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OCTOBER 5, 2013--SCARY PRODUCE

Here we are again, October, that most hallowed of months, the black and orange season of bats and black cats, candy and costumes. For those of us with a love for the dark and spooky, Halloween is the best time of the year.

Probably the most iconic image associated with Halloween is the bright-orange carved pumpkin known as a Jack O’ Lantern. (In case you were wondering, pumpkins are technically fruits, over 1.5 billion pounds of them are grown annually, and they range in size from less than one pound to over 1,000 pounds.)

The history of the Jack O’ Lantern dates back many many years ago when the people of the British Isles began carving frightening faces, not into pumpkins, but into turnips the size of rutabagas. If large turnips weren’t available, it wasn’t a problem. They’d just use potatoes or beets instead.

Tradition had it that placing the scary-faced vegetables inside doorways and windows on the last night of October would keep evil spirits away. The ancient Celtics believed the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter was a time when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead was at its thinnest, allowing the souls of the dead to easily enter our world. And while some of the travelling ghosts were those of dearly departed friends and family, other wandering souls were not so friendly.

So, if you want to protect your home from unwanted spirits on Halloween, make sure you place a Jack O’ Lantern near your front door or window. If you’re not able to make it down to the local pumpkin patch this season, there’s no need to worry. You can always raid your kitchen for a substitute piece of produce.

Happy Halloween!

 

June 6, 2013—BANANA TREE SERPENTS

Yesterday I was out doing some yard work—pulling weeds from our small pineapple patch and cutting dead leaves from our banana tree. As I was pruning, I came across a long, sloughed-off snakeskin hanging from one of the banana tree’s branches. This discovery was a bit unsettling. I actually like snakes. I just don’t like the thought they could be hanging right over my head.

Still, I feel bad for our slithery friends. Ever since that serpent incident in the Garden of Eden, snakes have gotten a bad rap. Just the word "snake" conjures up quite a few negative images. For example, to be a "snake in the grass" is to be a hidden enemy. "Snake oil" is a term used to describe fake cure-alls sold by quack doctors. It’s even believed snakes were the origin of the of the whole dragon-myth thing. A number of scholars have speculated that early dragon sightings were nothing more than frightened people catching glimpses of some very large snakes. This seems especially likely since many of the earliest dragon sightings described the creatures as huge, serpent-like beings.

A serpent dragon has since come to be known as a "guivre". A guivre is similar to a snake in that it has a long serpentine body with no limbs or wings like those found on classical dragons. Guivres are described as having horned heads and powerful jaws. I guess the best way to describe them would be as large snakes with dragon heads. They were said to be very aggressive, known to attack without provocation. Oddly enough, it’s also said they were afraid of naked humans.

It now occurs to me that while I was doing my yard work, it was a very hot sunny day. And, while I wasn’t exactly naked, I was wearing shorts. If my banana tree snake is indeed a distant relative of the guivre, I can only hope the sight of my pale, skinny legs did not frighten that poor creature right out of its skin.

 

May 04, 2013—HAVE A MAGICALLY DELICIOUS LEPRECHAUN DAY

May 13th is Leprechaun Day. I have no idea how we’re supposed to celebrate this occasion, other than maybe eating a bowlful of magically delicious Lucky Charms cereal. I’ll probably do this since I happen to like Lucky Charms cereal. I can’t say I’m very fond of actual leprechauns though. I’ve yet to read an account of a nice and helpful one. I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that I’ve never heard of any. These little guys have always struck me as sneaky, devious, and downright untrustworthy beings. Granted, I’d probably behave the same way if I had to constantly protect my hoard of gold from greedy humans out to steal it.

Leprechauns originated in Irish mythology. They’re characterized as small, mischievous elves known to play fiddles and earn their living by making dancing shoes for fairies. It’s said the fairies pay them very well, and the leprechauns then put that money into a crock which they bury in the ground. Leprechauns range in size from being small enough to sit on a human’s shoulder, to actually standing two-and-a-half feet tall. While they’re traditionally portrayed as wearing green suits with waistcoats, hats, and buckled shoes, older accounts describe them as wearing red suits. Some people insist female leprechauns exist, but they’re seldom heard of because they’re more difficult to find than their male counterparts.

Supposedly, the best time of day to discover a leprechaun is early in the morning or at dusk. If you’re ever lucky enough to catch one, he’s obliged to tell you where he’s concealed his gold. Be warned though, it won’t be easy to get that info out of him. Being a slick talker, he’ll use almost any form of trickery to avoid revealing the location of his treasure, and is often known to simply vanish into thin air. If all else fails, you can always wait until the next rainbow appears in the sky. It is also believed a leprechaun’s gold can be found hidden at the end of a rainbow.


April 6, 2013--PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY: GETTING THE LAST WORD IN

Today is Plan Your Epitaph Day. (Though, it should be noted that November 2nd is also recognized at PYED.)

An epitaph is a short verse or saying inscribed on the tomb or headstone of the deceased. Sometimes the words have been previously specified by the dead person; at other times the words are chosen by those overseeing the burial process. Some people consider the epitaph to be one’s final statement to the world. That’s why it’s important you plan your own epitaph, rather than let someone else do it for you.

Sadly, epitaphs seem to be a fading tradition. Most headstones today contain only the barest of information about the dearly departed: name, birthday, and death-day. Sometimes the relationship of the dead might be acknowledged, such as: beloved wife and mother. And sometimes, a meaningful image, like a rose or a bible, might be inscribed on the stone. I don’t know about you, but I find those options a bit boring. I intend to spend today coming up with a few clever words of wisdom that I can leave behind when I’m no longer here to speak them for myself.

Here are a few examples of the creative epitaphs found on some real tombstones:

“I told you I was sick.”

“Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.”

“Here lies Lester Moore shot 4 times with a .44, No Les no More.”

“Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”

“Here lies Walter Dudley. He found out too late, Dobermans aren’t cuddly.”

“Consider, friend, as you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you too shall be. Prepare, therefore, to follow me.”
-Scottish tombstone epitaph

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
-Winston Churchill

“That’s all folks”
-Mel Blanc

March 02, 2013—I FEEL IT IN MY BONES

Last week I was racing around cleaning the house, when I did a real boneheaded thing. I was barefoot. I have long toes. I should have known better. I wasn’t paying attention, and as I rushed past a stack of thick-framed posters leaning against the wall, my little toe hung up on the edge of one. The rest of my foot kept going, but my pinky stayed behind for a moment. Now a week later, the smallest of my phalanges is still tender and bruised, so swollen it looks like a big purple peanut. I can only assume I’ve broken the bone in my littlest piggy. Luckily, our bones contain numerous living cells to aid with repair and growth. It shouldn’t be too long before the boo-boo in my baby toe is all healed.

Here are a few more facts to bone up on, as well as a few bony superstitions:

Facts:
-Our bones protect our important organs. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord. The rib cage and sternum protect the lungs and heart. The skull protects the brain, eyes, and the middle and inner ears.
-We’re born with about 300 bones, but many of them fuse together and create bigger ones as we grow into adulthood, leaving us with fewer bones than we started out with.
-Our skulls contain 30 bones.
-The smallest bone in our bodies is the stirrup, located inside our middle ear.

Superstitions:
-Primitive people believed our bones contained the essence of our souls and should therefore be treated with respect.
-Witches and sorcerers use bits of human and animal bones as ingredients in certain spells and charms.
-Bones can be used for purposes of divination by tossing them like dice and observing the patterns they fall in.
-Some people believe mixing powdered bone with other ingredients will cure certain ailments.

Feb. 16, 2013--CARDS, CRYSTALS, AND COOKIES

The other day, I finally got to eat at a new Asian restaurant I’d been wanting to check out. It’s one of those places where you order at the counter, choosing from a variety of ingredients and pretty much customizing your entrée (which is great because I’m one of those annoying picky eaters with a long list of foods I don’t like.) The other cool thing about the place was their yummy fortune cookies. My cookie informed me that a lifetime of happiness lay ahead of me. The words on that little scrap of paper made me happy. I really believed that cookie knew what it was talking about. I liked that cookie. It was kind, as well as wise (which made me feel bad about eating it.) The concept of fortune cookies though, got me to thinking about the whole business of fortune telling.

It turns out, there’s a seemingly endless array of methods to foresee one’s future—from alectryomancy, a form of divination in which birds are observed pecking at grain scattered on the ground, to gastromancy, prophecy that involves interpreting gurgling stomach sounds. Not taking into account Mattel’s Magic 8 Ball, I would have to say it’s the arts of Crystallomancy, Taromancy and Chiromancy that are probably our culture’s most recognized forms of divination. You might know them better as crystal ball gazing, Tarot card reading and palm reading.

Crystallomancy is a method in which a seer peers into a crystal ball, enters a trance-like state, and is able to see into the past, present or future. The crystal ball does not reveal the sought-after information, but is used instead as a tool enabling the seer to achieve a self-hypnotic frame of mind. The ideal crystal ball is perfectly spherical and made of quartz because quartz crystal is believed to increase psychic energy. The size of the ball can vary from those small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, to larger ones three to six inches in diameter and mounted on a wooden or metal stand.

Taromancy is a method of reading Tarot cards in order to see into one’s past, present and future. Some Tarot readers say they are guided by spiritual forces. Others say the cards allow them to tap into their subconscious mind or even into a collective unconscious. A Tarot deck contains 78 cards divided into two parts. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards representing the basic human experiences. Some of the more recognized of these are the Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man and Death. The Minor Arcana is subdivided into four suits: cups, wands, swords and pentacles, from which the suits of our modern-day playing cards (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) are said to have derived.

Chiromancy is the ancient art of deducing someone’s character or fortune by evaluating the lines on his or her palms. The head line refers to a person’s mental faculties, the heart line corresponds to one’s emotional being, the fate line concerns luck, the marriage line foretells happiness in marriage, and the life line depicts lifespan. However, a short life line doesn’t necessarily signify an early death. It could be a sign of long periods of illness. The good news is that life lines can change as a person’s circumstances change. Receiving necessary medical treatment just might lengthen an otherwise scrawny life line. If you happen to be a yummy fortune cookie within easy reach though, I foresee your cookie life as being a very short one indeed.

Feb. 02, 2013—GARGOYLE SECURITY GUARDS

For me, the old year ends with Christmas gifts, and the new year begins with birthday gifts. That’s the advantage of having a January birthday. One of the best birthday gifts I received this week was an awesomely cool gargoyle goblet.

Gargoyles—as is probably evident by the title of this blog—are near and dear to my heart. I’ve long been fascinated by the concept that things aren’t always what they appear to be. Gargoyles are the perfect example of this notion. Despite their frightening appearances, the gargoyle’s job is to frighten away evil spirits and keep the human occupants of their buildings safe from harm. It is said they come to life at night in order to stand guard, and with the sunrise, return to their stony state, crouched upon their perches high above.

If this is true, my family and I should be well-protected by the collection of gargoyle figurines sitting on a ledge in our family room. Technically speaking though, my miniature statues aren’t actually gargoyles; they’re grotesques. A grotesque is a sculpture or carving that serves as a decorative piece. Only those creatures functioning as actual water spouts can rightfully be referred to as gargoyles.

A genuine gargoyle juts out from the upper part of a building, keeping rainwater away from the walls and foundations in order to prevent erosion to the structure. The water runs through a trough cut into the back of the gargoyle and exits through its wide opened mouth. The word ‘gargoyle’ is derived from the old French word gargouille which means throat.
According to French legend, a huge, fire-breathing dragon by the name of La Gargouille once lived in a cave on the banks of the Seine River. It preyed upon the area’s ships and its people. In hopes of appeasing the beast, the citizens would make sacrifices to it each year. Then one day, St. Romanus saved them all by slaying the terrible dragon. The grateful people built a huge fire to get rid of the body, but the beast’s head and neck wouldn’t burn because those parts had become immune to fiery heat. In an excellent example of resourcefulness, the people mounted the head and neck high up on a building to serve as a warning to any other dragon that might be thinking of terrorizing their city.
So if you find yourself pestered by evil spirits or dragons, you might want to try mounting a gargoyle somewhere on your rooftop. If you do, and you hear something scuttling around up there late one night, rest assured it’s just your gargoyle security guard doing its job to keep you safe.

Jan. 19, 2013--SAVED BY THE BELL

Even though Christmas 2012 is now just a fond memory, I’m still enjoying my gifts, or trying to figure out exactly what I’m supposed to do with some of them. One such gift is a cowbell (the hand percussion instrument, not the kind used by herdsmen to keep track of their cows). I even received an accompanying “cowbell beater”, a foot-long wooden stick that looks a lot like a miniature baseball bat.

When you think of bells, the first image that comes to mind might be that of some dumb, boring metal thing that makes loud clanging sounds. If so, you would be wrong. Never underestimate the power of the bell. Over the years, numerous superstitions and beliefs have arisen regarding their mystical powers and the ringing of them.

In many cultures around the world it is believed bells have the ability to scare away various creepy crawlies like mice and snakes, as well as evil spirits. It is said that just the sound of them can send a broomstick-riding witch crashing to the ground. Many people will attach bells to their prized animals in order to protect them from the evil eye.

Church bells are especially powerful. They have been credited with calming violent storms by districting the evil spirits who send forth the wind and the rain. Church bells were also believed to keep plagues away from communities, as well as insure abundant crops at harvest time. To ring a church bell when someone dies is to ring the ‘passing bell’. This is done not only to call the congregation to prayer, but to keep away any bad spirits that might be attracted by the presence of death.

In days of old, stuttering children were thought to be cured by drinking from an upturned bell. Children born as the bell strikes the hours of three, six, nine, or twelve are said to grow up with the gift of second sight and the ability to see ghosts.

Frightening away pests and evil spirits, knocking witches from their brooms, protecting animals from curses, calming storms, preventing plagues, producing crops, curing stuttering, and insuring the gift of second sight is lot of work for the humble bell. Maybe the next time you start to call somebody a dumbbell, you just might reconsider.


Jan. 05, 2013--A CROP OF HORRIPILATION

I hate cold weather. I hate the chattering teeth, the shivering, and all the goose bumps. The only kind of teeth-chattering, shivery, goose bumps I want to experience are those I get while reading a good, hair-raising, scary book.

Goose bumps, as you might know, are also referred to as goose flesh or goose pimples. What you might not know is that a bunch of goose pimples are defined as a “crop” of goose pimples. This strange physical phenomenon occurs when the muscles beneath our skin contract, making our hairs stand on end and causing our flesh to resemble the skin of a freshly plucked goose. While goose bumps might look silly, they’re actually quite useful in helping us retain body heat when we suddenly feel cold. They also aid animals by automatically puffing up feathers and fur, and creating a nice fluffy layer of warmth.

The medical term for goose bumps is cutis anserine. Cutis is Latin for skin, and Anser is Latin for goose, thus translating to: goose skin. Another term for this condition is horripilation, compounded from the Latin words, horrere—which means to stand on end—and pilus—which means hair. Put them together and you have hair standing on end. Not surprisingly, the word Horrere is also used to indicate something so frightening it makes one’s hair stand on end.

Dec. 22, 2012--HERE COMES KRAMPUS CLAWS

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake…Or else he’ll send the Christmas Krampus after you.

Children here in the U.S. might not be familiar with Santa’s sidekick, the Christmas Krampus. And that’s probably just as well. This guy is the stuff of terrifying, mind-bending nightmares. Oh sure, we’ve got our Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come-- that tall, mute, hooded figure pointing his bony finger toward the graveyard; we’ve got the Grinch, a vile, puke-green recluse with a brain full of spiders, a heart full of unwashed socks, and the disposition of a seasick crocodile. We’ve even got reindeers running over Grandma. But our Christmas baddies are nothing compared to the Krampus.

The Christmas Krampus is a creature that originated in the Alpine regions. (Alpine countries are places like Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.) I suppose he can best be described as Santa’s evil business partner. In those countries, Santa doesn’t add bad kids to the naughty list and drop a lump of coal in their stockings; he leaves them to the Krampus to deal with.

The demonic-looking Krampus is a tall, fur-covered beast with horns, pointy ears, a tail, hooves, claws and an absurdly long tongue. It’s his job to accompany St. Nicholas and deliver punishments to all the wicked little children. He beats them with switches, jabs them with a pitchfork and pulls their ears and their hair. He then throws them into a basket which he slings over his shoulder and carries them down to hell where he eats them.

So, if you’ve been a little less than angelic this year, you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Krampus Claws is coming to town.

Dec 15, 2012--DECEMBER 21st, 2012

If many doomsday sayers are correct, this will be my last blog entry. According to their belief, the end of the world is scheduled to occur next week on December 21st, 2012. That’s the date when the Mayan Long Count calendar comes to a sudden end. There is no December 22nd, 2012, or any date afterward included on the lengthy circular calendar created thousands of years ago.

End-of-the-world prophesies range from earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and deadly solar flares, to the sudden appearance of a massive black hole which will swallow up our entire solar system.

Happily, modern-day scholars who’ve studied the calendar have no such fears. They explain the calendar was designed to simply start over again, essentially resetting itself to a line of zeros like a car’s odometer when it passes the 999,999 mile mark.

So what exactly did the Mayans predict about December 21st, 2012? According to those modern-day scholars: nothing. The ancient Mayans left no record of what would happen when the calendar reset.

While the Gloomy Gusses of the world continue to foretell of Earth’s demise, optimists see the calendar’s end as a positive event, the dawn of a new era in human consciousness. Still, others don’t expect anything particularly unusual to happen, that life will go on as it always has.

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you a Happy Mayan New Year. If you’re one of the doomsday sayers, I sure hope you’re wrong. But just in case you’re right, I’m not going to bother writing next week’s blog entry until December 22nd.

Dec. 1, 2012--NIGHTMARES BEFORE CHRISTMAS

When Ebenezer Scrooge first laid eyes on the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, he refused to believe what he was seeing. He explained away the apparition as a fault with his senses brought about by a stomach disorder. “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” he told his ghostly guest. “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

As it turns out, Mr. Scrooge wasn’t too far off the mark in blaming his dinner for such a weird vision. According to experts, having a late-night snack might indeed cause nightmares. Eating right before going to sleep can trigger an increase in your metabolism, thus signaling your brain to become more active. Other nightmare-inducing sources include: sleeping in an uncomfortable position, having a fever, or being stressed or anxious.

In the old days, people thought nightmares were brought about by a heavy monster that would sit upon their chests as they slept. Others blamed the devil, believing he sent minions in the shape of spectral horses to terrify them in the night. The word nightmare is actually derived from the Old English word mare which was a mythological demon known to torment people with frightening dreams.

According to superstition, there are a number of ways to prevent nightmares: pin your socks in the shape of a cross to the end of your bed, fix small straw crosses to the four corners of your sleeping area, or place a knife or other metal object nearby. The latent magic of iron or steel is well-known for keeping malevolent spirits away. If none of those work, you can also try placing your shoes under the bed with the toes pointing out, and sleeping with your hands crossed over your chest—which I find a little creepy.

Modern-day cures aren’t nearly as interesting. They include going to bed and waking at about the same time every day, avoiding snacks or exercise right before bedtime, sleeping with a light on, and keeping your bedroom door open. It’s also suggested you avoid reading scary books before sleep—a practice with which I highly disagree. What better time to enjoy a scary book than in the dark, quiet hours of the night?

If you’re one of those people who seem to have more than your fair share of bad dreams, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Studies indicate we creative and imaginative types are more prone to nightmares due to our empathetic nature and our ability to tune in to our surroundings. Or, it might just be the side effects from eating one too many underdone potatoes.


Nov. 17, 2012--THE BLOB BLOG
It’s during this pilgrimmy, thankful time of year that our thoughts naturally turn toward our blessings and toward turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. And when I see cranberry sauce, my thoughts naturally turn toward horror movies, specifically the 1958 campy, corny, sci-fi film, THE BLOB. Out of the hundreds of horror movies I watched as a kid, The Blob sticks in my memory to this day. Not because it was horrible or funny, but because the creature reminded me of a gi-normous glob of jellied cranberry sauce coming to eat America. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against jellied cranberry sauce, even if it does look gross. I actually like it. I find it adds that extra bit of tart and tangy sweetness to every Thanksgiving meal.
In the movie, the Blob is a giant amoeba sort of alien that crashes to Earth. An old man finds it and does what any sensible person would do; he pokes it with a stick. As it turns out, the Blob does not like being poked with a stick, so it eats the old man. The Blob then starts to grow, terrorizing the small town where it crash landed, and soon begins consuming people right and left.
As with most outer-space monster movies, the plot revolves around scientists and law enforcement officials trying to figure out a way to defeat the creature. But all I could think while watching the red gelatinous monster devour the townsfolk was, “Why don’t you just eat the thing? Cook up all the turkeys in the local A&P, stir up a couple barrels of cornbread stuffing, then invite the whole town out for a feast. Hand everyone a fork, direct them toward the Blob, and tell them to dig in.
Here’s hoping you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

And when you see that glob of cranberry sauce staring up at you from your plate, do yourself a favor; eat it before it eats you.

Nov. 10, 2012--OUIJA MINTS

A few weeks ago I made an interesting purchase at our local bed and bath store—a small tin of breath mints in the shape of a miniature Ouija board. When I was a kid, my older sister had a real Ouija board. I have fond memories of the two of us sitting on the floor in our dimly-lit bedroom, the board between us as she called upon the spirits to answer her urgent questions. For the life of me though, I can’t remember what she asked. Most likely her questions flowed along the lines of, “Who likes me more, Dennis or Kevin?” What I do remember is my fear and amazement when the plastic pointer beneath our fingertips began moving across the board’s surface. It seemed to scoot along on its own, slowly but surely making its way toward an answer.

The word Ouija is a combination of the French oui and the German ja, both meaning ‘yes’. The board itself is rectangular in shape with the words “YES” and “NO” printed at the top. Beneath those are the 26 letters of the alphabet, followed by the numbers zero through nine. The words “GOOD BYE” are located at the bottom center. Each Ouija board comes with a pointer device known as a planchette, which is French for “little board”. The two people wishing to communicate with the spirits place their fingers lightly on the planchette and ask their questions aloud. A spirit will move the device, pushing it toward words, numbers, or a series of letters. When all questions have been answered, the planchette is placed over the words "GOOD BYE" to signify the session is over.

Advocates for the Ouija board say it’s an effective way to communicate with the spirit world, while some see it as nothing more than a harmless parlor game. Yet, others warn it’s a dangerous tool in the hands of the untrained due to its power to attract evil spirits.

Some Ouija fans say their boards have inspired them to write. They claim their poems and novels were channeled to them, and all they had to do was transcribe the words as they were dictated.

I wonder if my tiny tin Ouija would be as cooperative. I guess I’d have to find a miniscule planchette first. If it won’t dictate my next novel, I’m hoping it will at least write a few blog posts for me.

GOOD BYE


Nov. 3, 2012—MUMMY-MAKING IN SIX, NOT-SO-EASY, STEPS

Happy King Tut Day!

It was on November 4th, 1922 that British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen. It wasn’t until November 26th though, that Carter actually entered the tomb’s surprisingly still-intact chambers. He explored the rooms over several years, uncovering thousands of priceless objects, most of which are now housed in the Cairo Museum. His most spectacular find was a solid gold coffin containing the mummy of the boy king.

King Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut, ascended the Egyptian throne over 3,000 years ago when he was a nine-year-old boy. He ruled for only a short while until his untimely death at the age of nineteen. As they had done with Egyptian rulers before him, embalmers mummified the young king, believing it would preserve both his body and spirit.

If you’re wondering how they did this, here are the six, not-so-easy steps.
(You might want to skip numbers 2 and 3 if you’re squeamish.)

1. WASH-The body was washed and anointed with sacred oils.

2. CUT-A cut was made on the left side of the body and many of the internal organs were removed and packed in natron, a salt-like substance that would dry them. The organs were either returned to the body or wrapped in linen and placed in decorative stone jars. The heart was left in place because it was believed to be the center of thoughts and emotions, and would be needed in the afterlife.

3. HOOK-A long, hooked rod was inserted into one of the nasal passages and then used to pull the brain out through the nose.

4. COVER-The body was covered with natron to dehydrate and preserve the flesh.

5. STUFF-After the drying process, the body was washed again, anointed with more oils and stuffed with items like leaves or sawdust to give it a natural-looking shape.

6. WRAP-The body was then wrapped from head to toe in strips of white linen. Sacred amulets were placed between fabric layers to protect the mummy and ensure a safe passage to the afterlife.

The whole process took embalmers about 70 days, but the results have lasted for thousands of years.

Oct. 27, 2012--THE NIGHT OF 600 MILLION POUNDS OF CANDY

Only a few days left until Halloween, that most glorious night of the year for those who love things dark and creepy, as well as for those who love candy and costuming and Trick-or-Treating.

Surprisingly, the U.S. tradition of Trick-or-Treating is a fairly young one, only coming to popularity within the last hundred years. But the practice of dressing in costume and begging for treats on the night of October 31st goes much farther back. During the middle ages in Great Britain and Ireland, children participated in what was called “Souling”. They would go door to door reciting prayers or singing in exchange for small cakes. During the Celtic celebrations of Samhain, people dressed in costumes made of animal skins in order to frighten away spirits, fairies and demons. Historians believe the Celtic people also disguised themselves as ghosts then, visited the homes of their neighbors to perform humorous skits in trade for food and drinks.

Here are a few interesting stats regarding Halloween in America today:

-93% of children go Trick-or-Treating every year.
-Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy during the Halloween season.
-52% of people will hand out chocolate to Trick-or-Treaters.
-68% of children say chocolate is their favorite treat to receive, with 9% preferring lollipops, 7% preferring gummy candy and 7% preferring gum.
-90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during the week of Halloween, compared to 48 million pounds sold during Easter.
-Nearly 120 million Americans dress in costumes during Halloween.
-The most popular adult costumes are: witches, pirates, vampires, cats, fairies and nurses.
-The most popular children’s costumes are: princesses, witches, superheroes and pirates.

Happy Halloween to you and yours! Be safe when you’re out there Trick-or-Treating, and make sure you get your share of that 600 million pounds of candy.

Oct. 20, 2012--THREE DAYS OF THE DEAD

I love Halloween and all that goes with it: decorations, candy, costumes, parties, haunted houses, scary stories, and of course, Trick-or-Treating. What I don’t like is that we get only a single night to celebrate. I wish we could do things the way our neighbors in Mexico do, honoring the dead with not one, but three days of festivities.

Celebrations there begin on October 31st with the cleaning of grave sites and the decorating of altars dedicated to dead loved ones. At midnight, the spirits of deceased children revisit the world of the living and spend the following day with their families. Some people set out toys for the ghostly youngsters in order that they’ll have something to play with. November 1st is known as Dia de los Inocentes, a day of remembrance for the lost children. November 2nd is Dia de Muertos—the Day of the Dead—the time in which to honor those who died as adults.

The three day festivity of the dead is a cheerful, colorful one, celebrating the everlasting life of the soul. Customs revolve around gatherings of family and friends who pray for and remember deceased loved ones. The days are commemorated with parties, parades, songs and feasts. The living light candles and burn incense to help the dead find their way back. Clay altars are trimmed with photos, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the dearly departed. Party food for the living consists of brightly decorated skulls and coffins made from sugar and chocolate. Sweet glazed breads topped with bone-shaped pieces of dough are also customary. Other celebratory events include going house to house to share memories of dead friends and loved ones who are believed to be standing by and listening. The living also go to church, and then later to the cemetery for a picnic with the souls. When the festivities finally end, the spirits return to their graves where it’s hoped they’ll rest peacefully, until they rejoin the living again at next year’s Day of the Dead.

Oct. 13, 2012--CREATIVELY CREEPY JACK-O’-LANTERNS

It’s time for us to make our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch—before all the good ones get taken. After searching row after row of orange, white, and even a few gray pumpkins, we’ll settle upon the most unique ones on the lot and then take them home to display on our front porch for a few weeks. We can’t actually carve them until the night before Halloween though. October is still so hot and muggy here, that to cut them up any earlier will only result in a shriveling, rotting Jack O’ Lantern within a day or two. And, while a shriveled, rotting Jack-O’-Lantern does sound creatively creepy, it will also begin to smell and attract swarms of tiny flies. Maybe we should try sculpting beets or turnips instead. We certainly wouldn’t be the first people to come up with the idea. In fact, that’s exactly how the tradition of pumpkin carving began.

Long ago, folk in Scotland and Ireland would carve scary faces into turnips and beets. On All Hallows’ Eve they would set them on their doorsteps in hopes of keeping evil spirits away. The practice eventually moved to the United States with Scottish and Irish immigrants who discovered carving pumpkins was much easier.

As it turns out, the Irish are also responsible for the origin of the name, Jack-O’-Lantern. There’s an old Irish story that tells of a shrewd, lazy man named Stingy Jack. Somewhere along the way in his less than virtuous life, he managed to trick the devil. When Jack died, because he had lived such a sinful life, he could not be admitted into heaven. And since the devil was still ticked off about the trick, he wouldn’t let Jack into hell either. Seeing as how Jack didn’t know where to go, or how he would find his way around, the devil tossed him an ember from the flames of hell, an ember that could never be extinguished. Jack cut out a turnip, put the ember inside it, and used the makeshift lantern to light his way as he wandered the Earth searching for a place to rest. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, a name which eventually evolved into Jack-O’-Lantern.

Oct. 6, 2012--HAPPY HALLOWWEN! HAPPY ANCIENT CELTIC NEW YEAR!
The month of October has finally arrived, and for me this can mean only one thing. It’s time to prepare for Halloween, time to take the skeletons out of the closet and turn the bathroom into the “bat” room. It’s time to create a family of newspaper-stuffed monster men and seat them at the rubber-rat infested dining room table. We’ll lay the fine china out before them, piling each plate high with servings of bloodified body parts—fake parts made of plastic, of course.

Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, takes place every October 31st. It’s a night filled with costume parties and going door to door Trick-or-Treating for candy. The origins of this delightfully dark holiday can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the ancient Celts and their New Year festival of Samhain.

Back then, the Celtic people celebrated New Year’s Day on what we now refer to as November 1st. On that last night of the year though, it was believed the spirits of the dead walked the Earth as they made their way toward the afterlife. It was also a night when demons, witches and warlocks were feared to be out and about. In hopes of warding off such dark beings, the people would light bonfires and dress in costumes. Other Samhain festivities are said to have involved Celts disguising themselves as spirits, then going from home to home, performing amusing skits in exchange for food and drink.

Samhain was eventually transformed by early Christian leaders who decreed November 1st to be All Saint’s Day, or All Hallows’ Day, the date on which we should honor the saints and the martyrs. The night before, which was still celebrated with bonfires and costumes, came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve. Over the years, the name morphed into what we now call, Halloween, the holiday so many of us know and love. It’s estimated Americans will buy almost 600 million pounds of candy this Halloween, and nearly 120 million of us will dress up in costumes. With stats like that, it looks like some of those ancient Samhain practices will be around for a long time to come.

Sept. 29, 2012--GRUESOME GARDENS AND SINISTER STUDIOS
One of the best things about living in Florida is our close proximity to all the big theme parks: Disney, Universal, Sea World, Busch Gardens. And one of the things I love about those parks is that during this spine-chilling, bloodcurdling, most wonderful time of the year, they go all out, creating some pretty spectacular Halloween events.

While Disney World offers its mild-mannered, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Sea World hosts the family-friendly Halloween Spooktacular, it’s Busch Gardens and Universal Studios that are much more my speed, wowing screaming park goers with a plethora of imagineered blood, guts and gore.


This year, Busch Gardens’ annual Howl-O-Scream event will offer up such haunted attractions as: Blood Asylum, where a serial killer is running loose through a mental hospital; Circus of Superstition 3-D containing crazed circus clowns in a tent of terror; Nevermore, focusing on gothic terror with swinging pendulums, beating hearts and cawing ravens; the Zombie Mortuary, a small town funeral home for the undead; Ultimate Gamble—an abandoned and condemned casino; and Nightshade Toy Factory, stocked with mutated, possessed and radioactive toys. Guests also must walk—or run—through Scare Zones, themed outdoor areas staged along the park’s main pathways and stocked with frightening decor and creepy creatures. A number of dark and macabre shows are also available for guests’ viewing pleasure.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, which most horror fans consider to be the big daddy of haunted theme park events, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each season. This year’s houses include: Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas in which the famous magicians accidentally nuke Las Vegas; shock rocker Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, presenting a myriad of twisted tormentors; Silent Hill located in the creepy desolate town of Silent Hill where the laws of nature no longer apply; and The Walking Dead, based on the hit AMC television series featuring a city crawling with hordes of undead “walkers”. In addition to the haunted houses, there are a number of themed scare zones, roaming scare-actors, and a variety of live stage shows, the most talked about being, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure in which the year’s pop culture and world events are parodied and spoofed.


I can’t wait to buy my tickets and take my tours of the gruesome gardens and the sinister studios, screaming myself silly as I make my way through all that demented, delightful darkness.

Sept. 22, 2012--GRUMPY GATORS AND CRYING KITTENS

Last week I saved a turtle. This week I rescued an alligator and a kitten. I must be some kind of magnet for critters in need. The alligator removal proved to be surprisingly easy, much easier than that of the tiny kitten. The four-feet-long gator, which had parked itself on the sidewalk near the town tennis courts and Little League baseball field, grew annoyed with my frantic cell phone calls and the barrage of photos I took of it. After a few minutes, it heaved itself onto its stubby legs, waddled across the street, then disappeared into the nearby woods.

The piteously-crying kitten, however, took me three days of crawling through muddy woods, getting devoured by mosquitoes and suffering cuts to my arms from the clumps of razor-sharp grass where the kitty had established its hideout. I finally managed to catch it, and a lovely retired lady adopted the cuddly little gray and white fluff ball. I would have kept it myself, but we already have four rescued cats. If I don’t adhere to my strict, no-more-cats policy, I’ll easily fall into the role of crazy cat lady, taking in every stray feline that comes my way.

I don’t know what it is about cats that makes me adore them. They bite, scratch, yak on the carpet, pee in the laundry basket and terrorize lizards. But there’s just something about them that puts me completely under their spells. Lucky for me, we live in a time when accusations of witchcraft are not something I have to worry about. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always so. Hundreds of years ago in Europe and America, many women were believed to be witches because of their close association to their cats. It was believed cats served as familiars to their witch mistresses. A familiar is an animal assistant that obeys the commands of its owner, usually cooperating with her in some form of dark and evil magic.

Obviously, these accusers knew very little about cats. Anyone who has ever been owned by a feline can tell you, cats are not exactly obedient or cooperative.

Sept. 15, 2012--TURTLE POWER

While driving through town a few mornings ago, I spotted a turtle tottering along the shoulder of the road. It was headed toward a wooded area on the other side of an ornamental aluminum fence. Afraid the little guy might turn around and crawl into the busy roadway, I pulled over to perform a rescue. This wasn’t my first turtle rescue. I once tried to assist a very large, very irritable snapping turtle, but that’s a post for another day. This particular reptile was a Florida box turtle, maybe about the size of your average soup bowl. Its shell was gorgeous, covered in brilliant yellow geometric patterns that looked like an artist had painted them there. This guy knew exactly where he wanted to go. He clambered up onto the bottom rail of the fence and dove through its vertical bars. Unfortunately, his shell was wider than he realized, and he found himself wedged tight.


With his little clawed hands and feet swimming uselessly through the air, it was an undignified predicament for any critter to find himself in, even more so for a turtle since they have such low street cred anyway. Aside from Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, you’d be hard pressed to name one super cool, butt-kicking turtle…unless you’re a fan of Japanese Kaiju films. In which case, you would immediately shout out the name, Gamera!


Kaiju films are essentially giant-mutant-monster movies. Created in 1965, Gamera is a colossal turtle with spikes on his elbows and two huge tusks protruding from his lower jaws. Not only can he walk on two legs, he’s also able to fly and shoot explosive plasma fireballs from his mouth. His shell is nearly impenetrable, easily deflecting missiles and a variety of death rays blasted at him from his opponents. Gamera is pretty much one of the good guys, defending humanity from a host of other gigantic monsters.


Other Kaiju film stars include the famous Godzilla, a massive, two-legged dinosaur-lizard creature, the unintentional result of nearby nuclear detonations. His personality fluctuates from movie to movie. Sometimes he’s one of the good guys, other times he’s the villain. Occasionally, Mothra, an enormous butterfly-moth monster assists Godzilla in battling the bad guys. Other times she fights Godzilla, especially when he gets angry at humans and starts stomping their buildings and buses. Rodan is a huge pterodactyl-type monster. Like Mothra, he too can be an ally or opponent to the hot-tempered Godzilla.


But back to my turtle rescue. I freed him from the fence, placed him on the other side and watched him make his way into the wooded area. As he went, I couldn’t help but think, life would be so much easier for turtles if they could fly. I imagine he was probably thinking the same thing.


Sept. 8, 2012--DEFY, BUT DON’T DENY, YOUR SUPERSTITIONS

September 13th is Defy Superstition Day. This is the day you break free from the belief that a particular action or object will bring you luck or ward off evil. If you’re one of those people who claim they don’t believe in superstitions, think again. You probably do quite a few strange things you can’t explain. Saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes, or making a wish while blowing out birthday candles are both superstitious acts.


In honor of Defy Superstition Day, here are a few interesting tidbits regarding some of our more popular, modern-day superstitions.


Never walk beneath a ladder. Ladders are used by the spirits of the recently deceased to climb to heaven. By preventing one of these souls from mounting it, you will receive bad luck. In the event there’s no choice but to walk under a ladder, crossing your fingers and keeping them crossed until you see a dog will offer you some protection.


Breaking a mirror will bring you seven years of bad luck. However, if you bury the broken pieces in sacred ground, your luck will remain intact.


Spilling salt will lead to a fight, but if you toss a pinch of it over your left shoulder it will keep the bad luck at bay. By doing this, you will drive the devil away before he can whisper in your ear. Tracing the shape of a cross in the spilled salt is also effective.


The number 13 is unlucky. This belief is so strongly held that many buildings are designed without a thirteenth floor, going directly from the twelfth to the fourteenth. It is extremely unlucky to be seated at a dinner table with thirteen people, as the first person to rise will die within the year. To prevent this from happening, when someone is ready to leave, everyone at the table should rise together.


Finding a four-leaf clover is lucky. The four leaflets represent fame, wealth, a faithful lover and good health. The luck is doubled if the clover is immediately given to someone else. It is further claimed that anyone who wears a four-leaf clover will be able to see fairies.


Horseshoes ward off evil and bring good luck. If you find a horseshoe, you should spit on it and then toss it over your left shoulder while making a wish. Or, you can take it home and nail it over your doorway. This will bring good luck not just to you, but to anyone who passes underneath it. Most people believe the prongs should face upward in order to prevent the good luck from falling out, while others believe the prongs should point downward in order to spill the good luck on those who walk beneath it.

Sept. 1, 2012--HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH—IT’S NATIONAL BEHEADING DAY!

Just to give you a “heads” up, September 2nd is National Beheading Day. I’m not sure how this holiday came to be, but I do know I’m head over heals for legends of headless horsemen. And lucky for me, there are plenty of them told around the world.

Those of us in the United States are probably most familiar with the headless horseman featured in Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. For those of you who are not, here’s a recap:

The tale takes place in New York, in a 1790’s Dutch settlement by the name of Sleepy Hollow. The ghost of a headless horseman—formerly a Hessian soldier hired by the British to help suppress the American Revolution, and who consequently gets his head blown off by an American cannonball—roams the land at night. He rides a black horse while carrying his own severed head. In the story, an unfortunate schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane meets up with the horseman one dark and dreary night and is never seen again. Some of the townsfolk say he was frightened out of the county by a prankster, but others claim the Headless Horseman carried him away.

In Ireland, their headless horseman is known as the Dullahan, which means “dark man”. The Dullahan is a ghostly rider on a black, fire-breathing horse. He keeps his glowing, decapitated head tucked beneath his arm or held high in the air. Some say it lights his way on the dark country back roads. He also carries a whip made from the spine of a human corpse. Sometimes he’s described as riding atop a black carriage being pulled by six headless horses. Whatever his method of transportation, the Dullahan is a foreteller of death. This otherworldly rider makes no sound as he rides, but when he stops, it is said his detached head will call out the name of the person who is destined to die next.

India’s headless horseman is known as the Dund, and he too is a messenger of death. Riding with his head mounted on the pommel of his saddle, he carries a sword in each hand. When he stops, it is at the door of someone who is about to die, and it is there that he calls out that person’s name.

Germany’s headless horseman, however, is a bit more helpful. The Wild Huntsman, as he’s known, is accompanied by a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire. When the Huntsman blows his horn, it’s a warning to living hunters not to ride the next day, or they will meet with an unfortunate accident.

So, how will you celebrate National Beheading Day? Head over to the library to read up on more headless folktales and legends? Start a shrunken head collection? Make an appointment to have your head examined? However you decide to commemorate the day, just make sure you get a head start on you friends and family. Dive in head first, go wild, get crazy, but whatever you do…don’t lose your head.

August 25, 2012--THE MONSTROUSLY POPULAR FRANKENSTEIN

Mark your calendars. August 30th is Frankenstein Day. It’s also the day Mary Wollenstone Shelley was born. She’s the author of the 1818 classic horror novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. (The Modern Prometheus is the novel’s subtitle, but many modern editions of the book no longer include it.) If you missed out on this monstrous day of celebration, don’t worry. You’ll still get your chance on October 29th which happens to be National Frankenstein Day, and once again on Frankenstein Friday which falls on October 30th this year.

We do love our Frankenstein Monster. So much so, that he’s become a cultural icon. His face has been featured on everything from lunch boxes and coffee mugs to United States postage stamps.

For those of you familiar with the monster’s image, but not the novel, Frankenstein is the story of a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein who brings to life a soulless creature made up of human parts and pieces stolen from graveyards and dissecting rooms. The creature longs for human compassion, but receives their fear and hatred instead. He then takes out his anger and frustration with his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, by killing people. Some of you might be surprised to discover Mary Shelley did not name the creature, Frankenstein. Throughout the book he’s referred to instead as “monster”, “fiend”, “being”, “it”, and “thing”.

Over the years, almost 200 by now, the name Frankenstein has endured, and so has the iconic figure of the monster as a lumbering, boot-wearing, bolts-in-the neck, green monster. In the book though, Mary Shelly describes him as being 8-foot-tall, more flexible than a mortal, with black lips, watery eyes, and tight yellowish skin that barely disguises the blood vessels and muscles underneath. We’ve not only managed to rename Mary Shelley’s monster, but we’ve given him a complete makeover too. Still, he remains one of the most popular and well-recognized literary figures of all time.

So, how will you celebrate the upcoming Frankenstein holidays? Watching a Frankenstein-themed movie is a good option. You have a nearly endless list of them to choose from. (The first Frankenstein movie was made in 1910, but the most popular one is probably Universal Pictures’ 1931 version, Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster.) You also have an abundance of Frankenstein-inspired TV shows, cartoons, music (“Monster Mash”), toys, video games, novels, and even a breakfast cereal (Frankenberry) to enjoy.

August 18, 2012--WHAT A SCREAM

I just love the sound of people screaming.

This is a thought I had the other day. Admittedly, a rather disturbing one, but considering I was standing across the street from Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, I don’t think it makes me too very demented. Still, it got me to wondering. Why do we scream? After doing a little online researching, here’s what I found out:

Basically, we scream because we’re afraid, surprised or are in pain.

Screaming’s not all bad though. Sometimes it has its perks. When we’re frightened and let out a loud yelp, it acts as a way of calling attention to ourselves, thus improving our odds that someone will come to our aid. Screaming can also serve as a form of defense, scaring away predators and bad guys. If nothing else, a loud crazy scream can halt the enemy in their path long enough to allow us a chance to escape. Sometimes our screams act as warnings, signaling our friends that danger is near. This is a very nice and selfless thing to do. Unfortunately, it also gives away our exact position to the monster or bad guy, drawing attention away from our friends.

Sometimes we scream in surprise when something unexpected happens, like when our friend sneaks up on us and yells, “Boo!” Sometimes we scream when we receive a painful injury, like getting shot or stabbed, or when we hear some terrible news.

Screaming might also provide us a few biological benefits. Scientists have discovered that when we make frightened faces, we breathe faster through our noses, thus increasing our sense of smell. Not only that, but our eyes move faster and our range of vision improves. Altering our facial configuration also increases blood flow to the brain and changes the way we feel.

So, why do we scream while riding amusement park thrill rides? Maybe it’s our fear of falling, our surprise at a sudden twist, or the physical sensation of speeding and dropping. Maybe it’s our way of warning others to stay away from this danger. Which is kind of contradictory considering the first thing most of us do when the ride ends is go straight to our friends and tell them how awesome the experience was and that they MUST ride this ride. (Serves them right for all those times they snuck up on us and yelled, “Boo!”)

August 11, 2012--WEE HAIRY FOOTED HOBBITS

I recently watched the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. At the end (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for those of you who haven’t seen or read J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOTR, though if you haven’t, I’m kind of wondering why. LOTR is a cultural phenomenon after all). So, at the end of the movie, one of the ethereally-attractive elves announces to the humans and the wee hobbits that the time of the elves is over. It is now the time for humans to rule. The elves then sail away into the sunset, bound for some beautiful, mysterious land.

“But what about the hobbits?” I wondered. “What happened to them when the humans took over?”

(For the one or two of you out there who don’t know what a hobbit is, hobbits—also known as ‘halflings’—are a race of very nice, very little people who look a lot like humans, but have exceptionally big and hairy feet.)

“Where are the descendants of the hobbits today?” I further wondered. “Even if hobbit DNA eventually intermingled with human DNA over the many, many, long, long years, surely some hobbit characteristics would still be evident.”

And then it hit me. Oh, dear. Not only am I short, but I have big feet. And, yes, my feet are a wee bit hairy—though only a wee bit.

And in case you’re thinking hobbits are strictly the fictional creation of Mr. Tolkien, think again.

In 2004, scientists discovered the fossilized remains of a group of very small hominids on the Indonesian island of Flores. At about three-feet-tall and with skulls the size of grapefruits, these little people were equivalent in size to a modern-day three-year-old child. The first skeleton found was a 3.3 feet tall female who had weighed approximately 55 pounds, and was about 30 years old when she died. According to clues left behind, the little Flores people hunted 2,000 pound dwarf elephants there on the island. Pretty impressive for someone the size of a three-year-old child. Scientists named the species Home floresiensis after the island where they were found. The dig workers named them hobbits. It’s believed they lived 18,000 to 13,000 years ago, and became extinct as a result of a major volcanic eruption.

August 4, 2012--HOTTER THAN HELL

“Man! This weather. It’s hotter than Hell!”

That’s how some people describe summertime here in sunny, muggy Florida—at least the part of Florida where I live. Yep. It’s that time of year again, when my front door becomes an oven door. Each time I open it, I’m blasted with a wave of 100 degree heat. And while it certainly is hot here, I’m thinking Hell is a probably a helluva lot hotter.

Or is it?

In many religions, Hell is depicted as a fiery place of torment and punishment, a place of everlasting flames ruled by the devil and a multitude of demons. In Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem, The Inferno, Hell is portrayed as a series of punishment circles with demons plunging sinners into sulphurous flames while other evil-doers are roasted on spits over open fires. Depictions of Hell as a fiery place can also be found in the Bible’s book of Revelation where it’s written the devil was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, and anyone whose name was not found recorded in the book of life was also thrown into the lake of fire.

However, Hell isn’t always depicted as a place of burning flames. Much like Florida, Hell seems to display a wide range of weather conditions. Sometimes it’s even portrayed as a place of frozen misery. Tibetan Buddhist descriptions of hell portray it as a place both hot and cold. In Dante’s 9th circle of Hell, Satan is seen as a giant beast frozen up to his breast in ice. As Satan beats his wings, he creates a cold wind which freezes the suffering sinners around him.

So, when the frigid winter winds come blowing south this January, and some thin-skinned Floridians are heard to say, “Man! This weather. It’s colder than Hell!” you’ll know they’re not exaggerating. At least, not too much.

July 28, 2012--THOSE PESKY GREMLINS

I think we might have a gremlin living inside our new refrigerator. Recently, our shiny, stainless steel appliance has taken to making weird growling noises, and when we push our cups to the in-the-door dispenser expecting a dose of cool refreshing water, it chucks crushed ice at us instead. I’m also a little concerned about our toilets. Ever since we brought the new refrigerator home, our commodes have been randomly erupting with quick flushing sounds. As I write this, a disturbing thought occurs to me. What if our gremlin is traveling back and forth, going straight from our toilets and into our ice maker? If so, I can only hope it’s washing its hands first, though I’m doubtful since I’ve yet to hear any sink faucets turning on and off by themselves.

And as a point of reference, the type of gremlin I’m talking about has nothing to do with the mutated Mogwai critters from the 1984 Gremlin movie. In fact, I have no idea what a real gremlin actually looks like, but I imagine it to be something in the form of a tiny goblin. Whatever their appearance, what I can tell you for sure is that they’re mischievous, impish little beings who get their jollies interfering with all things mechanical. They’re also known to misplace tools and blunt the tips of sharp objects like knives, scissors and saws. They typically enter your home by riding along inside the appliances and machines you bring in. That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a way to get rid of them. Simply set out an empty beer bottle, and the gremlin will crawl inside and stay there. I suggest you then remove the bottle from your house and throw it into a trash receptacle located very far away.

Unfortunately, gremlins don’t limit themselves to household appliances. They also cause malfunctions in airplanes, trains, cars, and even motorcycles. Motorcycle Gremlins are known as Road Gremlins. They’re not only responsible for mechanical problems, but for small items left scattered along the road. To combat these wicked troublemakers, smart bikers will hang a small bell from their motorcycle’s frame or handlebars. This keeps new gremlins away and traps any gremlins already occupying the bike. The way it works is that the gremlin becomes trapped inside the bell where the ringing drives it crazy, causing it to let go and fall to the roadway below. While this is good for the owner of the infected bike, it’s probably rather unfortunate for the next motorcyclist who happens along and isn’t outfitted with his or her own gremlin bell.


July 21, 2012--ZOMBIE WEEDS

It’s summertime here in Florida, which means lots of rain, which means lots of weeds. Every evening, I dutifully pull, hack, cut, machete, ax and poison the wild growth in the jungle that’s my front yard. And every morning the vines, weeds and mutant stalks are back. Like Zombies, those things are nearly impossible to kill. I half expect one of these days they’ll begin creeping toward the house, slithering beneath the front door and down the hallway to my room where they’ll climb the side of the bed, wrap themselves around my throat and…

Note to self: call landscaper first thing in the morning to have front lawn replaced with Astroturf.

Speaking of zombies—the undead-people kind—here are some helpful facts: A zombie is a corpse that has been reanimated by mystical means, or as a result of radiation, chemicals, or an infectious virus. The two most popular forms of zombies are those found in Haiti which are intentionally raised from the dead (for our purposes, we’ll refer to them as Bokor Zombies) and those which are unintentionally infected: your friends, neighbors, classmates and co-workers, mindlessly stumbling through the streets of your hometown, desperately searching for a tasty morsel of brain food. We’ll refer to them as The Mindless Stumblers.

Bokor Zombies are essentially dead people who are magically reawakened by a type of sorcerer or witch doctor known as a bokor. These zombies are commonly used as laborers—usually field workers. They remain under the control of the bokor and are not self-aware. They are also not dangerous. Bokor Zombies should be freed rather than killed. It is said that feeding them salt will return them to their senses, thus releasing them.

Mindless Stumblers on the other hand, are the result of contagion and are quite vicious and nasty. Anyone bitten by one will soon become a zombie him or herself. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long for a full blown zombie plague to occur. These zombies are always hungry for brains or human flesh. They move slowly, but don’t be fooled. They’re extremely strong and are unaffected by pain, capable of continuing their pursuit even after losing multiple body parts. They are, however, afraid of fire and bright lights. The only known ways to kill them is through destruction of the brain or by decapitation.

Or, you could just hunker down and leave the messy business of zombie disposal to the scientists at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In the event of a zombie outbreak, the CDC recommends you keep an emergency kit on hand in your home. The kit should include food, water, and other supplies to sustain you until you’re able to find your way to a zombie-free refugee camp. While you’re in hiding—eating canned food, drinking bottled water and playing endless rounds of checkers and card games with your fellow refugees—you can rest assured the CDC will be working tirelessly to determine the cause of the infection and figure out the best way to treat infected patients. (Most probably by surgical removal of the patient’s head.)


Gargoyles & Graveyards
Eldritch Randomness by Jan Eldredge

Eldritch-adjective eerie; weird; spooky; strange; unearthly; alien; supernatural.

ABOUT ME
I’m Jan Eldredge, and I write creepy, scary, middle-grade stories. I don’t really know why I do this. It might be that my gray matter’s fascination with dark subject matter is a condition I was born with. I suspect though, a good deal of the blame can be laid to rest right at the feet of my older brother. Not only did he keep rats and snakes as pets, but he lived in the scariest bedroom ever. Seriously. His desk and dresser were crammed with models of classic movie monsters like the Mummy, the Werewolf, and Frankenstein. (I always found the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Hunchback to be particularly chilling.) His walls were plastered with horror movie posters, and when he ran out of space there, he’d tack them to the ceiling. He also possessed an extensive collection of monster magazines and scary comic books which I would sneak in and read whenever he was out investigating haunted houses or chasing down the local swamp monster.

Speaking of swamps, I was born and raised in Louisiana, but moved away when I grew up. I now live in Florida (another swampy state) with my husband, three kids, four cats, and an imagination creeping with those things that go bump in the night.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you in your nightmares.

 

April 6, 2013--PLAN YOUR EPITAPH DAY: GETTING THE LAST WORD IN

Today is Plan Your Epitaph Day. (Though, it should be noted that November 2nd is also recognized at PYED.)

An epitaph is a short verse or saying inscribed on the tomb or headstone of the deceased. Sometimes the words have been previously specified by the dead person; at other times the words are chosen by those overseeing the burial process. Some people consider the epitaph to be one’s final statement to the world. That’s why it’s important you plan your own epitaph, rather than let someone else do it for you.

Sadly, epitaphs seem to be a fading tradition. Most headstones today contain only the barest of information about the dearly departed: name, birthday, and death-day. Sometimes the relationship of the dead might be acknowledged, such as: beloved wife and mother. And sometimes, a meaningful image, like a rose or a bible, might be inscribed on the stone. I don’t know about you, but I find those options a bit boring. I intend to spend today coming up with a few clever words of wisdom that I can leave behind when I’m no longer here to speak them for myself.

Here are a few examples of the creative epitaphs found on some real tombstones:

“I told you I was sick.”

“Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.”

“Here lies Lester Moore shot 4 times with a .44, No Les no More.”

“Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”

“Here lies Walter Dudley. He found out too late, Dobermans aren’t cuddly.”

“Consider, friend, as you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you too shall be. Prepare, therefore, to follow me.”
-Scottish tombstone epitaph

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
-Winston Churchill

“That’s all folks”
-Mel Blanc

 

March 02, 2013—I FEEL IT IN MY BONES

Last week I was racing around cleaning the house, when I did a real boneheaded thing. I was barefoot. I have long toes. I should have known better. I wasn’t paying attention, and as I rushed past a stack of thick-framed posters leaning against the wall, my little toe hung up on the edge of one. The rest of my foot kept going, but my pinky stayed behind for a moment. Now a week later, the smallest of my phalanges is still tender and bruised, so swollen it looks like a big purple peanut. I can only assume I’ve broken the bone in my littlest piggy. Luckily, our bones contain numerous living cells to aid with repair and growth. It shouldn’t be too long before the boo-boo in my baby toe is all healed.

Here are a few more facts to bone up on, as well as a few bony superstitions:

Facts:
-Our bones protect our important organs. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord. The rib cage and sternum protect the lungs and heart. The skull protects the brain, eyes, and the middle and inner ears.

-We’re born with about 300 bones, but many of them fuse together and create bigger ones as we grow into adulthood, leaving us with fewer bones than we started out with.

-Our skulls contain 30 bones.

-The smallest bone in our bodies is the stirrup, located inside our middle ear.

Superstitions:
-Primitive people believed our bones contained the essence of our souls and should therefore be treated with respect.

-Witches and sorcerers use bits of human and animal bones as ingredients in certain spells and charms.

-Bones can be used for purposes of divination by tossing them like dice and observing the patterns they fall in.

-Some people believe mixing powdered bone with other ingredients will cure certain ailments.

 

Feb. 16, 2013--CARDS, CRYSTALS, AND COOKIES

The other day, I finally got to eat at a new Asian restaurant I’d been wanting to check out. It’s one of those places where you order at the counter, choosing from a variety of ingredients and pretty much customizing your entrée (which is great because I’m one of those annoying picky eaters with a long list of foods I don’t like.) The other cool thing about the place was their yummy fortune cookies. My cookie informed me that a lifetime of happiness lay ahead of me. The words on that little scrap of paper made me happy. I really believed that cookie knew what it was talking about. I liked that cookie. It was kind, as well as wise (which made me feel bad about eating it.) The concept of fortune cookies though, got me to thinking about the whole business of fortune telling.

It turns out, there’s a seemingly endless array of methods to foresee one’s future—from alectryomancy, a form of divination in which birds are observed pecking at grain scattered on the ground, to gastromancy, prophecy that involves interpreting gurgling stomach sounds. Not taking into account Mattel’s Magic 8 Ball, I would have to say it’s the arts of Crystallomancy, Taromancy and Chiromancy that are probably our culture’s most recognized forms of divination. You might know them better as crystal ball gazing, Tarot card reading and palm reading.

Crystallomancy is a method in which a seer peers into a crystal ball, enters a trance-like state, and is able to see into the past, present or future. The crystal ball does not reveal the sought-after information, but is used instead as a tool enabling the seer to achieve a self-hypnotic frame of mind. The ideal crystal ball is perfectly spherical and made of quartz because quartz crystal is believed to increase psychic energy. The size of the ball can vary from those small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, to larger ones three to six inches in diameter and mounted on a wooden or metal stand.

Taromancy is a method of reading Tarot cards in order to see into one’s past, present and future. Some Tarot readers say they are guided by spiritual forces. Others say the cards allow them to tap into their subconscious mind or even into a collective unconscious. A Tarot deck contains 78 cards divided into two parts. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards representing the basic human experiences. Some of the more recognized of these are the Fool, the Lovers, the Hanged Man and Death. The Minor Arcana is subdivided into four suits: cups, wands, swords and pentacles, from which the suits of our modern-day playing cards (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) are said to have derived.

Chiromancy is the ancient art of deducing someone’s character or fortune by evaluating the lines on his or her palms. The head line refers to a person’s mental faculties, the heart line corresponds to one’s emotional being, the fate line concerns luck, the marriage line foretells happiness in marriage, and the life line depicts lifespan. However, a short life line doesn’t necessarily signify an early death. It could be a sign of long periods of illness. The good news is that life lines can change as a person’s circumstances change. Receiving necessary medical treatment just might lengthen an otherwise scrawny life line. If you happen to be a yummy fortune cookie within easy reach though, I foresee your cookie life as being a very short one indeed.


Feb. 02, 2013—GARGOYLE SECURITY GUARDS

For me, the old year ends with Christmas gifts, and the new year begins with birthday gifts. That’s the advantage of having a January birthday. One of the best birthday gifts I received this week was an awesomely cool gargoyle goblet.

Gargoyles—as is probably evident by the title of this blog—are near and dear to my heart. I’ve long been fascinated by the concept that things aren’t always what they appear to be. Gargoyles are the perfect example of this notion. Despite their frightening appearances, the gargoyle’s job is to frighten away evil spirits and keep the human occupants of their buildings safe from harm. It is said they come to life at night in order to stand guard, and with the sunrise, return to their stony state, crouched upon their perches high above.

If this is true, my family and I should be well-protected by the collection of gargoyle figurines sitting on a ledge in our family room. Technically speaking though, my miniature statues aren’t actually gargoyles; they’re grotesques. A grotesque is a sculpture or carving that serves as a decorative piece. Only those creatures functioning as actual water spouts can rightfully be referred to as gargoyles.

A genuine gargoyle juts out from the upper part of a building, keeping rainwater away from the walls and foundations in order to prevent erosion to the structure. The water runs through a trough cut into the back of the gargoyle and exits through its wide opened mouth. The word ‘gargoyle’ is derived from the old French word gargouille which means throat.

According to French legend, a huge, fire-breathing dragon by the name of La Gargouille once lived in a cave on the banks of the Seine River. It preyed upon the area’s ships and its people. In hopes of appeasing the beast, the citizens would make sacrifices to it each year. Then one day, St. Romanus saved them all by slaying the terrible dragon. The grateful people built a huge fire to get rid of the body, but the beast’s head and neck wouldn’t burn because those parts had become immune to fiery heat. In an excellent example of resourcefulness, the people mounted the head and neck high up on a building to serve as a warning to any other dragon that might be thinking of terrorizing their city.

So if you find yourself pestered by evil spirits or dragons, you might want to try mounting a gargoyle somewhere on your rooftop. If you do, and you hear something scuttling around up there late at night, rest assured it’s just your gargoyle security guard doing its job to keep you safe.

 

Jan. 19, 2013--SAVED BY THE BELL

Even though Christmas 2012 is now just a fond memory, I’m still enjoying my gifts, or trying to figure out exactly what I’m supposed to do with some of them. One such gift is a cowbell (the hand percussion instrument, not the kind used by herdsmen to keep track of their cows). I even received an accompanying “cowbell beater”, a foot-long wooden stick that looks a lot like a miniature baseball bat.

When you think of bells, the first image that comes to mind might be that of some dumb, boring metal thing that makes loud clanging sounds. If so, you would be wrong. Never underestimate the power of the bell. Over the years, numerous superstitions and beliefs have arisen regarding their mystical powers and the ringing of them.

In many cultures around the world it is believed bells have the ability to scare away various creepy crawlies like mice and snakes, as well as evil spirits. It is said that just the sound of them can send a broomstick-riding witch crashing to the ground. Many people will attach bells to their prized animals in order to protect them from the evil eye.

Church bells are especially powerful. They have been credited with calming violent storms by districting the evil spirits who send forth the wind and the rain. Church bells were also believed to keep plagues away from communities, as well as insure abundant crops at harvest time. To ring a church bell when someone dies is to ring the ‘passing bell’. This is done not only to call the congregation to prayer, but to keep away any bad spirits that might be attracted by the presence of death.

In days of old, stuttering children were thought to be cured by drinking from an upturned bell. Children born as the bell strikes the hours of three, six, nine, or twelve are said to grow up with the gift of second sight and the ability to see ghosts.

Frightening away pests and evil spirits, knocking witches from their brooms, protecting animals from curses, calming storms, preventing plagues, producing crops, curing stuttering, and insuring the gift of second sight is lot of work for the humble bell. Maybe the next time you start to call somebody a dumbbell, you just might reconsider.

 

Jan. 05, 2013--A CROP OF HORRIPILATION

I hate cold weather. I hate the chattering teeth, the shivering, and all the goose bumps. The only kind of teeth-chattering, shivery, goose bumps I want to experience are those I get while reading a good, hair-raising, scary book.

Goose bumps, as you might know, are also referred to as goose flesh or goose pimples. What you might not know is that a bunch of goose pimples are defined as a “crop” of goose pimples. This strange physical phenomenon occurs when the muscles beneath our skin contract, making our hairs stand on end and causing our flesh to resemble the skin of a freshly plucked goose. While goose bumps might look silly, they’re actually quite useful in helping us retain body heat when we suddenly feel cold. They also aid animals by automatically puffing up feathers and fur, and creating a nice fluffy layer of warmth.

The medical term for goose bumps is cutis anserine. Cutis is Latin for skin, and Anser is Latin for goose, thus translating to: goose skin. Another term for this condition is horripilation, compounded from the Latin words, horrere—which means to stand on end—and pilus—which means hair. Put them together and you have hair standing on end. Not surprisingly, the word Horrere is also used to indicate something so frightening it makes one’s hair stand on end.

 

Dec. 22, 2012--HERE COMES KRAMPUS CLAWS

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake…Or else he’ll send the Christmas Krampus after you.

Children here in the U.S. might not be familiar with Santa’s sidekick, the Christmas Krampus. And that’s probably just as well. This guy is the stuff of terrifying, mind-bending nightmares. Oh sure, we’ve got our Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come-- that tall, mute, hooded figure pointing his bony finger toward the graveyard; we’ve got the Grinch, a vile, puke-green recluse with a brain full of spiders, a heart full of unwashed socks, and the disposition of a seasick crocodile. We’ve even got reindeers running over Grandma. But our Christmas baddies are nothing compared to the Krampus.

The Christmas Krampus is a creature that originated in the Alpine regions. (Alpine countries are places like Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.) I suppose he can best be described as Santa’s evil business partner. In those countries, Santa doesn’t add bad kids to the naughty list and drop a lump of coal in their stockings; he leaves them to the Krampus to deal with.

The demonic-looking Krampus is a tall, fur-covered beast with horns, pointy ears, a tail, hooves, claws and an absurdly long tongue. It’s his job to accompany St. Nicholas and deliver punishments to all the wicked little children. He beats them with switches, jabs them with a pitchfork and pulls their ears and their hair. He then throws them into a basket which he slings over his shoulder and carries them down to hell where he eats them.

So, if you’ve been a little less than angelic this year, you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Krampus Claws is coming to town.

 

Dec 15, 2012--DECEMBER 21st, 2012, IS IT THE END OF THE WORLD?

If many doomsday sayers are correct, this will be my last blog entry. According to their belief, the end of the world is scheduled to occur next week on December 21st, 2012. That’s the date when the Mayan Long Count calendar comes to a sudden end. There is no December 22nd, 2012, or any date afterward included on the lengthy circular calendar created thousands of years ago.

End-of-the-world prophesies range from earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and deadly solar flares, to the sudden appearance of a massive black hole which will swallow up our entire solar system.

Happily, modern-day scholars who’ve studied the calendar have no such fears. They explain the calendar was designed to simply start over again, essentially resetting itself to a line of zeros like a car’s odometer when it passes the 999,999 mile mark.

So what exactly did the Mayans predict about December 21 st, 2012? According to those modern-day scholars: nothing. The ancient Mayans left no record of what would happen when the calendar reset.

While the Gloomy Gusses of the world continue to foretell of Earth’s demise, optimists see the calendar’s end as a positive event, the dawn of a new era in human consciousness. Still, others don’t expect anything particularly unusual to happen, that life will go on as it always has.

Whatever your beliefs, I wish you a Happy Mayan New Year. If you’re one of the doomsday sayers, I sure hope you’re wrong. But just in case you’re right, I’m not going to bother writing next week’s blog entry until December 22 nd.

 

Dec. 1, 2012--NIGHTMARES BEFORE CHRISTMAS

When Ebenezer Scrooge first laid eyes on the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, he refused to believe what he was seeing. He explained away the apparition as a fault with his senses brought about by a stomach disorder. “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” he told his ghostly guest. “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

As it turns out, Mr. Scrooge wasn’t too far off the mark in blaming his dinner for such a weird vision. According to experts, having a late-night snack might indeed cause nightmares. Eating right before going to sleep can trigger an increase in your metabolism, thus signaling your brain to become more active. Other nightmare-inducing sources include: sleeping in an uncomfortable position, having a fever, or being stressed or anxious.

In the old days, people thought nightmares were brought about by a heavy monster that would sit upon their chests as they slept. Others blamed the devil, believing he sent minions in the shape of spectral horses to terrify them in the night. The word nightmare is actually derived from the Old English word mare which was a mythological demon known to torment people with frightening dreams.

According to superstition, there are a number of ways to prevent nightmares: pin your socks in the shape of a cross to the end of your bed, fix small straw crosses to the four corners of your sleeping area, or place a knife or other metal object nearby. The latent magic of iron or steel is well-known for keeping malevolent spirits away. If none of those work, you can also try placing your shoes under the bed with the toes pointing out, and sleeping with your hands crossed over your chest—which I find a little creepy.

Modern-day cures aren’t nearly as interesting. They include going to bed and waking at about the same time every day, avoiding snacks or exercise right before bedtime, sleeping with a light on, and keeping your bedroom door open. It’s also suggested you avoid reading scary books before sleep—a practice with which I highly disagree. What better time to enjoy a scary book than in the dark, quiet hours of the night?

If you’re one of those people who seem to have more than your fair share of bad dreams, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Studies indicate we creative and imaginative types are more prone to nightmares due to our empathetic nature and our ability to tune in to our surroundings. Or, it might just be the side effects from eating one too many underdone potatoes.

 

Nov. 17, 2012--THE BLOB BLOG

It’s during this pilgrimmy, thankful time of year that our thoughts naturally turn toward our blessings and toward turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. And when I see cranberry sauce, my thoughts naturally turn toward horror movies, specifically the 1958 campy, corny, sci-fi film, THE BLOB. Out of the hundreds of horror movies I watched as a kid, The Blob sticks in my memory to this day. Not because it was horrible or funny, but because the creature reminded me of a gi-normous glob of jellied cranberry sauce coming to eat America. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against jellied cranberry sauce, even if it does look gross. I actually like it. I find it adds that extra bit of tart and tangy sweetness to every Thanksgiving meal.

In the movie, the Blob is a giant amoeba sort of alien that crashes to Earth. An old man finds it and does what any sensible person would do; he pokes it with a stick. As it turns out, the Blob does not like being poked with a stick, so it eats the old man. The Blob then starts to grow, terrorizing the small town where it crash landed, and soon begins consuming people right and left.

As with most outer-space monster movies, the plot revolves around scientists and law enforcement officials trying to figure out a way to defeat the creature. But all I could think while watching the red gelatinous monster devour the townsfolk was, “Why don’t you just eat the thing? Cook up all the turkeys in the local A&P, stir up a couple barrels of cornbread stuffing, then invite the whole town out for a feast. Hand everyone a fork, direct them toward the Blob, and tell them to dig in.

Here’s hoping you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

And when you see that glob of cranberry sauce staring up at you from your plate, do yourself a favor; eat it before it eats you.

 

Nov. 10, 2012--OUIJA MINTS

A few weeks ago I made an interesting purchase at our local bed and bath store—a small tin of breath mints in the shape of a miniature Ouija board. When I was a kid, my older sister had a real Ouija board. I have fond memories of the two of us sitting on the floor in our dimly-lit bedroom, the board between us as she called upon the spirits to answer her urgent questions. For the life of me though, I can’t remember what she asked. Most likely her questions flowed along the lines of, “Who likes me more, Dennis or Kevin?” What I do remember is my fear and amazement when the plastic pointer beneath our fingertips began moving across the board’s surface. It seemed to scoot along on its own, slowly but surely making its way toward an answer.

The word Ouija is a combination of the French oui and the German ja, both meaning ‘yes’. The board itself is rectangular in shape with the words “YES” and “NO” printed at the top. Beneath those are the 26 letters of the alphabet, followed by the numbers zero through nine. The words “GOOD BYE” are located at the bottom center. Each Ouija board comes with a pointer device known as a planchette, which is French for “little board”. The two people wishing to communicate with the spirits place their fingers lightly on the planchette and ask their questions aloud. A spirit will move the device, pushing it toward words, numbers, or a series of letters. When all questions have been answered, the planchette is placed over the words "GOOD BYE" to signify the session is over.

Advocates for the Ouija board say it’s an effective way to communicate with the spirit world, while some see it as nothing more than a harmless parlor game. Yet, others warn it’s a dangerous tool in the hands of the untrained due to its power to attract evil spirits.

Some Ouija fans say their boards have inspired them to write. They claim their poems and novels were channeled to them, and all they had to do was transcribe the words as they were dictated.

I wonder if my tiny tin Ouija would be as cooperative. I guess I’d have to find a miniscule planchette first. If it won’t dictate my next novel, I’m hoping it will at least write a few blog posts for me.

GOOD BYE

 

Nov. 3, 2012—MUMMY-MAKING IN SIX, NOT-SO-EASY, STEPS

Happy King Tut Day!

It was on November 4th, 1922 that British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen. It wasn’t until November 26th though, that Carter actually entered the tomb’s surprisingly still-intact chambers. He explored the rooms over several years, uncovering thousands of priceless objects, most of which are now housed in the Cairo Museum. His most spectacular find was a solid gold coffin containing the mummy of the boy king.

King Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut, ascended the Egyptian throne over 3,000 years ago when he was a nine-year-old boy. He ruled for only a short while until his untimely death at the age of nineteen. As they had done with Egyptian rulers before him, embalmers mummified the young king, believing it would preserve both his body and spirit.

If you’re wondering how they did this, here are the six not-so-easy steps.

(You might want to skip numbers 2 and 3 if you’re squeamish.)

1. WASH-The body was washed and anointed with sacred oils.

2. CUT-A cut was made on the left side of the body and many of the internal organs were removed and packed in natron, a salt-like substance that would dry them. The organs were either returned to the body or wrapped in linen and placed in decorative stone jars. The heart was left in place because it was believed to be the center of thoughts and emotions, and would be needed in the afterlife.

3. HOOK-A long, hooked rod was inserted into one of the nasal passages and then used to pull the brain out through the nose.

4. COVER-The body was covered with natron to dehydrate and preserve the flesh.

5. STUFF-After the drying process, the body was washed again, anointed with more oils and stuffed with items like leaves or sawdust to give it a natural-looking shape.

6. WRAP-The body was then wrapped from head to toe in strips of white linen. Sacred amulets were placed between fabric layers to protect the mummy and ensure a safe passage to the afterlife.

The whole process took embalmers about 70 days, but the results have lasted for thousands of years.

 

Oct. 27, 2012--THE NIGHT OF 600 MILLION POUNDS OF CANDY

Only a few days left until Halloween, that most glorious night of the year for those who love things dark and creepy, as well as for those who love candy and costuming and Trick-or-Treating.

Surprisingly, the U.S. tradition of Trick-or-Treating is a fairly young one, only coming to popularity within the last hundred years. But the practice of dressing in costume and begging for treats on the night of October 31st goes much farther back. During the middle ages in Great Britain and Ireland, children participated in what was called “Souling”. They would go door to door reciting prayers or singing in exchange for small cakes. During the Celtic celebrations of Samhain, people dressed in costumes made of animal skins in order to frighten away spirits, fairies and demons. Historians believe the Celtic people also disguised themselves as ghosts, then visited the homes of their neighbors to perform humorous skits in trade for food and drinks.

Here are a few interesting stats regarding Halloween in America today:

-93% of children go Trick-or-Treating every year.

-Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy during the Halloween season.

-52% of people will hand out chocolate to Trick-or-Treaters.

-68% of children say chocolate is their favorite treat to receive, with 9% preferring lollipops, 7% preferring gummy candy and 7% preferring gum.

-90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during the week of Halloween, compared to 48 million pounds sold during Easter.

-Nearly 120 million Americans dress in costumes during Halloween.

-The most popular adult costumes are: witches, pirates, vampires, cats, fairies and nurses.

-The most popular children’s costumes are: princesses, witches, superheroes and pirates.

Happy Halloween to you and yours! Be safe when you’re out there Trick-or-Treating, and make sure you get your share of that 600 million pounds of candy.

 

Oct. 20, 2012--THREE DAYS OF THE DEAD

I love Halloween and all that goes with it: decorations, candy, costumes, parties, haunted houses, scary stories, and of course, Trick-or-Treating. What I don’t like is that we get only a single night to celebrate. I wish we could do things the way our neighbors in Mexico do, honoring the dead with not one, but three days of festivities.

Celebrations there begin on October 31st with the cleaning of grave sites and the decorating of altars dedicated to dead loved ones. At midnight, the spirits of deceased children revisit the world of the living and spend the following day with their families. Some people set out toys for the ghostly youngsters in order that they’ll have something to play with. November 1st is known as Dia de los Inocentes, a day of remembrance for the lost children. November 2nd is Dia de Muertos—the Day of the Dead—the time in which to honor those who died as adults.

The three day festivity of the dead is a cheerful, colorful one, celebrating the everlasting life of the soul. Customs revolve around gatherings of family and friends who pray for and remember deceased loved ones. The days are commemorated with parties, parades, songs and feasts. The living light candles and burn incense to help the dead find their way back. Clay altars are trimmed with photos, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the dearly departed. Party food for the living consists of brightly decorated skulls and coffins made from sugar and chocolate. Sweet glazed breads topped with bone-shaped pieces of dough are also customary. Other celebratory events include going house to house to share memories of dead friends and loved ones who are believed to be standing by and listening. The living also go to church, and then later to the cemetery for a picnic with the souls. When the festivities finally end, the spirits return to their graves where it’s hoped they’ll rest peacefully, until they rejoin the living again at next year’s Day of the Dead.

 

Oct. 13, 2012--CREATIVELY CREEPY JACK-O’-LANTERNS

It’s time for us to make our annual visit to the local pumpkin patch—before all the good ones get taken. After searching row after row of orange, white, and even a few gray pumpkins, we’ll settle upon the most unique ones on the lot and then take them home to display on our front porch for a few weeks. We can’t actually carve them until the night before Halloween though. October is still so hot and muggy here, that to cut them up any earlier will only result in a shriveling, rotting Jack O’ Lantern within a day or two. And, while a shriveled, rotting Jack-O’-Lantern does sound creatively creepy, it will also begin to smell and attract swarms of tiny flies. Maybe we should try sculpting beets or turnips instead. We certainly wouldn’t be the first people to come up with the idea. In fact, that’s exactly how the tradition of pumpkin carving began.

Long ago, folk in Scotland and Ireland would carve scary faces into turnips and beets. On All Hallows’ Eve they would set them on their doorsteps in hopes of keeping evil spirits away. The practice eventually moved to the United States with Scottish and Irish immigrants who discovered carving pumpkins was much easier.

As it turns out, the Irish are also responsible for the origin of the name, Jack-O’-Lantern. There’s an old Irish story that tells of a shrewd, lazy man named Stingy Jack. Somewhere along the way in his less than virtuous life, he managed to trick the devil. When Jack died, because he had lived such a sinful life, he could not be admitted into heaven. And since the devil was still ticked off about the trick, he wouldn’t let Jack into hell either. Seeing as how Jack didn’t know where to go, or how he would find his way around, the devil tossed him an ember from the flames of hell, an ember that could never be extinguished. Jack cut out a turnip, put the ember inside it, and used the makeshift lantern to light his way as he wandered the Earth searching for a place to rest. He became known as Jack of the Lantern, a name which eventually evolved into Jack-O’-Lantern.

 

Oct. 6, 2012--HAPPY HALLOWWEN! HAPPY ANCIENT CELTIC NEW YEAR!

The month of October has finally arrived, and for me this can mean only one thing. It’s time to prepare for Halloween, time to take the skeletons out of the closet and turn the bathroom into the “bat” room. It’s time to create a family of newspaper-stuffed monster men and seat them at the rubber-rat infested dining room table. We’ll lay the fine china out before them, piling each plate high with servings of bloodified body parts—fake parts made of plastic, of course.

Halloween, also known as All Hallows Eve, takes place every October 31st. It’s a night filled with costume parties and going door to door Trick-or-Treating for candy. The origins of this delightfully dark holiday can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the ancient Celts and their New Year festival of Samhain.

Back then, the Celtic people celebrated New Year’s Day on what we now refer to as November 1st. On that last night of the year though, it was believed the spirits of the dead walked the Earth as they made their way toward the afterlife. It was also a night when demons, witches and warlocks were feared to be out and about. In hopes of warding off such dark beings, the people would light bonfires and dress in costumes. Other Samhain festivities are said to have involved Celts disguising themselves as spirits, then going from home to home, performing amusing skits in exchange for food and drink.

Samhain was eventually transformed by early Christian leaders who decreed November 1st to be All Saint’s Day, or All Hallows’ Day, the date on which we should honor the saints and the martyrs. The night before, which was still celebrated with bonfires and costumes, came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve. Over the years, the name morphed into what we now call, Halloween, the holiday so many of us know and love. It’s estimated Americans will buy almost 600 million pounds of candy this Halloween, and nearly 120 million of us will dress up in costumes. With stats like that, it looks like some of those ancient Samhain practices will be around for a long time to come.

 

Sept. 29, 2012--GRUESOME GARDENS AND SINISTER STUDIOS

One of the best things about living in Florida is our close proximity to all the big theme parks: Disney, Universal, Sea World, Busch Gardens. And one of the things I love about those parks is that during this spine-chilling, bloodcurdling, most wonderful time of the year, they go all out, creating some pretty spectacular Halloween events.

While Disney World offers its mild-mannered, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Sea World hosts the family-friendly Halloween Spooktacular, it’s Busch Gardens and Universal Studios that are much more my speed, wowing screaming park goers with a plethora of imagineered blood, guts and gore.

This year, Busch Gardens’ annual Howl-O-Scream event will offer up such haunted attractions as: Blood Asylum, where a serial killer is running loose through a mental hospital; Circus of Superstition 3-D containing crazed circus clowns in a tent of terror; Nevermore, focusing on gothic terror with swinging pendulums, beating hearts and cawing ravens; the Zombie Mortuary, a small town funeral home for the undead; Ultimate Gamble—an abandoned and condemned casino; and Nightshade Toy Factory, stocked with mutated, possessed and radioactive toys. Guests also must walk—or run—through Scare Zones, themed outdoor areas staged along the park’s main pathways and stocked with frightening decor and creepy creatures. A number of dark and macabre shows are also available for guests’ viewing pleasure.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, which most horror fans consider to be the big daddy of haunted theme park events, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each season. This year’s houses include: Penn & Teller New(kd) Las Vegas in which the famous magicians accidentally nuke Las Vegas; shock rocker Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, presenting a myriad of twisted tormentors; Silent Hill located in the creepy desolate town of Silent Hill where the laws of nature no longer apply; and The Walking Dead, based on the hit AMC television series featuring a city crawling with hordes of undead “walkers”. In addition to the haunted houses, there are a number of themed scare zones, roaming scare-actors, and a variety of live stage shows, the most talked about being, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure in which the year’s pop culture and world events are parodied and spoofed.

I can’t wait to buy my tickets and take my tours of the gruesome gardens and the sinister studios, screaming myself silly as I make my way through all that demented, delightful darkness.

 

Sept. 22, 2012--GRUMPY GATORS AND CRYING KITTENS

Last week I saved a turtle. This week I rescued an alligator and a kitten. I must be some kind of magnet for critters in need. The alligator removal proved to be surprisingly easy, much easier than that of the tiny kitten. The four-feet-long gator, which had parked itself on the sidewalk near the town tennis courts and Little League baseball field, grew annoyed with my frantic cell phone calls and the barrage of photos I took of it. After a few minutes, it heaved itself onto its stubby legs, waddled across the street, then disappeared into the nearby woods.

The piteously-crying kitten, however, took me three days of crawling through muddy woods, getting devoured by mosquitoes and suffering cuts to my arms from the clumps of razor-sharp grass where the kitty had established its hideout. I finally managed to catch it, and a lovely retired lady adopted the cuddly little gray and white fluff ball. I would have kept it myself, but we already have four rescued cats. If I don’t adhere to my strict, no-more-cats policy, I’ll easily fall into the role of crazy cat lady, taking in every stray feline that comes my way.

I don’t know what it is about cats that makes me adore them. They bite, scratch, yak on the carpet, pee in the laundry basket and terrorize lizards. But there’s just something about them that puts me completely under their spells. Lucky for me, we live in a time when accusations of witchcraft are not something I have to worry about. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always so. Hundreds of years ago in Europe and America, many women were believed to be witches because of their close association to their cats. It was believed cats served as familiars to their witch mistresses. A familiar is an animal assistant that obeys the commands of its owner, usually cooperating with her in some form of dark and evil magic.

Obviously, these accusers knew very little about cats. Anyone who has ever been owned by a feline can tell you, cats are not exactly obedient or cooperative.

 

Sept. 15, 2012--TURTLE POWER

While driving through town a few mornings ago, I spotted a turtle tottering along the shoulder of the road. It was headed toward a wooded area on the other side of an ornamental aluminum fence. Afraid the little guy might turn around and crawl into the busy roadway, I pulled over to perform a rescue. This wasn’t my first turtle rescue. I once tried to assist a very large, very irritable snapping turtle, but that’s a post for another day. This particular reptile was a Florida box turtle, maybe about the size of your average soup bowl. Its shell was gorgeous, covered in brilliant yellow geometric patterns that looked like an artist had painted them there. This guy knew exactly where he wanted to go. He clambered up onto the bottom rail of the fence and dove through its vertical bars. Unfortunately, his shell was wider than he realized, and he found himself wedged tight.

With his little clawed hands and feet swimming uselessly through the air, it was an undignified predicament for any critter to find himself in, even more so for a turtle since they have such low street cred anyway. Aside from Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, you’d be hard pressed to name one super cool, butt-kicking turtle…unless you’re a fan of Japanese Kaiju films. In which case, you would immediately shout out the name, Gamera!

Kaiju films are essentially giant-mutant-monster movies. Created in 1965, Gamera is a colossal turtle with spikes on his elbows and two huge tusks protruding from his lower jaws. Not only can he walk on two legs, he’s also able to fly and shoot explosive plasma fireballs from his mouth. His shell is nearly impenetrable, easily deflecting missiles and a variety of death rays blasted at him from his opponents. Gamera is pretty much one of the good guys, defending humanity from a host of other gigantic monsters.

Other Kaiju film stars include the famous Godzilla, a massive, two-legged dinosaur-lizard creature, the unintentional result of nearby nuclear detonations. His personality fluctuates from movie to movie. Sometimes he’s one of the good guys, other times he’s the villain. Occasionally, Mothra, an enormous butterfly-moth monster assists Godzilla in battling the bad guys. Other times she fights Godzilla, especially when he gets angry at humans and starts stomping their buildings and buses. Rodan is a huge pterodactyl-type monster. Like Mothra, he too can be an ally or opponent to the hot-tempered Godzilla.

But back to my turtle rescue. I freed him from the fence, placed him on the other side and watched him make his way into the wooded area. As he went, I couldn’t help but think, life would be so much easier for turtles if they could fly. I imagine he was probably thinking the same thing.

 

Sept. 8, 2012--DEFY, BUT DON’T DENY, YOUR SUPERSTITIONS

September 13th is Defy Superstition Day. This is the day you break free from the belief that a particular action or object will bring you luck or ward off evil. If you’re one of those people who claim they don’t believe in superstitions, think again. You probably do quite a few strange things you can’t explain. Saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes, or making a wish while blowing out birthday candles are both superstitious acts.

In honor of Defy Superstition Day, here are a few interesting tidbits regarding some of our more popular, modern-day superstitions.

Never walk beneath a ladder. Ladders are used by the spirits of the recently deceased to climb to heaven. By preventing one of these souls from mounting it, you will receive bad luck. In the event there’s no choice but to walk under a ladder, crossing your fingers and keeping them crossed until you see a dog will offer you some protection.

Breaking a mirror will bring you seven years of bad luck. However, if you bury the broken pieces in sacred ground, your luck will remain intact.

Spilling salt will lead to a fight, but if you toss a pinch of it over your left shoulder it will keep the bad luck at bay. By doing this, you will drive the devil away before he can whisper in your ear. Tracing the shape of a cross in the spilled salt is also effective.

The number 13 is unlucky. This belief is so strongly held that many buildings are designed without a thirteenth floor, going directly from the twelfth to the fourteenth. It is extremely unlucky to be seated at a dinner table with thirteen people, as the first person to rise will die within the year. To prevent this from happening, when someone is ready to leave, everyone at the table should rise together.

Finding a four-leaf clover is lucky. The four leaflets represent fame, wealth, a faithful lover and good health. The luck is doubled if the clover is immediately given to someone else. It is further claimed that anyone who wears a four-leaf clover will be able to see fairies.

Horseshoes ward off evil and bring good luck. If you find a horseshoe, you should spit on it and then toss it over your left shoulder while making a wish. Or, you can take it home and nail it over your doorway. This will bring good luck not just to you, but to anyone who passes underneath it. Most people believe the prongs should face upward in order to prevent the good luck from falling out, while others believe the prongs should point downward in order to spill the good luck on those who walk beneath it.

 

Sept. 1, 2012--HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH—IT’S NATIONAL BEHEADING DAY!

Just to give you a “heads” up, September 2nd is National Beheading Day. I’m not sure how this holiday came to be, but I do know I’m head over heals for legends of headless horsemen. And lucky for me, there are plenty of them told around the world.

Those of us in the United States are probably most familiar with the headless horseman featured in Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. For those of you who are not, here’s a recap:

The tale takes place in New York, in a 1790’s Dutch settlement by the name of Sleepy Hollow. The ghost of a headless horseman—formerly a Hessian soldier hired by the British to help suppress the American Revolution, and who consequently gets his head blown off by an American cannonball—roams the land at night. He rides a black horse while carrying his own severed head. In the story, an unfortunate schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane meets up with the horseman one dark and dreary night and is never seen again. Some of the townsfolk say he was frightened out of the county by a prankster, but others claim the Headless Horseman carried him away.

In Ireland, their headless horseman is known as the Dullahan, which means “dark man”. The Dullahan is a ghostly rider on a black, fire-breathing horse. He keeps his glowing, decapitated head tucked beneath his arm or held high in the air. Some say it lights his way on the dark country back roads. He also carries a whip made from the spine of a human corpse. Sometimes he’s described as riding atop a black carriage being pulled by six headless horses. Whatever his method of transportation, the Dullahan is a foreteller of death. This otherworldly rider makes no sound as he rides, but when he stops, it is said his detached head will call out the name of the person who is destined to die next.

India’s headless horseman is known as the Dund, and he too is a messenger of death. Riding with his head mounted on the pommel of his saddle, he carries a sword in each hand. When he stops, it is at the door of someone who is about to die, and it is there that he calls out that person’s name.

Germany’s headless horseman, however, is a bit more helpful. The Wild Huntsman, as he’s known, is accompanied by a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire. When the Huntsman blows his horn, it’s a warning to living hunters not to ride the next day, or they will meet with an unfortunate accident.

So, how will you celebrate National Beheading Day? Head over to the library to read up on more headless folktales and legends? Start a shrunken head collection? Make an appointment to have your head examined? However you decide to commemorate the day, just make sure you get a head start on you friends and family. Dive in head first, go wild, get crazy, but whatever you do…don’t lose your head.

 

August 25, 2012--THE MONSTROUSLY POPULAR FRANKENSTEIN

Mark your calendars. August 30th is Frankenstein Day. It’s also the day Mary Wollenstone Shelley was born. She’s the author of the 1818 classic horror novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. (The Modern Prometheus is the novel’s subtitle, but many modern editions of the book no longer include it.) If you missed out on this monstrous day of celebration, don’t worry. You’ll still get your chance on October 29th which happens to be National Frankenstein Day, and once again on Frankenstein Friday which falls on October 30th this year.

We do love our Frankenstein Monster. So much so, that he’s become a cultural icon. His face has been featured on everything from lunch boxes and coffee mugs to United States postage stamps.

For those of you familiar with the monster’s image, but not the novel, Frankenstein is the story of a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein who brings to life a soulless creature made up of human parts and pieces stolen from graveyards and dissecting rooms. The creature longs for human compassion, but receives their fear and hatred instead. He then takes out his anger and frustration with his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, by killing people. Some of you might be surprised to discover Mary Shelley did not name the creature, Frankenstein. Throughout the book he’s referred to instead as “monster”, “fiend”, “being”, “it”, and “thing”.

Over the years, almost 200 by now, the name Frankenstein has endured, and so has the iconic figure of the monster as a lumbering, boot-wearing, bolts-in-the neck, green monster. In the book though, Mary Shelly describes him as being 8-foot-tall, more flexible than a mortal, with black lips, watery eyes, and tight yellowish skin that barely disguises the blood vessels and muscles underneath. We’ve not only managed to rename Mary Shelley’s monster, but we’ve given him a complete makeover too. Still, he remains one of the most popular and well-recognized literary figures of all time.

So, how will you celebrate the upcoming Frankenstein holidays? Watching a Frankenstein-themed movie is a good option. You have a nearly endless list of them to choose from. (The first Frankenstein movie was made in 1910, but the most popular one is probably Universal Pictures’ 1931 version, Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster.) You also have an abundance of Frankenstein-inspired TV shows, cartoons, music (“Monster Mash”), toys, video games, novels, and even a breakfast cereal (Frankenberry) to enjoy.

 

August 18, 2012--WHAT A SCREAM

I just love the sound of people screaming.

This is a thought I had the other day. Admittedly, a rather disturbing one, but considering I was standing across the street from Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, I don’t think it makes me too very demented. Still, it got me to wondering. Why do we scream? After doing a little online researching, here’s what I found out:

Basically, we scream because we’re afraid, surprised or are in pain.

Screaming’s not all bad though. Sometimes it has its perks. When we’re frightened and let out a loud yelp, it acts as a way of calling attention to ourselves, thus improving our odds that someone will come to our aid. Screaming can also serve as a form of defense, scaring away predators and bad guys. If nothing else, a loud crazy scream can halt the enemy in their path long enough to allow us a chance to escape. Sometimes our screams act as warnings, signaling our friends that danger is near. This is a very nice and selfless thing to do. Unfortunately, it also gives away our exact position to the monster or bad guy, drawing attention away from our friends.

Sometimes we scream in surprise when something unexpected happens, like when our friend sneaks up on us and yells, “Boo!” Sometimes we scream when we receive a painful injury, like getting shot or stabbed, or when we hear some terrible news.

Screaming might also provide us a few biological benefits. Scientists have discovered that when we make frightened faces, we breathe faster through our noses, thus increasing our sense of smell. Not only that, but our eyes move faster and our range of vision improves. Altering our facial configuration also increases blood flow to the brain and changes the way we feel.

So why do we scream while riding amusement park thrill rides? Maybe it’s our fear of falling, our surprise at a sudden twist, or the physical sensation of speeding and dropping. Maybe it’s our way of warning others to stay away from this danger. Which is kind of contradictory considering the first thing most of us do when the ride ends is go straight to our friends and tell them how awesome the experience was and that they MUST ride this ride. (Serves them right for all those times they snuck up on us and yelled, “Boo!”)

 

August 11, 2012--WEE HAIRY FOOTED HOBBITS

I recently watched the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. At the end (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for those of you who haven’t seen or read J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOTR, though if you haven’t, I’m kind of wondering why. LOTR is a cultural phenomenon after all). So, at the end of the movie, one of the ethereally-attractive elves announces to the humans and the wee hobbits that the time of the elves is over. It is now the time for humans to rule. The elves then sail away into the sunset, bound for some beautiful, mysterious land.

“But what about the hobbits?” I wondered. “What happened to them when the humans took over?”

(For the one or two of you out there who don’t know what a hobbit is, hobbits—also known as ‘halflings’—are a race of very nice, very little people who look a lot like humans, but have exceptionally big and hairy feet.)

“Where are the descendants of the hobbits today?” I further wondered. “Even if hobbit DNA eventually intermingled with human DNA over the many, many, long, long years, surely some hobbit characteristics would still be evident.”

And then it hit me. Oh, dear. Not only am I short, but I have big feet. And, yes, my feet are a wee bit hairy—though only a wee bit.

And in case you’re thinking hobbits are strictly the fictional creation of Mr. Tolkien, think again.

In 2004, scientists discovered the fossilized remains of a group of very small hominids on the Indonesian island of Flores. At about three-feet-tall and with skulls the size of grapefruits, these little people were equivalent in size to a modern-day three-year-old child. The first skeleton found was a 3.3 feet tall female who had weighed approximately 55 pounds, and was about 30 years old when she died. According to clues left behind, the little Flores people hunted 2,000 pound dwarf elephants there on the island. Pretty impressive for someone the size of a three-year-old child. Scientists named the species Home floresiensis after the island where they were found. The dig workers named them hobbits. It’s believed they lived 18,000 to 13,000 years ago, and became extinct as a result of a major volcanic eruption.

 

August 4, 2012--HOTTER THAN HELL

“Man! This weather. It’s hotter than Hell!”

That’s how some people describe summertime here in sunny, muggy Florida—at least the part of Florida where I live. Yep. It’s that time of year again, when my front door becomes an oven door. Each time I open it, I’m blasted with a wave of 100 degree heat. And while it certainly is hot here, I’m thinking Hell is a probably a helluva lot hotter.

Or is it?

In many religions, Hell is depicted as a fiery place of torment and punishment, a place of everlasting flames ruled by the devil and a multitude of demons. In Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem, The Inferno, Hell is portrayed as a series of punishment circles with demons plunging sinners into sulphurous flames while other evil-doers are roasted on spits over open fires. Depictions of Hell as a fiery place can also be found in the Bible’s book of Revelation where it’s written the devil was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, and anyone whose name was not found recorded in the book of life was also thrown into the lake of fire.

However, Hell isn’t always depicted as a place of burning flames. Much like Florida, Hell seems to display a wide range of weather conditions. Sometimes it’s even portrayed as a place of frozen misery. Tibetan Buddhist descriptions of hell portray it as a place both hot and cold. In Dante’s 9 th circle of Hell, Satan is seen as a giant beast frozen up to his breast in ice. As Satan beats his wings, he creates a cold wind which freezes the suffering sinners around him.

So, when the frigid winter winds come blowing south this January, and some thin-skinned Floridians are heard to say, “Man! This weather. It’s colder than Hell!” you’ll know they’re not exaggerating. At least, not too much.

 

July 28, 2012--THOSE PESKY GREMLINS

I think we might have a gremlin living inside our new refrigerator. Recently, our shiny, stainless steel appliance has taken to making weird growling noises, and when we push our cups to the in-the-door dispenser expecting a dose of cool refreshing water, it chucks crushed ice at us instead. I’m also a little concerned about our toilets. Ever since we brought the new refrigerator home, our commodes have been randomly erupting with quick flushing sounds. As I write this, a disturbing thought occurs to me. What if our gremlin is traveling back and forth, going straight from our toilets and into our ice maker? If so, I can only hope it’s washing its hands first, though I’m doubtful since I’ve yet to hear any sink faucets turning on and off by themselves.

And as a point of reference, the type of gremlin I’m talking about has nothing to do with the mutated Mogwai critters from the 1984 Gremlin movie. In fact, I have no idea what a real gremlin actually looks like, but I imagine it to be something in the form of a tiny goblin. Whatever their appearance, what I can tell you for sure is that they’re mischievous, impish little beings who get their jollies interfering with all things mechanical. They’re also known to misplace tools and blunt the tips of sharp objects like knives, scissors and saws. They typically enter your home by riding along inside the appliances and machines you bring in. That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a way to get rid of them. Simply set out an empty beer bottle, and the gremlin will crawl inside and stay there. I suggest you then remove the bottle from your house and throw it into a trash receptacle located very far away.

Unfortunately, gremlins don’t limit themselves to household appliances. They also cause malfunctions in airplanes, trains, cars, and even motorcycles. Motorcycle Gremlins are known as Road Gremlins. They’re not only responsible for mechanical problems, but for small items left scattered along the road. To combat these wicked troublemakers, smart bikers will hang a small bell from their motorcycle’s frame or handlebars. This keeps new gremlins away and traps any gremlins already occupying the bike. The way it works is that the gremlin becomes trapped inside the bell where the ringing drives it crazy, causing it to let go and fall to the roadway below. While this is good for the owner of the infected bike, it’s probably rather unfortunate for the next motorcyclist who happens along and isn’t outfitted with his or her own gremlin bell.

 

July 21, 2012 -- ZOMBIE WEEDS

It’s summertime here in Florida, which means lots of rain, which means lots of weeds. Every evening, I dutifully pull, hack, cut, machete, ax and poison the wild growth in the jungle that’s my front yard. And every morning the vines, weeds and mutant stalks are back. Like Zombies, those things are nearly impossible to kill. I half expect one of these days they’ll begin creeping toward the house, slithering beneath the front door and down the hallway to my room where they’ll climb the side of the bed, wrap themselves around my throat and…

Note to self: call landscaper first thing in the morning to have front lawn replaced with Astroturf.

Speaking of zombies—the undead-people kind—here are some helpful facts: A zombie is a corpse that has been reanimated by mystical means, or as a result of radiation, chemicals, or an infectious virus. The two most popular forms of zombies are those found in Haiti which are intentionally raised from the dead (for our purposes, we’ll refer to them as Bokor Zombies) and those which are unintentionally infected: your friends, neighbors, classmates and co-workers, mindlessly stumbling through the streets of your hometown, desperately searching for a tasty morsel of brain food. We’ll refer to them as The Mindless Stumblers.

Bokor Zombies are essentially dead people who are magically reawakened by a type of sorcerer or witch doctor known as a bokor. These zombies are commonly used as laborers—usually field workers. They remain under the control of the bokor and are not self-aware. They are also not dangerous. Bokor Zombies should be freed rather than killed. It is said that feeding them salt will return them to their senses, thus releasing them.

Mindless Stumblers on the other hand, are the result of contagion and are quite vicious and nasty. Anyone bitten by one will soon become a zombie him or herself. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long for a full blown zombie plague to occur. These zombies are always hungry for brains or human flesh. They move slowly, but don’t be fooled. They’re extremely strong and are unaffected by pain, capable of continuing their pursuit even after losing multiple body parts. They are, however, afraid of fire and bright lights. The only known ways to kill them is through destruction of the brain or by decapitation.

Or, you could just hunker down and leave the messy business of zombie disposal to the scientists at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In the event of a zombie outbreak, the CDC recommends you keep an emergency kit on hand in your home. The kit should include food, water, and other supplies to sustain you until you’re able to find your way to a zombie-free refugee camp. While you’re in hiding—eating canned food, drinking bottled water and playing endless rounds of checkers and card games with your fellow refugees—you can rest assured the CDC will be working tirelessly to determine the cause of the infection and figure out the best way to treat infected patients. (Most probably by surgical removal of the patient’s head.)