followed the rock strewn path through the twisted boughs of the Oaks and Willows that guarded the dead yard.

Finally, their eyes came to rest on the huge master of this bit of acreage. Trenton Manor. It glowered at them from its nest of weeds and brush. Billy looked to the upstairs windows. They stared back at him like two dark eyes. He looked lower to the porch. Its sagging and splintered middle sent a chill straight up his spine. The old porch brought the mansion to an evil life. Trenton Manor was smiling. And Sam Crandall was nowhere to be seen.

The terrified group went screaming down the road like a scared gaggle of geese. Billy made to follow, but stopped for one last glance back. He turned just in time to see one of the front doors was standing slightly ajar. What was that? It was laying in the door opening on the porch floor.  It looked…blue. The realization of what it was hit Billy, and he screamed. “SSAAAAMMMMM!” It was then that the blue windbreaker was yanked away into the house. As if struck with great force from the inside, the door banged solidly shut.
 Billy ran all the way home.

Sam Crandal was never heard from again. There were all sorts of stories filtering through town, but no one really knew what happened. That is, no one but those who had been there. The wizard and the wolf man knew. So did the zombie. And Billy Jenkins knew, too. None of the boys returned to the house. The truth of that night was now their deepest and darkest secret. Their ritual had been abandoned for good. It had gone with the memory of Sam Crandal.

But Billy knew one thing was for sure. Where ever Sam Crandal was…he was not alone.
("The Dare", by: Lisa Erin Brown  (c) )

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hallowmas Eve...2013...

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. We are roughly an hour away from the 31st, the day that leads up to All Hallow's Eve. Costumes will be donned, candy will be handed out, and mischief making will be the order of business for some. This year will be my first in many years that will be spent working. My place of work welcomes its employees to dress for the occasion, but my jury is still out. I haven't had much time to prepare something to wear. This evening some possibilities started to circulate among my grey cells, so I may end up doing something in the spirit of Halloween after all. Stranger things have happened.

The yearly celebration of Samhain, marks the time of the third and final harvest. It also marks the start of the darker half of the year with the Winter Solstice and the start of the Oak King's rein soon to follow.

Samhain is when the thinning of the veils brings the realms of the living and the dead closer than any other time during the year. It is a time to celebrate ones ancestors, and if you're lucky enough, to have those ancestors contact you with information to aid you during the coming year.

Unfortunately, I have not lived in places over the last many years where 'trick or treating' was observed. I have missed seeing the costumed kids expressing their creativity. Normally I like to do some sort of decorating around my home for myself...I love Halloween, so why not? This year I decided to make a couple of things. Since I work in a craft store it seemed the thing to do. Nothing very elaborate, but I am satisfied with the outcome. A Halloween wreath that hangs on my front door, and a felt Jack O'Lantern pin. The pin might end up being the extent of my dressing up for work. Better something than nothing, I suppose.
I hope everyone has a happy and fun Halloween, with a spooky treat filled night. To all of my pagan/wiccan friends, wishing you a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Autumnal Marsh....

Autumn is visibly here on the marsh. Temperatures have dipped a bit. Each day has a moody quality. Even the ones that are bright and sunny.

For me the wait had seemed interminable. If I had my way, Autumn would be a perpetual state. The often torturous heat of Summer wouldn't be a factor, and the intense biting cold of deep winter wouldn't either. Every day would be filled with the vibrant matte colors of dusky rust, mustard yellow, and brown. Cool breezes would play through branch and leaf, encircling my sweater clad body out for an introspective stroll. My favorite time of year for communing with nature. Sublime.

Going out for my strolls had fallen to the back burner for awhile. Life was getting in the way. The necessities of work had taken over, as had the need for duties around the home...which I refer to as my second job. Creativity is such a part of my core, and neglecting that large part of who I am was starting to wear on me. My aforementioned strolls are a part of my creative necessity as I enjoy the therapy of photography during those bits of escapism. However, my creative streak stretches well beyond that. I have always known that indulging in a creative project is vital to my existence...the past many months have made it glaringly obvious. I needed to vent my frustration, so I put life on the back burner and resumed my strolls. Sublime.

With the coming of Mabon (Autumnal Equinox), there have been a variety of changes. One has been the loud presence of the Cicadas. This photo of a carcass is my second shot of being able to photograph one of the cacauphonous bugs (the other time was a living bug). They can't be seen in the photo, but there was a line of ants busily at work feeding off of the strangely beautiful form. As Autumn has moved in to claim residence for the next several months, the chirping drone of the masses of cicadas has been fading away. I can no longer hear them calling out in unison while watching TV in my livingroom with the door closed. Many may find the sound annoying, but I found it soothing. Especially when I was out walking in the evening. I don't know how much longer the last of them will be hanging around, so this may be a tad premature...goodbye until next year, cicadas.

Another one of my favorite things (aside from Autumn) is the Moon. The giant mirror of the sky. I caught it as it moved through its monthly cycle, showing itself during the sunlit day. It was less than a week away from its big appearance in all of its full glory. When the sun hits it making it into a huge fresnel lighting my part of the world. It was really beautiful hanging over the marsh.

The many hued shades of Autumn can be seen across the expanse of marsh grass. The cool temperatures over there are welcome (it's always a bit cooler and breezier by the marsh no matter the time of year), but it won't be perfect weather to walk along the marsh line until the mosquitoes are officially out of the picture for this year. They are still quite annoying as they dive bomb looking for a space of open succulent flesh to feed on.

Since moving back to Georgia roughly five years ago, I have redeveloped a love of clouds. I lived in Los Angeles, California, where true clouds have to battle with a thick blanket of man made smog. I hadn't seen real clouds for years. Whenever I have commented on how beautiful the clouds are here to my father, he has chuckled...guess that sounds silly to some. I think if he were here, if he could see the clouds that I see, his response would be different. The sky here on the coast of the Atlantic is...well, it's exquisite. No better word I can think of. The form. The range of color. There is something so beautiful and hypnotic about the sky on the Georgia coast. Nothing to spoil it. No police helicopters. No sirens, or car horns. No loud neighbors. Sublime.

Walking by the marsh I could see several boats cutting through the blue water of the Bull River, their engines kicking out heady waves behind. As we head into cooler times, the sight of boats on the river will taper off.

One of the prominent features here is the bushy growths of Pampas grass. They are especially bushy right now. I haven't really paid much attention to their growing cycles, but I expect they will "bush out" here in the not too distant future and will get pruned back. Almost to the ground. The feathery plumes are quite pretty in their way. I keep thinking that I should grab a few to dry and keep inside...the possibility of hitchhiker bugs has kept me from doing it.

The air plant, Spanish Moss, that covers most of the trees is pretty much present year round. It adds so much energy to Savannah. I creates a sense of mystery that pervades every nook and cranny of this town. It's something I never tire of.

The Autumnal marsh is all around me, and it will continue to evolve into its full glory. I look forward to more walks as the season settles in. More walks along the marsh, and beyond. Tybee Island. The Laurel Grove Cemetery. Places I haven't explored yet.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Mother's Things...

When my mother left this mortal coil a few years ago, as many children do, my brother and I set about sorting through her belongings. I have heard stories from people I have known over the years about avarice filled pitched battles, declared over the estate of a passed loved one. This was far from the case with us. With my brother and I. It was all very mellow and agreeable.

I had never been faced with anything like that before. Dividing elements of a parent’s estate. Amid the grief and confusion swirling inside my head, I had to lay claim to things I had either never seen or hadn’t seen in many years. For as many things as I didn’t recognize, there was an equal amount of items I did know. Things I had seen before. Some of which held old memories for me. Not expansive memories. Flashes. Nuggets. Even slivers of memory.

After the sorting process, amid the articles I was taking home were two pieces of art. My mother the artist had acquired a number of art pieces over the years, many from artists she was either acquainted with or knew as friends. Many of the art pieces were in absentia. I figured that they may have become sad casualties of past moves, or she may have given some away. She and I were estranged for many years, so I haven’t a clue. At any rate, I was glad to see two objects that I remembered vividly. The two art pieces are displayed in my livingroom here on the marsh. Before I get to the two items, and their corresponding memories, I need to mention the source of their introduction.

As a Georgia native, I grew up in Atlanta. It was the mid-1970’s, and my mother got a job working at a gallery. Located in an area known as Buckhead, The Signature Shop was the brainchild of shop owner Blanche Reeves. For many, many years, the shop had/has been nationally known for quality handmade art. The gallery is still there in the same location, even though Blanche is no longer with us. I remember her as being nice, but also tough in a no nonsense way. It was a nice shop. I enjoyed looking at the art, and it was there in many different mediums. Blanche gave a number of artists their start at The Signature Shop. ‘Visibility’ that is. Although my mother would meet and strike up friendships with a number of talented artists while working there, my focus is on the two that created the pieces I have.

( A rather fuzzy photo of Glen and Susan Lapekas at the Inman Park Art Festival, c. 1975...or mother had written the festival name and the year (followed by a question mark) on the back of the picture.)
Glen Lapekas was a young and talented potter in his mid-20’s. I remember visiting Glen and his wife, Susan, at their home with my mother. This is where my memory flashes a bit. I can remember him showing us his kiln, and his pottery room. My mother had one or two other pots he had made, but the one I have (the only one remaining) is the one I always liked. A glazed taxi cab.

My other memories of him surround a show poster. I think it was for his first big professional show. It had a nice layout, that would take on an eerie vibe. My mother got a phone call. Glen Lapekas had been killed in a late night auto accident. He was only 26. On the show poster, there were four photos of a chair. In three Glen was seated in different positions. In the fourth, the chair was empty. I can remember thinking that the poster was a portent. A horrible predictor. Twas truly sad. Such a nice and talented guy. He had so much more to create.

(Ed Moulthrop with some of his creations) 
The second of the pieces is a wooden bowl. Known as the “father of modern woodturning”, Ed Moulthrop was instrumental in changing woodturning from being viewed as a craft to being viewed as an art form. A noted architect, he taught himself the art of woodturning. He created a special lathe and longer tools to accommodate the larger scale pieces he produced. He had a preference for diseased wood, or wood with fungal infestation. Wood others would have passed by. Ed liked the color range he got. He developed a treatment for giving his bowls a high gloss sheen that also strengthened them. Ed Moulthrop bowls are in many private collections. I read where Bill Clinton gave one to Nelson Mandela. They are included in many museum permanent collections, from MOMA to the Smithsonian.

Ed Moulthrop was an extremely nice chap. Another artist my mother befriended while working at The Signature Shop. She had really wanted one of his bowls, but they were very pricey even back then. My Moulthrop memory is from an invite from Ed. He invited my mother, brother, and myself to his home to meet his family and see his shop. I remember it being very rustic with wood beams and such. I also remember that there was a steep hill/grade in front of the house where a ski slope had been constructed. It was covered in wood shavings instead of snow. If memory serves, we stayed the night. One thing I clearly remember was having a really bad head cold. Couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. It was that Moulthrop family visit where I was first introduced to nasal spray. It felt more like battery acid, but it did clear my sinuses. (lol…interesting the things one remembers)

(My Moulthrop Bowl: two side shots, the one on the right featuring the crack Ed filled;
the center photo shows Ed's stamp, and his name and the wood type etched into the bottom.)
Back to the bowl…Ed had a bowl made out of cherry wood that had cracked, but that he had repaired. It is the bowl I now have. My brother and I remember him gifting it to my mother. It’s a lovely bowl. The crack can clearly be seen, but it doesn’t detract from its beauty. Lately, I have wondered about its value. I did some looking locally for an appraiser, but had no luck. I don’t think it can be considered an antique as it isn’t at least 100 years old (I think that’s the requirement). A fine art appraiser is probably what I need. Maybe someone at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) might be able to do it, I don’t know. It’s not that I’m looking to sell it. Just curious. Maybe it being a personal gift from Ed would be a plus to its value? Yes, it is cracked, but maybe the fact that Ed cracked it and repaired it himself would add something? Who knows. I have seen similar Moulthrop bowls online that have sold for several thousand dollars, but those are not flawed. Oh well…as I said, I’m not looking to sell, just curious as to its appraisal value.

(Me, c. 1977)
Wondering about the value of this Ed Moulthrop bowl has started snippets of memory to return. Some say that every event in our lives is stored within our subconscious in the form of memories. It's just a matter of tapping into those old memories and pulling them forward. Call them whatever you want...trigger objects...the Lapekas taxi, and the Moultrop bowl keep small bits of stored data from my past popping to the surface of my conscious mind. Remembrances not necessarily directly related to the objects, but associated with the time frame in which they entered the scope of my life. Memories both bitter and sweet. 

I have a few other items of my mother's from the long past that are tucked away in boxes. I think I'll bring a few of those out. Maybe they have things to remind me of, as well...