Sunday, October 31, 2010


Goblins and specters and scares, oh my! Since Hallowe'en is a time for ghost stories, here's mine:

In July of 1966 I was cramming hard for the comprehensive exams for my Master's Degree in English Lit, reading and studying night and day. Wife and kids had been exiled to my parents' house so I could stay focussed at all hours. But of course there came a night when I was almost ready and needed a break. I checked the television listings and settled down on the couch to watch something called The Haunting, which turned out to be a black-and-white movie directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris.

The film was quietly excellent--all eerie, raise-the-hackles stuff without any need for shock cuts or special effects; just subtle things going on, strange drafts and sounds, atonal music and deep-focus camera work showing slightly creepy characters in an old, definitely haunted house. I was completely engrossed...

The couch hugged an inner wall which higher up had a pillared shelf that my wife was using to control some sort of indoor ivy plant, its leafy tendrils wrapped around the pillar, held in place by clear tape.

At a very suspenseful moment in the film, suddenly the tendrils pulled free from the pillar, skittered down the wall and wrapped themselves around my neck! Without using hands or feet, driven by shock and adrenaline I levitated several inches straight up as though momentarily sitting in mid-air. I probably yelped or screamed too, but all I remember is bouncing down on the couch and then right up on my feet, turning towards the wall in confusion and scrabbling at my neck to break free of that damned--truly damned--plant. I had ripped the tendrils into pieces by the time I understood what had happened.

Well, though I calmed down, I just wasn't prepared to resume the movie, so I only saw The Haunting complete some years later. But it still lingers in my brain and maybe in the skin at my throat. And I know the film and shock helped flavor a poem I wrote some time later titled "All Hallow's Eve." I'll only quote the last few lines:

But if November's daylight breaks the spell,
What lingering scream sounds in the head for days?
What dark wooden stake splits the heart two ways?

I commend The Haunting to you. Just don't sit near any plants.

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