Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Smells Like Halloween Spirit

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Living in the Northeast United States, one has the privilege of witnessing the amazing transformation of the leaves. (Or, leaf peeping as my mother recently informed me it was called. Snort.) Vegetable death and decay mingle with smoke from chimneys to create that comforting autumn smell. And we can’t forget Halloween—my favorite of all holidays. I love dressing up as something evil (witch, vampire, devil) to truly get in touch with my inner demon.

My obsession with ghosts and ghouls probably came about at a young age, when my father introduced my brother and me to Stephen King. King was his favorite author, and when we stayed at his house on weekends, he’d read a bit of it to us before bed. He also took us to see scary films, much to our young delight (and subsequent neuroses)—Pet Sematary, Serpent and the Rainbow, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Candy Man. You name it, we saw it. Of course, while this might have been good to brag to our friends about, as we were the only kids under age 10 seeing this stuff, I still sleep with a nightlight at age 35 and check behind my shower curtain to make sure “Zelda” isn’t lurking.

Every year, when pumpkins blaze from neighbors’ windows and witches and skeletons hang from people’s front doors, I’m reminded of a funny ghost story. It was 1998. I was living abroad in Glasgow, Scotland. My brother came to visit me, and I took him around the city and surrounding areas. One day, we decided to hit Edinburgh, which was a short bus ride away. As we walked around the cobblestone streets, we debated whether or not we should pay the few pounds to go inside the castle. As we discussed the pros and cons,  fate stepped in with a gust of eerie wind, carrying with it a flyer that settled at our feet.

The flyer said Auld Reekie Tours, and boasted a guided visit of creepy underground chambers that used to be part of the old underground city along the Royal Mile...a witches' vault, a torture chamber, and plenty of paranormal activity. What could be more exciting? Then we saw a testimonial on the flyer: “I saw a ghost. I REALLY saw a ghost!” We were sold.

So…down we went, after paying more than we would have to see the castle. A hunchbacked (real or fake?) man in a cape led us and the other gullible tourists into what appeared to be someone’s basement. He pointed out a room that used to be a witches' circle. It was a shadowy corner that we could barely see. Several more empty basement rooms followed. And though it was all dank and dark…I didn’t see any ghosts. In fact, I didn’t see ANYTHING. All the while, “hunchy” told cheesy ghost stories that wouldn’t scare a child, much less a professional horror buff like myself.

At one point the guide turned out his flashlight, making the easily-pleased crowd squeal with delight. Next thing I know, I felt something pelt me. As the lights flickered back on, we saw that he had merely thrown rubber spiders at us. My brother and I covered our mouths to keep from laughing.

As we left the tour, heads hanging, we realized we’d been duped. Not only did we NOT "see a ghost," but not even the torture chamber—i.e., a room with papier mache people being tortured in weird devices—could cheer us up. To "quoth" a famous raven....Nevermore!

Here’s to hoping your Halloween, readers, is truly frightful! And feel free to tell your own ghost story in the comments box.