One of my favorite Halloween columns.

A simple idea, really - I'd long wanted to set down some of the tales I'd heard from friends and acquaintances throughout the years. As it turns out, I now have enough for a second column, and may return to this theme this year.

Yes, each and every one of these was told to me as gospel truth by the very people these creepy events allegedly happened to!

Additionally, my little childhood dream is also authentic, as is the conversation with brother Mike, then still in Oregon.

I'm also fond of the little intro and outro . . .


You stand alone on a deserted street. The sun has begun to set.

Dead leaves cascade from trees as if plucked by invisible hands.

You turn your gaze down the street, where the old churchyard stands, unattended, guarding its long buried dead like so many withered secrets.

A cat screams behind you, shattering the silence and making you jump. The wind is picking up now, and you wait. You wait . . .



I was very young when the story I'm about to tell you happened. In fact, I can no longer recall what it was that had frightened me so, though I know that something had just happened, something I perhaps didn't want to remember - something distinctly otherworldly in nature.

And now I was alone, in a dark and altogether unfamiliar place.

And very scared.

Suddenly, a strong adult male hand grabbed me by the shoulder. Waves of relief overcame me - it had to be my father. Surely he would protect me. Minutes passed, his hand still strongly grasping my shoulder, yet he never said a word. It was, I believe, at this point that I began to feel the most disconcerting chill crawl ever so delicately up my young spine.

"Dad?" I called out. "Dad? Dad?"

No response. I called to him again in panic, as the hand on my shoulder tightened its grip.

And it was only then that my invisible companion answered, from behind and above, with the most extraordinarily evil laugh I had ever heard.

Happily, it was at this point that I woke up, though the absolute terror of the experience held me as tightly in its thrall as if I were still in the clutches of that nightmare.

Naturally, I did what all children do in such situations.

I screamed. And screamed. And would not stop even after my parents were at my side.

And for many months after I dreaded falling asleep.

As I said, this all happened when I was but a child, and yet this dream remains as vivid today as it was at the time. Interesting . . .

Now, Stephen King once summed up the Art of creating Horror fiction very neatly: when one is attempting to frighten people via literary means, one ultimately wishes to attain that elusive echelon of Fear Fiction known as Pure Terror, the rarified state when the reader's hairs begin to stand on end, and their surroundings become quietly disturbing - where one feels afraid, and is not altogether certain as to why. If the aspiring author cannot quite get to that level, one opts for Horror (i.e. things jumping out at you, etc.). Finally, if all else fails, one goes for the gross-out.

But Terror, the most exquisitely subtle of fright mechanisms, is the ultimate Holy Grail of Horror Fiction. It is also the most unnerving thing to actually experience in real life. And I think perhaps that one of the reasons the particular nightmare I've just told you about haunts me to this day is that, for me, it was indeed a moment of irrefutable Terror.

And Terror is what we all seem to be looking for at this enchanted time of the year - the Halloween Season.

Not the Gross Out, certainly, as that is as common as a milk carton gone bad, overturning the wrong rock in the backyard to see the Wrong Bugs go scurrying off, seeing too much of a recent car accident while driving by, etc. The Gross Out is such a part of everyday life that it is for the most part simply distasteful, something to turn away from, though perhaps something to joke about later.

It is not necessarily Horror, either, that we seek out. After all, there are enough real horrors in the world today. Every shocking act of violence is horrible enough, one can certainly get one's fill of horror in any half hour news broadcast.

No, the Gross Out and Horror are both relatively everyday occurrences, both very much part of the world we inhabit.

Terror, however, is different.

Terror is being alone in a house, all the doors and windows locked, when suddenly the storm outside knocks out the electricity, and you find yourself alone in the dark, and you find a candle, and scramble around for a match . . .

And something puts a match into your hand.

Terror is being alone in a room, and feeling something tap you on the shoulder. It is the invisible knock on the door, sounds that should not be there, switches that turn on and off by themselves. Terror is feeling someone right behind you when you know you are quite alone, though it can also be as simple as having a conversation with someone, turning away for a second, and turning back to discover your companion has disappeared. Without a trace.

It is everything that is not an accepted part of the world we live in.

Terror is the experience of the Other, the Unknown, the dreaded possibility that something is out there, something not subject to any law of physics, something not bound by the empirical rules of our observable universe.

One imagines that our earliest ancestors were terrified by fire, before they came to understand and harness it. Certainly lightning would have been terrifying, to say nothing of solar eclipses, strange diseases, and the like.

In fact, the Human History is really about our coming to terms with that which terrifies us, since as we discover how the thing works it loses its magical ability to frighten us, and since with this increased knowledge we are able to conquer it.

And so this seemingly bizarre desire to be deliberately terrified each Halloween becomes easier to understand. We delight in being put into a situation deliberately created to scare us, whether it be a Haunted Theme Park or an old Monster Movie. We go willingly into that unknown night, knowing that the origins of this temporary excursion into the dark are decidedly man-made, and knowing as well that we will emerge safely at the end. So does our inherited link to our primitive ancestors manifest itself, for it seems we still to this day want to confront the Unexplained, the Unknowable, as if in facing our fears and innermost terrors we gain some degree of control over them, and hence over ourselves.

Thus, this fascination with Terror is mostly explained, as we realize we are responding to ancient primeval instincts. But that's not quite the whole story.
For, as we all know, being scared is fun.

And, as we also know, Halloween has now evolved into a nearly month-long celebration of seeking out this particular type of fun.

To try to explain this would be as impossible as to be able to adequately define exactly what Fun is. Who can really say why we laugh when we do, why certain things bring such pleasure to us? In truth, much of what drives us as human beings is itself Unknown and Unknowable, a strange mixture of primitive memory, genetic coding, societal rituals and forgotten experiences that, in fact, is probably responsible for the reason we do quite a bit of what it is we do.

Without tackling the whole subject, however, I can offer a bit of insight into our preoccupation with Fear Fiction in one word:


After all, what is better than watching all sorts of terrible, horrible frightening things unfold on the big screen while sitting comfortably in a theatre chair, munching on popcorn? And what better way to appreciate a truly frightening ghost story than curled up in one's own bed, warm and safe against the cold and the dark? And what more perfect scenario for the telling of terrifying tales than to be huddled with a group of friends and family around a roaring fire, while some wise member of the group spins a bit of terrifying lore?

Yes, Terror is in fact quite a bit of fun, isn't it?

Especially in October, heh, heh, heh . . .

With all that in mind, let us return to our stories.

The preceding story which began this column was, of course, a dream I had as a child.

The ones that follow are all real . . .

This being a Book Again column, we should, of course, begin with my brother Mike.
In previous Halloween columns we have explored the ancient and modern history of Halloween ('97), as well as the possibly supernatural origins of the greatest modern haunted house novel, The Haunting of Hill House ('98). In 1999, however, along with some appropriately ghoulish Top Ten lists, I'm afraid I manufactured a little hoax, in the form of a little tale purporting to be the last communications from Mike, who had at the time just moved to Oregon.

As you will recall, we were bombarded with well-meaning inquiries as to whether poor Mike had ever turned up, and I finally took it upon myself to admit the hoax, explaining that the whole thing was a thinly disguised satirical look at some then-current horror films, and that in fact my brother had been the first to read and delight in the reports of his ghostly disappearance.


At this writing my brother Mike is preparing to return to Los Angeles, as he has now experienced all the glories of southern Oregon, from white water rafting to many sightings of deer and other wildlife. It seems, however, that he has experienced a bit more, a bit of decidedly strange activity, if you will. Specifically, there is a door to the laundry room in the house he inhabits that continues to open all by itself. This has happened on several occasions, and on one of the recent occasions Mike had been alone in the house, and felt compelled to call me.

Perhaps it's just that he was all alone, but for whatever reason he was in the laundry room itself when he realized, with absolute certainty, that there was someone standing right behind him.

Naturally, when he turned around, there was no one there.

You may perhaps be asking why the door that opened by itself should be such a cause for concern. After all, even in the absence of a breeze (which, in that part of the house, was nonexistent), houses do settle, don't they?

Well, you see - this door is always kept locked . . .

Now, funnily enough, even as I write these very words, I have just gotten off the phone with Mike. He has been packing for his imminent return to Los Angeles, and is, as I write, alone in that house. He decided to give me a final phone call from Oregon, and it was fortuitous as I was able to tell him I was writing about his experiences, and thus was able to obtain his permission to use his name in the tale. And so we continued talking, and suddenly he stopped in mid-sentence.

"Uh oh," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"The door just opened."

"What, the haunted door?"

"Yeah - I heard it open, and now the cat's fur is standing on end."

"Mike, I have chills."

"You have chills? I have the chills right now!"

And now I have rung off, leaving my poor brother alone in that house. With a door that simply won't stay closed . . .

A door that is always kept locked.

Now, this is not an isolated incident. I have many friends and family members who have had similar uncomfortably close encounters with the supernatural. I shall from here on out be substituting names, as I cannot guarantee that any of them would be particularly happy to have these relatively unusual pieces of their lives flung sporadically onto the World Wide Web for all and sundry to peruse.

I do however guarantee that all the tales are true, as related to me.

And I must admit to a bit of jealousy. After all, I have never had such an encounter of my own. Certainly I have felt things, as in the haunted antique shop in Lake Elsinore I once told you about. However, even when we stayed at the haunted Connecticut mansion I later wrote of, I was one of the only people there who did not have a direct encounter with the Uncanny.

Perhaps I should count my blessings.

Anyway, I hereby offer for your macabre merriment a few short tales, remarkable only because they all actually happened, and happened directly to people I know.


One such person, let's call her "Mary", was looking at houses for sale in the South Bay, quite close to Book Again as I recall. She and a friend entered one particular house, and had not been inside for more than a minute before she turned to her friend and said "Something feels wrong about this house - let's get out of here!"

Later that night, a murder took place inside that very house.

Another acquaintance, let's call him "Tim", was staying at the house of some relatives. It was an old and rather large house, and his cousins (Tim was fairly young at the time) were excitedly regaling him with stories of Strange Happenings inside the house.

The room Tim was staying in opened out onto a long hallway, and on the first night, as he made ready for bed, he heard footsteps.

He opened the door (I wouldn't have - would you?) and stepped out into the hall.
And no one was there - only the sound of footsteps, coming down the hall, coming toward him.

And as he stood there, unable to move, the footsteps reached him - and continued on down the hall, passing right through him!

Another friend, let's call him "Larry", had stopped by to visit a friend of his. As he waited in the living room, he noticed his friend's grandmother sitting opposite him. As she had been ill of late, he was gratified to see that she was again up and about. They nodded and smiled at each other, his friend appeared, and Larry thought nothing more about it.

Until, later that day, he mentioned to his friend in passing that he was happy the grandmother had recovered, and how well she looked.

His friend looked long and hard at Larry, finally informing him that the grandmother had died a week before . . .

Then there's . . . well, we'll call this one "Dave". Dave, his wife, and two kids recently moved into a house in the San Fernando Valley, quite close to me, in fact. The house sits on a corner lot on a larger property that includes a large apartment complex. They live there to this day, and seem happy.

Of course, there have been the strange noises at night, but if you have a house with two kids and two cats you tend to ignore such things.

One thing that they couldn't quite ignore, however, was the power switches. Specifically, there is a sort of master power switch that is always kept on, which has mysteriously fallen into the habit lately of turning itself off each night. All by itself.

A trivial thing, perhaps - that is, until a friendly neighbor some two weeks ago informed them of the history of the house they live in.

As it happens, the original caretaker of the entire property, including the apartment complex, once lived in their house - and died there. Evidently, he never actually left.
As a matter of fact, the last three tenants of the house were actually driven out by the caretaker's ghost . . .

While we're on the subject of recent moves, some friends of mine recently moved into an old Victorian mansion near downtown Los Angeles. The house is, of course, beautiful, as all Victorians are, and would be the perfect setting for any Halloween adventure one could imagine. This particular house had the additional attraction of having been previously inhabited by three elderly sisters, who rarely if ever went out. They were by all accounts rather eccentric, if not positively creepy, and the house was shunned for years by the neighbors - even on Halloween.

The sisters, who we assume owned the place, eventually died, and the place has been a rental property ever since.

Now, the odd strange noise in a house of this age is easily discounted. Old houses do settle quite a bit, and again this household brought a veritable menagerie of dogs and cats with them, so the sounds they began to hear soon after moving in were brushed off.

It wasn't until one of my friends began waking up with strange scratches on his arm that anyone began to wonder if something was perhaps a tiny bit amiss . . .

A month or so after the scratching incidents began, this same friend jolted upright out of bed one night, around three in the morning. And opened his eyes.

And found himself staring at a woman in a very out-of-date Maid's uniform. She made no sound, but simply looked back at him - and then was no longer there.

Certain psychic acquaintances began to visit the place. Many came simply for the odd social event, and had no idea any of this had been going on. Almost all of them immediately sensed that this house still had a few of its previous tenants within its walls . . .

By most accounts, the two principal ghosts are that of a maid and a young child. There is a feeling of sadness, and of violence, associated with them. I may return to this tale as we learn more, for my friends still live there, and as a matter of fact I spent the night there myself two days ago. As usual, I saw nothing.

Oh, I neglected to mention the most interesting thing of all . . .

It seems that there is a section of the house near the basement, a part of the place not rented by my friends but retained by the current owners for storage, that sported what seemed to be an unnecessarily thick expanse of wall. All measurements pointed to a walled up space, which became the subject of some conjecture. Recently, a month or so ago, the owners were doing some remodeling around this area, and began to hammer a hole into the wall.

At which point they discovered a hidden room, one which had been there undisturbed and walled up for over fifty years!

And inside this room was a very large collection of very old knives . . .

I've saved my favorite for last.
This happened some time ago, in the late seventies as I recall. It happened to a friend who I shall call "Debbie". At the time she had just moved out to Los Angeles, and rented a house in the San Fernando Valley with a couple of friends. And, naturally, strange things soon began to happen.

The manifestations that began occurring at this place were a bit odd - this particular poltergeist seemed to prefer sand as its Medium of choice (no pun intended - we'll get to the seance soon enough). They would wake up in their respective rooms and discover large quantities of sand piled all over the floor, particularly in the room of one of Debbie's male roommates, who seemed to bear the brunt of this specter's displeasure.

The sand continued, the usual assortment of strange noises and other unexplained occurrences became commonplace, and at length they decided it was time to move out.

At which point one of them thought for some reason that it would be a good thing to hold a seance on their last night in the house.


The final night came, several friends were in attendance, and they had procured an actual medium for the festivities. All were in high spirits, and awaited the coming ritual with happy anticipation. It had, after all, become quite the mystery - who was this ghost, and why was he (all felt it was male) haunting them?

Besides, what could happen on this, their final night, with so many friends there with them?

Anyway, the ceremony got underway, the medium went into that sort of catatonic state mediums tend to, and indeed it wasn't long before the now entranced medium seemed to be speaking in a different voice.

Somewhat to the disconcertment of all attending, this new voice sounded rather angry. They learned a little about their otherworldly nemesis, mostly that he had once owned the house, and had lived and died there (not altogether a surprising discovery). They then watched in increasing horror as the entity now possessing the medium, this old, guttural, rasping embittered spirit, began to speak louder and louder, growing increasingly angry until he turned to my friend Debbie and began to shriek at her, calling her "Deborah" and hurling bitter invectives her way.

He then turned to the aforementioned fellow who'd borne the brunt of the previous manifestations, and began to scream at him, "Get out of my house! Get out of my house!"

Everyone was beginning to wonder if this was not getting a little out of control. Debbie was understandably shaken, as was a male friend of hers sitting on her right. They were, of course, all holding hands, as that is what one does at seances, and Debbie was holding her friend's hand as tightly as possible. At this point people began to speak up, someone got up and turned on a light, though the medium, silent now, did not awaken from his trance.

Debbie, still terrified, continued to hold her companion's hand. She noticed he was evidently pretty shaken up as well, since he was gripping her hand as tightly as she was gripping his. As a matter of fact, he was gripping her hand really tight. Too tight, in fact, as he was actually hurting her. She tried to pull her hand away, asking her friend to stop -

At which point her friend turned to her, a demonic gleam in his eyes, and, in the exact guttural rasping voice of the spirit, he grinned and said, "What's the matter, Deborah?"
You can imagine the chaos that ensued.

She herself cannot quite remember the exact details of the next few moments. She screamed, people were everywhere, chairs overturned, etc., and it wasn't long before the entire party was outside on the front lawn.

Her friend, once outside, recovered, as did the medium, and that was the last time they heard from their angry visitor from beyond the grave.

For none of them ever entered that house again.


As I said before, the preceding stories were all true. At least, they were all told to me by people I have known and trusted for many years, people to whom this stuff actually happened.

Could they be lying? It's possible, I suppose. It's entirely possible that some were stretching the truth a bit to have a bit of ghostly fun. Yes, perhaps one or two tales are at least partly fictitious.

But not all of them!

Pleasant nightmares . . . heh heh heh . . .

Now the sun has set. Just down the road, in the old churchyard, the ground begins to quake, an old owl hoots its mournful cry, in the far off distance an unearthly howling begins. Leaves bronzed by an ancient summer blow through deserted streets, dancing as if on strings, as if tossed about by unseen hands.
A chill passes through you as you wait as silently as possible in the trees, afraid to move forward, more afraid to keep still. What was that? Someone's pet, perhaps? A fallen leaf?

No, it sounded more like . . . a footstep.

And then there are more and more of them, as silent figures, covered in shrouds or decked in black begin to appear, waiting, waiting . . .

And one by one small lights begin to appear in front of house after house, an earthbound constellation of fiery orange.


And the silence gives way to joyous laughter, as you and your fellow young ghouls emerge onto the street and begin your own haunting parade, sacks in hand.

It's Halloween.