Tag Archives: ghosts

Interview Ghosts before Writing Insensitive Haunted House Stories

I believe that if a writer wants to represent a person from another background they must experience that person’s plight firsthand. Just as a method actor might move into a drug den to better understand addiction so too must the writer. They must live without electricity or running water to portray colonial villagers. They must glue their eyes shut in order to properly portray the blind.

If you want to write about a delinquent who undergoes a perversion treatment, you should inject yourself with toxins whenever you get turned on. If you want to write about a convict who pleas insanity to get out of a felony, you better get yourself put into a facility that offers lobotomies. If you want to write about a salesmen who metamorphizes into an insect you better strap on a pair of antenna and develop a taste for rotten meat.

And if you want to write a ghost story you better prepared to die for your art.

APPROACHING HAUNTINGS WITH UNDERSTANDING

When I set out to write about a haunted house I wanted to cast off the negative stereotypes that plague the genre. Most enchanted establishments aren’t gauntlets full of deathtraps, most of their residents aren’t averse to hosting, and most of their guests don’t find their hair turning white overnight.

Spirits are portrayed as these portrait-stretching chandelier-shifting armor-inhabiting menaces, because too many of their stories are told from a pulse-centric perspective. I set out to change all that by sitting down with some of these marginalized manifestations myself.

PHANTASM OUTREACH

I spent a pretty penny on an authentic Victorian waistcoat with long pigtail coat skirts. I eased it out of the box, draped it across my ironing board, and took a pair sheers to the hem with the reckless abandon of a toddler cutting out a snowflake. Then I slipped into a ruffled shirt, tight pantaloons, and tasseled boots, all of which were in the appropriate shade of grey.

I smeared baby powder across my brow and blue blush down my cheeks. I drew faint teeth across my muzzle. I brushed out a white wig until I achieved the right volume and secured it with handkerchief.

Then came the chains.

With an assortment of padlocks and skeleton keys dangling from my ensemble I practiced my spirit shuffle. Ghosts have always had a light footed swagger that I’ve so admired. I spent hours on the treadmill watching myself in the mirror.

When I was certain I’d mastered my footing I ventured out to the Reinhold estate. The Reinhold estate sat on a cliffside overlooking what was supposed to be the town of Clensington. “A Penitent God-fearing Community.” Or so the WELCOME sign read on the way up the dirt trail.

Zachariah Reinhold built his estate under the presumption that it would be the mayor’s residence once the rest of the town had settled in. The problem was Zachariah wasn’t good at networking and the townsfolk never came.

One night Zachariah called his wife Florence and nine children into the dining hall where they took communion. He had laced the wine with strychnine. It was decades before their skeletons were discovered by urban explorers. They were still sitting at the table in their Sunday bests. The property has since been abandoned, left to the crows and the vines.

Raccoons scurried into the shadows as I staggered into the entrance hall. When thunder rattled through the windows and I was certain the mansion had accepted me as one of its inhabitance.

It was time to meet the Reinholds, to ascend the master staircase and start a dialogue. I went up the steps in a series of herky jerky motions, as a sign of respect toward the residents. One of my chains got caught on a cherub carving at the foot of the railing and jerked me back down. I rolled end over end until I slid across the floor. Then a bird’s nest landed upon my cap, and the eggs ran down my face.

The Reinholds weren’t embracing me as the ally I’d wanted them to see. I wandered through the west wing, zigzagging through the trees that had sprouted through the floorboards, trying desperately to address the spirits in their native dialect, “WhoooOOOooo aaaAAAaaa whoooOOOooo.” But I couldn’t get a dialogue going.

My chains got caught on a coat of arms.

I tried to pry them free without realizing one the padlocks had gotten wedged under my collar. It tore through my waistcoat all the way down through my trousers, leaving me with nothing but the neckerchief wrapped around my head. Then I crashed through the floor and landed in the dilapidated cellar.

It wasn’t until I’d crawled my way back out onto the lawn that I realized it wasn’t my place to go moaning through those cobweb stricken hallways. It was my place to listen.

AN ESOTERIC EPIPHANY

Here I was thinking I was embracing ghost culture, but I was really just appropriating it. Each footfall I’d taken into the Reinhold estate drove them further and further from the realm of the living. These disparaged deities didn’t want anything to do with me.

I was a “breather” flaunting my mortality for all to see. Worse still, the material I’d gathered would only reinforce the toxic stereotypes I was trying to challenge.

REVISING MY APPROACH

I had rethink my presentation before I went back to the house again. I needed to make it clear that I was an apparition advocate, not some thrill seeking, ghost-hunting, tragedy tourist. I needed show the spirits that I was a safe person, not a performative spiritualist who’d go reaching for the sage at the first temporal disturbance.

The first thing I had to change was my problematic outfit. While it was true to the period it was geared toward Zachariah Reinhold, the patriarch of the household, when it was Florence, the matriarch, I should’ve been dressing to impress.

It took forever to find a Victorian nightgown, tights, and slippers that fit me, but once they arrived I splattered them with motor oil. I lathered my biceps in grey body paint and drew lines down my veins in blue eyeshadow, until my arms looked like sculpted marble.

Then came the long black wig.

I hit the Stairmaster hands-first, with my palms on the peddles, and refined my crawling motion in the mirror.

I was almost ready, but I had to perfect my ghostly vernacular or my in intentions would remain unclear. “WhoooOOOooo aaaAAAaaa whoooOOOooo.” Was not a suitable greeting. I had to evoke a lower register, like the gurgle of a mother whose strychnine exposure lead to slow and painful raspatory failure.

PHANTASM OUTREACH PHASE 2

In no time I was back in the Reinhold estate at the foot of the master staircase ready to have another go at meeting the residents. I crawled, foot over shoulder, one step at time. Erosion had warped the wood’s dimension and the effort proved more challenging than it on the Stairmaster. Still, I let out a long low gurgle. Groaning with a wig seeping into my throat proved challenging, as did crawling in oil based body paint, but I managed.

I stood at the head of the stairs and attempted to stretch a knot in my back without breaking character. When I turned toward the hall I saw Florence Reinhold staring at me from around the corner. Her straight black hair hung in front of her face, just as mine did. Her head was bent at a right angle and her ear was grazing the ceiling. Her feet were pointed downward. She was floating.

I was relieved to find I wasn’t filled with an overwhelming urge to slide down the railing and dive into my two-seater smart car. Instead I merely bowed.

When Florence gurgled her head shook like a maraca. I took the intonation to mean. “What are you doing here?”

I explained that I was an author and that I was there to listen and learn so that I might share her unique experience with the world.

Florence sunk her long nails into the baseboard until a crack shot across the woodwork, ceiling tiles rained down, and burst into powder all around me. Florence gurgled. That gurgle became a moan as her jaw clicked free of its hinges one by one. When her jaw sunk down to her chest that moan had grown into a howl. It rippled through the wallpaper, sent cracks through the windows, and shook the estate to its very foundations. Then her jaw retracted, clicked back into her face, and she floated off into the dark recesses of hallway.

I took that long protracted moan as Florence’s blessing and you have her to thank for what you are reading.

Ghost Illustration by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Interview Ghosts before Writing Insensitive Haunted House Stories

Surviving Valentine’s Day

Another Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means it’s time to lower the storm shudders, draw up the staircase, and make sure the panic room is stocked with non-perishables. You know better than to get caught in the foyer when St. Valentine gets here.

Resist the temptation to try to spot him lumbering beneath the street lamps. Don’t go peeking through the keyhole looking for tattered robes. Don’t press your ear to the door to listen for howling on the wind, the clicking of his inverted kneecaps, or bones dragging along the picket fence. He’s out there, raising his own severed head to scan the buildings for life signs, a mangled manifestation just as Emperor Claudius had left him.

Do not attempt to pilot a drone from your roof in an attempt to capture a glimpse of the specter. Do not affix a GoPro to your mailbox or an infrared system to your lawn gnome. Just let the man serve out his punishment in peace, sacrifice your goat, and leave it out on the boulevard like you do every year.

You don’t want to end up like my friend Zeke.

The Cautionary Tale of Ezekiel Lawson

Ezekiel, or Zeke as we called him, was a trophy hunter. The man kept the town’s taxidermist in business until he took to doing it himself. He didn’t have a piece of furniture that hadn’t once been something living. His rumpus room had more fur than wallpaper, with so many antlers they practically an earthquake hazard.

Zeke was day trader, which afforded him the luxury of going on safari. He knew everything about hunting dangerous game. He told stories at the bar, gave us unsolicited lectures on concealment, wind flows, and paw prints. He claimed he took out an entire pack of wolves without reloading his rifle.

“And I did it on a level playing field. No deer stand, no bait, none of that bullshit.”

We never challenged him. After all he had the heads to prove it and he relished in the opportunity to count all six of them out. Still when Zeke said he was going after Valentine’s dire wolves we were all skeptical.

“Valentine is bound by the code of Lupercalia festival to walk those wolves. His punishment for trying to convert one of lord Februus’s followers. Those wolves are trained to sniff out evil spirits, which stands to reason they’re spirits themselves. Are you sure a bullet would do the trick?”

“They leave tracks don’t they?”

“Big as catcher’s mitts.”

“They shit on your lawn don’t they?

“Every damn time.”

“Then beneath them long mangy hides they’re still squishy on the  inside.”

“What about Februus?”

“Please. The underworld is teaming with enchanted beings. You think he’s really going to miss one?”

We conceded that notion into our beers. Every one of us had an encounter with one of Februus’s creature at one time or another.

Still, I wish I’d reminded Zeke where those wolf droppings usually came from.

Zeke raised his mug. “Come on boys. My rumpus room needs a new rug.”

We clinked glasses.

On the morning of February 15thI awoke to my wife’s screams. Melissa had gone out front with the old pooper-scooper, hoping to get a start on those dire wolf droppings, when she spotted a blood trail in the snow. She found poor Zeke’s head in the birdbath, mouth wide open, one eye milky white, the other torn out of the socket with a few out stretched ribbons of muscle trying to cling for it. Half of Zeke’s face was rust colored with dried blood. The other half had been gnawed down to the bone.

That wasn’t what I found most disturbing. Zeke had seen something that night that had turned his raven hair white.

A Word of Caution This Valentine’s Day

You probably already know this, but some of you dumbass thrill seekers need a reminder. February is Februus’s month and Februus is the God of purification. In ancient Etruscan the word februare literally means “a purging.” I know you millennials like to play fast and loose with the old ways, but this is not a date night, not a time for young lovers to go skipping around downtown. Lest you want be ground down to dire wolf droppings.

Lupercalia or “Valentine’s Day,” is a time for Februus to drive dark spirits back to underworld where they belong. It’s not our place to spectate. Our role is to cower in quiet solitude of our fortified vaults, thankful that we’ve been spared for another year.

Now y’all stay safe and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Continue reading Surviving Valentine’s Day

Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

Every reality show needs a villain: a Simon Cowell, a Gordon Ramsay, a Donald Trump, a personality that makes everyone on set nervous. Someone who flies into fits without notice, hurling insults, criticism, and sauce pans at everyone.

Every Bachelor needs a bad bitch that calls out the bumps on the other contestants’ lips. Every courtroom needs a judge who threatens to use her gavel as an enema. Every Jersey dinner table needs a host who’s willing to call a guest a “Prostitution whore!” Demented divas give delicious sound bytes. Give them a 15-second spot and they will make an impression. It’s these villains that get viewers tuning in.

Conflict is the heart of drama and good television thrives on it. So why do so many Ghost-hunting shows have so little of it? For all their dramatic tone they are light on actual drama. As Ghost Hunterswraps up on the SyFy network and looks for a new home for its 12th season might I make a suggestion? Hire me to be your villain.

My background as a horror author makes me uniquely qualified for investigating the paranormal, and my background as an asshole (ask anyone I’ve dated) makes me ideal for reality TV. I could be your Spencer Pratt, your Puck, your Omarose.

As a purveyor of paranormal potboilers I’ve researched my share of supernatural lore. I know the long told legends, the urban myths, and the natural explanations behind them. My research has left me with an entrenched sense of skepticism. Continue reading Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

Death Hacks: Tricks to make Your Afterlife more Fun

Most of you ghosts will haunt the places where you died because you think you have unfinished business there. You’ll spend your days peering out the windows like puppies eager for their masters to return, lingering on the off chance that clairvoyant children will walk through your front doors.

You sentimental specters will extend attic steps, hoping to lure young paranormal investigators into the orgy of evidence you’ve prepared. If they take the bait you’ll tip over lamps to spotlight chests filled with photo albums and records from insane asylums. You’ll run your fingers through journals, pretending to be a gust of wind, until the pages land on the right passage.

You’ll spend your time around the living campaigning for your cause and wondering why your intentions get lost in translation. You’ll roll a tricycle to the site of your unmarked grave and wonder why no one is in a hurry to exhume the body. You’ll have the same epiphany every fledgling phantom has had before you: trying to get anything done by haunting the living is like herding cats.

You’ll get jaded trying to petition deaf ears to your cause. You’ll have telekinetic tantrums, throwing books, upending tables, and burning family photos. The next thing that will happen is you’ll turn on your new tenants. I did. Continue reading Death Hacks: Tricks to make Your Afterlife more Fun

MY BEST PHOTOSHOP COSTUMES FOR HALLOWEEN 2015

Every Halloween season I do a round of digital dress up for the site. Here’s a collection of my best computer generated costumes for Halloween 2015.

Continue reading MY BEST PHOTOSHOP COSTUMES FOR HALLOWEEN 2015

Halloween Announcement Video

Stayed tuned to DrewChial.com all October for horror movie recommendations, audio plays, flash fiction, and Photoshopped Halloween costumes.

Soul Donor

Busted
Busted

Something haunts the attic of my imagination, locked in an old trunk, it watches my movements through the keyhole. While I stack character traits, it lies in wait. While I lay scenes on the card table, it bides its time. While I wave my marker, connecting plot points across the wall, it stares at my rolling chair with bright green eyes, a prince watching a throne, waiting for his time to come.

Entering the attic of my imagination, I find streaks through the floor boards. The trunk sits beneath the window, the keyhole positioned to see out into the real world. Trying to drag it back to its place, I give up part way. Distracted, I read the notecards scattered across the table, I toss half of them to the floor. There’s just no room for them anymore. I need this section of my imagination to process something I’ve been thinking.

Jotting a word down, I set it on the open space. The card says: INDECISION. The floorboards creak. Thunder claps off in the distance. I set the word OBLIVIOUS in an empty spot. There’s a thump. The lights flicker. I set the word UNREQUITED down. There’s a crash behind me, a click, followed by the groaning of a rusty hinge. Turning around, I find the trunk has moved. Its lid has opened on its own.

Peaking inside, a swarm of locusts engulf my eyes.

The trunk was filled with all of my romantic compulsions. Every time I develop feelings for someone, the infernal crate starts filling. The self doubt, the jealousy, the fear of rejection, all these things start rumbling. I can stack books atop it, hammer nails in, put it in a dark corner of the room, but sooner or later the trunk bursts open.

Once that happens, darkness takes over my imagination. My characters break down, my plot points get painted over, and my scenes get scattered. The story I’m developing disappears as the specter of a doomed romance leaves its mark on everything.

2. Trunk

I wrote the following in my early twenties, back when my best ideas were abandon in favor of an overwhelming urge to vent. Its wordy, silly, embarrassing, and completely honest. Recently, I dug it up and gave it the musical treatment. I hope you like it.

(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

Soul Donor

The third law of thermodynamics
The one we all love to hate
I poured my heart into something
That didn’t reciprocate
I syphoned out all my good parts
To feed your perceptually aching machine
I slowed myself to crawl
Just to keep it going

Like a vampire blood donor
Like an eleventh hour Valentine
I put so much of myself in you
But you’d never be mine
You’re feeding off my entropy
I’m running out parts to give
I’ve been dying long enough to know
That dying is no way to live

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

The only law that Murphy had
The one that we all try to break
I left so much room for error
Our foundations were bound to shake
I always came when you were jonesing
For the high only I’d provide
Who knew you could quit cold turkey
And let this whole thing slide

Who knew you’d leave me in this bath tub
In this motel up the street
Dry ice freezing my skin off
You only take the parts you need
When I signed on to be your lover
Did I sign on as a soul donor too?
How could I hate myself enough
To give my love to the likes of you?

It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict

Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic

3. Ghost Hand

Build Your Own Monsters (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

A question for horror writers, do you want your story to get buried in the bogeyman bargain bin, or do you want it to stand out? There are so many imitations of Frankenstein’s monster, that people have forgotten its name isn’t Frankenstein. Dracula has become a heartthrob, and the wolf man has been reduced to the nice guy who finishes last. The mummy’s rags are stitched together with CGI, and Zombies have become cartoon characters who couldn’t even shamble their way through a decent evisceration. The unholy creatures of the night, that kept us shivering beneath the covers, are the good guys now.

When all of your favorite monsters have been recast as superheroes, it’s time to build your own.

Build Your Own Monsters

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

There’s a reason why vampires still rise out of crypts. It’s the same reason why packs of werewolves roam the countrysides, ghosts linger in abandon lighthouses, and demons wait in attics beside Ouija boards and Twister mats. There’s a reason why every flash of bright blue light hides an alien vessel, why squadrons of witches streak across the moon, and why zombies clog the interstate. It’s the same reason why Bloody Marry is on call behind every reflective surface, why trolls make living rooms of covered overpasses, and why every tomb, no matter how far from Egypt, is stacked full of mummies.

These monsters have stood the test of time. They’ve been vetted by generations of storytellers. Each creature has deep cultural roots and instant brand recognition. We see elongated canines, dripping with blood, and we know what to expect. We hear doors slam, see furniture stack, and we anticipate a chill in the air. We see a sickly girl chained to a bed, shouting obscenities, and we expect her head to spin like a sprinkler firing pea soup across the walls.

These creatures have the staying power to crawl up from the pits of the public domain. Their mythos are classics. New works based on them are never dismissed as fan-fiction. Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and if you’re going to be a thief you might as well steal from the best.

Writing a story about vampires or werewolves is like filling out a mad-lib in reverse. The character attributes are already there, all you have to do is come up with the situation. Writers who take on these monsters are like DJs remixing mythologies. The tune never changes, all they have to do is drop a fresh beat. Like grade school students passing a story around, writers using these monsters contribute to an ongoing plot. They expand a vast universe that’s populated with characters with strikingly similar names.

What do you do when you want to tell your own story? Continue reading Build Your Own Monsters