Three Classic Creepy Stories

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Telltale Heart,” were two of my favorites scary stories as a child. I believe there was an animated version of the former that came on at Halloween time, possibly the Disney version of it. I heard “The Telltale Heart” for the first time in grade five on a narrated lp that our teacher made available. A bit much for most fifth graders perhaps–I know it scared the pants off of me, but I was into that. Come to think of it that teacher was a bit creepy, e.g. he would hide in the closet of the classroom to catch kids who came back in there at recess, which was apparently a huge offence in his book.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, I found these gems on YouTube:

A third tale that I remember was about a man (a lord or count of some kind I think) who brutally traps and burns a whole village of people, but not before an old woman places a curse on him, which leads to him being hunted and devoured by a swarm of rats. I couldn’t trace this particular story, but instead found another supremely creepy H.P. Lovecraft story with a rat theme that I may have read during my Lovecraft phase. You just can’t compete with the guy for creepiness! Read it here: “The Rats in the Walls” full text by H.P. Lovecraft. I also found a condensed version of the story with illustration and narration. I love that the very talented visual interpreter of this tale is offering it free online (you can donate if you really like it): The Rats in the Walls.

What’s So Wonderful (and Horrible) about “The Walking Dead”

The-Walking-Dead-season-5-header

I just watched episode 6, season 4 (“Mind Wars”), of “Falling Skies” and was left, as I often am after watching that series, with a kind of blank, empty feeling. During the scene when Matt, predictably, can’t pull the trigger on his dad’s kidnapper, I recalled writer/director Guillermo Del Toro talking in an interview about the fact that really bad stuff happens to kids in the real world. Fiction should reflect that, he argues, rather than continually portraying children as protected from the worst aspects of life, political, familial and personal. Ensuing from that thought, I found myself thinking about “The Walking Dead” t.v. series, and the truly horrific things that have happened to children therein: Sophia goes missing and after a long fruitless hunt to find her, is discovered as one of the turned captives in Hershel’s barn; Carl chooses to shoot his mother before she turns; Lizzie, out of utter confusion and frustration, stabs her sister to death, and Carol, who loves her, shoots her to protect baby Judith and others whom Lizzie might harm.

After describing the last scenario with Carol and the girls to my husband, who was not able to keep up with the series with me (but who, I should point out, got me hooked on it in the first place!) he declared he might not be able to watch it anymore. I will admit, “The Grove” was pretty over-the-top for me as well. And yet, as dismally bleak and heartbreaking as it was, there was also, in the terrific sadness of it, something satisfying. The satisfaction, for me, is in the realism of the show. Yes, it’s a show about zombies, but they are almost beside the point. The real point is to watch a group of people try to survive and make some sort of meaning out of a post-apocalyptic world, to redefine their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions. This is theoretically the same starting point as “Falling Skies” (just substitute alien invasion for zombie epidemic) but there is no comparison when it comes to realism. On “Falling Skies,” everyone looks pretty clean, well-rested and well-fed even while living in the alien-run “ghetto”; on “The Walking Dead” people generally look filthy, exhausted, and starving. On “Falling Skies” there is always a heroic plan (or several) underway that may at least partially succeed, and allies to assist; on “The Walking Dead” there is often no plan, allies frequently turn on you, literally and figuratively, and yes, important characters die. And die horribly. On “Falling Skies” the worst thing the badass tough-guy character does is hoard food; on “The Walking Dead” the latest badass orders people beaten to death, and children raped in front of their parents. Shudder.

Isn’t this all too much? Maybe. I may reach a point where I can’t endure the hopelessness, depravity and cruelty and have to stop watching too. Yet I have an emotional investment in these characters, and unlike “Falling Skies” where it feels like humanity’s survival is at stake, but not much is at stake for the main characters–you know they will come out o.k., and not changed in any substantial way–on “The Walking Dead” what’s at stake is each character’s very soul. I care for these characters, even in their darkest moments. Because of their darkest moments. Their bravery and heroism, when it surfaces, is so much more meaningful because of them. Who can forget Hershel’s magnanimous smile before he is beheaded? Glenn and Maggie’s reunion? Carol’s admission of guilt and Tyreese’s forgiveness of her? The real heart of the show is not the adrenaline rush, but the ensuing hush that begs the question: what would you have done, and what would it have cost you to do it?

So bravo, “Walking Dead,” for being both highly entertaining and deeply meaningful, so wonderful and horrible all at once. Bring on the new season!

What to ask me about my baby . . .

 

image from Wikimedia Commons

image from Wikimedia Commons

 

As a new mother, I have been the recipient ofttimes (sometimes it feels more like the target) of questions about baby milestones, most typically: “Does she sleep through the night?”;  “Is she walking yet?”; and “Is she talking yet?” I realize these questions are asked innocently enough, most of the time, although sometimes they are asked as a set-up for a brag about how early the questioner’s son or daughter slept through the night, walked or talked. I know part of my annoyance with these questions is my own projection: I am anxious about these “milestones,” reading about them constantly and wondering if I need to do something more, or better, to ensure my daughter’s development. I’d prefer to think myself above all that, so it’s psychologically easier to bemoan all “those people” badgering me about milestones, than it is to examine critically my own focus on them.

The tonic, generally, to these anxieties for me is to remember that when I was pregnant, development, for the very most part, took care of itself. All I needed to do was relax, eat, drink, sleep, move my body some, and look what happened: I grew a baby! More accurately, she grew herself through some highly complex, mysterious and sacred process that we may never fully understand, nor necessarily may wish to. So although I certainly have more to do as a mother now that we are separate beings, my daughter is still growing herself and the process is as complex, mysterious and sacred as ever. My job is not to program her (to develop, succeed, accomplish, i.e. to do specific things at specific times) but to nurture her, which is as much, or more, about observing and appreciating as it is doing. In all the world, of all people everywhere, she is unique, and will find her own way in her own time, and become what she is meant to become, i.e. fully herself. In this vein I like James Hillman’s “acorn theory,” which posits that we all come into this existence with a particular and utterly individual purpose:

We overload parents today, as if they owned and were totally responsible for their children’s entire fates. Mothers feel that if they do one thing wrong when the child is three, their poor child will have to go to therapy for four years later on in life. This is a heavy burden. The story of the acorn is that you have your own destiny, and that your parents’ tasks are to provide a place in the world where you can grow down into life and to help make it easier for you to carry the destiny you have, which as a child is hard to carry. (http://www.personaltransformation.com/james_hillman.html)

Notice he talks about growing down, rather than ascending through predictable stages of development or maturation. Parents, myself included, also need help in feeling grounded and rooted in their experiences of parenting, so that we may help our children come into themselves.

So, in the interest of helping me, and other parents reduce anxiety about what we are or are not doing and how our babies are “progressing,” here’s a set of alternative questions to ask:

* What is her favorite toy or game right now? What do you think she likes about it?

* How does she communicate? What does she communicate about?

* What makes her laugh? What makes you both laugh?

* What is it like to be her mother? How is it similar to and different from what you imagined?

* What will you remember most about this time in your lives together?

I’m sure you can come up with some other thoughtful, open-ended type questions that show genuine interest in and respect for the uniqueness of my baby, and my family, instead of reflexively asking the typical questions. (And if you’d like to leave me some in your comments, I’d appreciate it–it’ll help me when I work on her baby book.) I think this approach will in turn be a tonic to your inevitable boredom with the typical chit-chat about babies you may be accustomed to making. And remember, if all of this feels too onerous, you’re not obliged to ask anything about my baby: I appreciate conversation about other topics too!

 

 

Back to the Soul of Things

Psyche,_A_Book_of_Myths

 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

 

One of the core elements of a depth psychological perspective is the notion of, or perhaps it is better to say sensitivity to, the soul of things. “Soul” can be a confusing term, however, because for so many it has the singular meaning of an incorporeal, etherial, non-material kernel of one’s personality. Under this view you either “believe in” souls and related ideas like the existence of an afterlife, or you don’t. But depth psychologists use the word soul differently, or at least strive to much of the time. Instead of a “thing” (albeit an immaterial “thing”!), I think of soul as a way of sensing the world that involves attending to dreams, fantasies, and fleeting thoughts/images/feelings that surface and submerge again. It involves noticing patterns, intuiting significances, allowing for mystery. These modes of ensouled experiencing require giving weight to inner experience, equal to that of external events.

For me, being open to the soul perspective enriches my life and imbues it with a sort of reverent wonder. Of course, keeping this perspective alive is not an easy or simple thing much of the time, so I live in the superficial a lot of the time. But doing that tends to make me feel soul-sick, until I find my way back, usually though a kick-in-the-pants dream or nagging recurrent dream. Lately it was the latter: I dreamed over and over that I’ve missed a class in school, that I need to go back and learn the material, start over.

So here I am starting over, coming back: renewing the blog, a modicum of the writing life, and attention to soul, however it should manifest.

 

Angry Poem for October: “The One”

Henry_Meynell_Rheam_-_The_Sorceress_1898

“The Sorceress” Image by Henry Meynell Rheam, 1898, in the public domain

The One

© Lisa E. Coté

Now, when the battle sounds
In the blank recesses of fury,

Who will know me?

And when the devils rise
Out of the cracks between your skin’s dark armor,

Who will name them?

You wanted power, you wanted to be crowned
With more than leaves and feathers:
Blood and pain made a wreath around you,
And you stood in the center like a sorceress,
Tongue as black as poison,
Spitting your curses on the world and heaven.

You would rip their hearts out with your fingers,
Barely a mark left on them,
And bury them with shame.

But who will raise them?

Into the world you charmed your blurry wisdom,
Slippery as an oiled snake on the Tree of Knowledge,
But all the apples rotted on the branch.

Now who will eat them?

I am the one you seek but cannot fathom,
I am the one you love and loathe, together;
I am the one who rattles in your dungeon,
I am the penitence you will not mention
I am the answer and the question
I am the rage that burns itself to heaven
I am the maker and the great un-doer,
And all your paths will lead you all around me:

Stop for a moment,
and I may come to you;

Stop for a moment,
and you may walk through me.

Musings on “The Song of the Morrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Gustave_Courbet_-_Autumn_Sea_-_Google_Art_ProjectPainting “Autumn Sea” by Gustave Courbet, in the public domain. See Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another inspiration entry that comes out of The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales. It was originally published in a collection of Stevenson’s called Fables, in 1902, and since it is in the public domain, and a quick read, I’ve reprinted it below for your convenience.

I could find precious little about this story online (there’s no Wikipedia page for it, nor for the collection). I did discover that a U.K. director called Digby Rumsey has turned the “fable” into a short film, but all I could find was this short clip online. I’d love to watch the whole thing.

As for the tale in question, it’s hard to even describe what happens plot-wise in the story, as it’s more abstract strangeness and inscrutable dream logic than sensible plot moves. What I can tell you: There’s an inexplicably solitary princess living in a forlorn seaside castle, a smiting crone, a lamenting nurse, a dubious piper, and a hauntingly odd refrain about having “no care for the morrow, and no power upon the hour, after the manner of simple men” that implants itself in the princess, leading to her doom–you’ll see. I find the story delightfully creepy in a pleasingly subtle way, and thus deemed it appropriate for our “supernatural horror” October theme. It’s short, so I hope you take the time to read it, and comment.

There are a few sources out there that allude to the influence of Stevenson’s Fables, and this particular story, on Jorge Luis Borges: an interesting connection. And I did find a reference to “The Song of the Morrow” in Alexander Japp’s (2009) book Robert Louis Stevenson, where he asserts the “feeling for symbol,” and “Celtic strain” of this and other tales in the collection. The effect, he says is “as though moonshine, disguising and transfiguring, was laid over all real things, and the secret of the world and life was in its glamour.” (p. 86) Poetically stated, and accurate, I would say.

Indeed, there are lots of symbolic elements, repetition, and a queer symmetry in the tale that works well with the theme of time as an all-powerful usurper and paradoxically, a potential liberator. See what you think . . .

THE SONG OF THE MORROW

The King of Duntrine had a daughter when he was old, and she was the
fairest King’s daughter between two seas; her hair was like spun gold,
and her eyes like pools in a river; and the King gave her a castle upon
the sea beach, with a terrace, and a court of the hewn stone, and four
towers at the four corners. Here she dwelt and grew up, and had no care
for the morrow, and no power upon the hour, after the manner of simple
men.

It befell that she walked one day by the beach of the sea when it was
autumn, and the wind blew from the place of rains; and upon the one hand
of her the sea beat, and upon the other the dead leaves ran. This was
the loneliest beach between two seas, and strange things had been done
there in the ancient ages. Now the King’s daughter was aware of a crone
that sat upon the beach. The sea-foam ran to her feet, and the dead
leaves swarmed about her back, and the rags blew about her face in the
blowing of the wind.

“Now,” said the King’s daughter, and she named a holy name, “this is the
most unhappy old crone between two seas.”

“Daughter of a King,” said the crone, “you dwell in a stone house, and
your hair is like the gold: but what is your profit? Life is not long,
nor lives strong; and you live after the way of simple men, and have no
thought for the morrow and no power upon the hour.”

“Thought for the morrow, that I have,” said the King’s daughter; “but
power upon the hour, that have I not.” And she mused with herself.

Then the crone smote her lean hands one within the other, and laughed
like a sea-gull. “Home!” cried she. “O daughter of a King, home to your
stone house; for the longing is come upon you now, nor can you live any
more after the manner of simple men. Home, and toil and suffer, till the
gift come that will make you bare, and till the man come that will bring
you care.”

The King’s daughter made no more ado, but she turned about and went home
to her house in silence. And when she was come into her chamber she
called for her nurse.

“Nurse,” said the King’s daughter, “thought is come upon me for the
morrow, so that I can live no more after the manner of simple men. Tell
me what I must do that I may have power upon the hour.”

Then the nurse moaned like a snow wind. “Alas!” said she, “that this
thing should be; but the thought is gone into your marrow, nor is there
any cure against the thought. Be it so, then, even as you will; though
power is less than weakness, power shall you have; and though the
thought is colder than winter, yet shall you think it to an end.”

So the King’s daughter sat in her vaulted chamber in the masoned house,
and she thought upon the thought. Nine years she sat; and the sea beat
upon the terrace, and the gulls cried about the turrets, and wind
crooned in the chimneys of the house. Nine years she came not abroad,
nor tasted the clean air, neither saw God’s sky. Nine years she sat and
looked neither to the right nor to the left, nor heard speech of any
one, but thought upon the thought of the morrow. And her nurse fed her
in silence, and she took of the food with her left hand, and ate it
without grace.

Now when the nine years were out, it fell dusk in the autumn, and there
came a sound in the wind like a sound of piping. At that the nurse
lifted up her finger in the vaulted house.

“I hear a sound in the wind,” said she, “that is like the sound of
piping.”

“It is but a little sound,” said the King’s daughter, “but yet it is
sound enough for me.”

So they went down in the dusk to the doors of the house, and along the
beach of the sea. And the waves beat upon the one hand, and upon the
other the dead leaves ran; and the clouds raced in the sky, and the
gulls flew widdershins. And when they came to that part of the beach
where strange things had been done in the ancient ages, lo! there was
the crone, and she was dancing widdershins.

“What makes you dance widdershins, old crone?” said the King’s daughter;
“here upon the bleak beach, between the waves and the dead leaves?”

“I hear a sound in the wind that is like a sound of piping,” quoth she.
“And it is for that that I dance widdershins. For the gift comes that
will make you bare, and the man comes that must bring you care. But for
me the morrow is come that I have thought upon, and the hour of my
power.”

“How comes it, crone,” said the King’s daughter, “that you waver like a
rag, and pale like a dead leaf before my eyes?”

“Because the morrow has come that I have thought upon, and the hour of
my power,” said the crone; and she fell on the beach, and, lo! she was
but stalks of the sea tangle, and dust of the sea sand, and the
sand-lice hopped upon the place of her.

“This is the strangest thing that befell between two seas,” said the
King’s daughter of Duntrine.

But the nurse broke out and moaned like an autumn gale. “I am weary of
the wind,” quoth she; and she bewailed her day.

The King’s daughter was aware of a man upon the beach; he went hooded so
that none might perceive his face, and a pipe was underneath his arm.
The sound of his pipe was like singing wasps, and like the wind that
sings in windlestraw; and it took hold upon men’s ears like the crying
of gulls.

“Are you the comer?” quoth the King’s daughter of Duntrine.

“I am the comer,” said he, “and these are the pipes that a man may hear,
and I have power upon the hour, and this is the song of the morrow.” And
he piped the song of the morrow, and it was as long as years; and the
nurse wept out aloud at the hearing of it.

“This is true,” said the King’s daughter, “that you pipe the song of the
morrow; but that ye have power upon the hour, how may I know that? Show
me a marvel here upon the beach, between the waves and the dead leaves.”

And the man said, “Upon whom?”

“Here is my nurse,” quoth the King’s daughter. “She is weary of the
wind. Show me a good marvel upon her.”

And, lo! the nurse fell upon the beach as it were two handfuls of dead
leaves, and the wind whirled them widdershins, and the sand-lice hopped
between.

“It is true,” said the King’s daughter of Duntrine; “you are the comer,
and you have power upon the hour. Come with me to my stone house.”

So they went by the sea margin, and the man piped the song of the
morrow, and the leaves followed behind them as they went. Then they sat
down together; and the sea beat on the terrace, and the gulls cried
about the towers, and the wind crooned in the chimneys of the house.
Nine years they sat, and every year when it fell autumn, the man said,
“This is the hour, and I have power in it”; and the daughter of the King
said, “Nay, but pipe me the song of the morrow.” And he piped it, and it
was long like years.

Now when the nine years were gone, the King’s daughter of Duntrine got
her to her feet, like one that remembers; and she looked about her in
the masoned house; and all her servants were gone; only the man that
piped sat upon the terrace with the hood upon his face; and as he piped
the leaves ran about the terrace and the sea beat along the wall. Then
she cried to him with a great voice, “This is the hour, and let me see
the power in it.” And with that the wind blew off the hood from the
man’s face, and, lo! there was no man there, only the clothes and the
hood and the pipes tumbled one upon another in a corner of the terrace,
and the dead leaves ran over them.

And the King’s daughter of Duntrine got her to that part of the beach
where strange things had been done in the ancient ages; and there she
sat her down. The sea-foam ran to her feet, and the dead leaves swarmed
about her back, and the veil blew about her face in the blowing of the
wind. And when she lifted up her eyes, there was the daughter of a King
come walking on the beach. Her hair was like the spun gold, and her eyes
like pools in a river, and she had no thought for the morrow and no
power upon the hour, after the manner of simple men.

Who Loves Supernatural Horror?

IncubusCharlesWalker1870Image by Charles Walker, in public domain. See Wikimedia Commons.

I do–I love supernatural horror! Granted, it’s hard to find stellar films and T.V. shows in this horror category, but there are still some greats that stand out for me, such as the fairly recent foreign films “Let the Right One In” (I have yet to see the remake) and “The Orphanage.” As for T.V. I enjoyed “Hemlock Grove,” a Netflix original, and I have grown to like “Grimm,” although I prefer less CGI and more costume/makeup, or better yet, leave-it-to-the-imagination type effects. I think “American Horror Story” is brilliant, although I couldn’t finish watching this past season, because although I can stomach all manner of demons, monsters, aliens, etc., serial killer stories give me a serious case of psychic indigestion. So sadly, I had to give up watching. But I loved the first season, and am looking forward to the witch-themed new season about to start.

I suppose my love of supernatural horror began as a child: I loved borrowing books at the library about vampires and other spooks, and read collections of ghost and macabre stories all summer long, when I could stay up late and take pleasure in scaring myself. Later I read a lot of Stephen King–my favorites of his were Misery and Pet Cemetery. It’s been a while since I’ve read straight out horror fiction, however, so I can’t comment on what’s out there now. If anyone has suggestions, I’d appreciate hearing them.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a little tribute poem, seeing as it is October and all, and proclaim Supernatural Horror as our October theme.

I got the idea for this piece from The Writer’s Portable Mentor, by Priscilla Long which has a chapter on form that assigns an “abecedarium” in which you use the alphabet to develop a themed list. I went beyond that to compose a piece in verse that contains a list of some common but evocative elements from the supernatural horror genre. This extra constraint made the exercise harder, of course,  but  it was a lot of fun to compose, and a great brain teaser.

It would be even more fun to annotate the composition with references, e.g. the use of “hounds of hell” in the T.V. show “Supernatural,” killing by fire in the novel (and film) “Carrie,” the La Llorona story used for an episode of “Grimm.” What’s your favorite (or least favorite) possessed puppet or doll story? Recognize any of your favorite tropes, themes, motifs?

On a technical note, you’ll notice I had to go back to “A” and “B” at the end to complete the last verse, but I think it worked out well. I started with just a plain old ABC list, brainstorming elements off the top of my head, but a lot of those changed as I went along.

Here you go: 

October Ode to the Odious: An Abecedarium of Supernatural Horror

© Lisa E. Coté

Apparitions, fleeting, formless,
Barrows with a secret tomb;
Cryptic signs, perplexing warnings,
Disembodied demons loom.

Elementals raised by magic,
Fear, foreboding, hounds of hell;
Gothic castles, grisly golems,
Hands of glory light the spell.

Incubuses, sordid nightmares,
Jilted lovers’ ghosts prevail;
Killings, both by fire and water,
La Llorona’s guilty wail.

Missing memories, hapless monsters,
Necromancers raise the dead;
Ouija luring naïve seekers,
Puppets pulling strings of dread.

Queerly quiet forest clearings,
Reckless hero’s hopeless quest;
Secret sects with sacrifices,
Tortured souls who cannot rest.

Unseen forces, unctuous odors,
Vampires, voodoo, vanity
Wendigo with raging hunger
Xenophobe insanity.

Yeti stalking frozen wastelands,
Zero hour in zombie zoo;
Apocalypse foretold by seers:
Beelzebub is after you!