If you have never taken a walking to through a cemetery for Halloween, I’d suggest you give it a try.
The first time I took a haunted tour through a cemetery was in New Orleans where I was pleasantly suprised to find you could wander around with a giant fruit flavored drink ( I think I had a strawberry margarita, but it may have been a daiquiri , I get then confused ) in your hand and along side the plastic straw jammed in the top of the cup was a hallowed out red licorice stick encrusted with sugar.
I’m from Washington state and drinking alchohol as you stroll through a cemetery is frowned upon- and by frowned upon I mean it’s super illegal.
The tour group I had joined that Halloween was a haunted history tour- so there weren’t any ghost stories per se, but that’s ok. I know plenty of ghost stories and the only way you can come up with new ones (when you’re a writer ) is to take reality and coat it with chunks of sugar and jam it into a giant plasitc mug full of Rum or Tequila.
Trust me here, sometimes it works.
Every now and then I would peel off from my group when we were freed up for a bit to take pictures or wander around the masoleums on our own. I shadowed a group of Wiccans, a group of Vampires ( yeah, well it was daylight so that sort of hurt my brain ) and another group getting a pretty detailed and graphic description of Voodoo rituals.
Then I would find my group and the tour would start back up again.
I was drinking, I mean touring with a lady from Michigan when we found a few ruinous crypts. The marble had slid away from one masoleum and the plate on the door that told you who’s place of eternal rest this is was a pile of rubble on the ground.
” Can you inagine what that sounded like when this fell apart?” she asked me.
Just then the Vampires joined us and I figure they were sort of floating around behind us to freak us out a bit.
I mean they were in black and they fangs looked pretty cool and the ones who weren’t wearing shades were wearing contact lenses that made their eyes look purple or wolfish. It was Halloween and if you’re going to dress up like a vampire and walk around a cemetery I HOPE they were trying to have a little fun.
On the other hand, I was on vacation from work where I embalm people so I didn’t spook easily.
” Must have sounded like the end of the world here when that marble hit the ground. ” Michigan told me.
” Oh yeah. But you know what? It must have sounded worse from inside. I mean all that cracking and slithering and sliding when the marble and granite fell away and then BOOM.” I sort of bellowed.
Michigan jumped a little. She poked me in the side with her drink. ” How would you know what it sounds like from the inside. ”
I poked her back.
Then I turned around and took a long drink from my licorice straw encrusted with sugar. ” Cause I’ve been in there a few times when things went wrong.”
All of the sudden my Vampires decided to tour the crypts a row down from us and me and Michigan continued our stroll on what was a beautiful, sunny Halloween afternoon.
When I think about all of the stories, all of the quips and conversations going on in the world around me, I see myself in a forest with tall dark trees that blot out the sky.
There aren’t any trails racing along the ground, there are no bugs scuttling over rocks, the are no birds perched on leafless branches watching the world belong them with golden unblinking eyes.
The only thing moving in the woods is a river raging in silence and standing on a single slick black rock in the midst of racing river is me.
That’s how I think of information- it flows at you and around you like wild white water before it disappears into creeks and streams and is slowly baked or starved to death under chunks of concrete or trapped by fallen trees where it turns thick with rot.
If you’re lucky though, you’ll catch those little bits of information that pass along in that river before they drop off the face of the world forever- I was lucky to catch some of those snapshots neatly stored in a read leather scrapbook and I have Mr Montague Hoode to thank for that.
I used to visit my Great Grandmother Minnie in what we used to call ” Rest Homes, ” Now days we call them ” Memory Care Facilities ” but if you ask me both terms sound pretty awful.
My Great Grandmother had no idea I was there which was pretty much in keeping with how she treated me before she was warehoused by my Dad and his sisters and even though I was under no obligation to do so, I visited her twice a month and once a week in October.
We would sit together, near a window overlooking a garden with wide smooth cement paths that ran up and down the garden in long smooth rows lined with wooden benches and driking fountains.
She would look out the window and I would read a book or magazine until Mr, Hoode made his way into the dayroom, all alone and unassisted to where we were sitting.
” And how are we today?” he was ask as formal as a character from a Charles Dickens novel.
I would reach out and take Grandmother Minnie’s wrist from where I was sitting. I checked for a pulse. Still looking out the window I would say, ” Alive and kicking.”
Mr. Hoode would look around and when he was satisfied that nobody was looking our way he would laugh and not caring if anyone saw me I would laugh along with him.
Before Mr. Hoode took up residence at The Rest Home he lived in a small town in Wisconsin and that he worked for the local newspaper, He told me he started carrying the papers and then he delivered the papers to the green barrels where the newspaper boys used to pick them up for their routes and then eventually he went to work in the office as a staff writer where my Great Grandmother Minnie was an editor.
He wrote little stories about dog shows and church functions and sometimes he did stories about local people who moved away.
He enjoyed writing those stories because they always made the front page and most important he said ‘ they were above the fold ”
” Were they famous ?” I asked once.
Mr. Hoode thought for a second. ” Nope, ”
” Were they bank robbers or you know- unsavory types.”
” Then what did they do to get those writeups?”
Mr. Hoode took a deep breath and closed his eyes. ” They always managed to die in the most spectacular fashion. Oh Francesca, they didn’t just drop dead. They were gunned down by bank crooks like Al Capone or Bonnie and Clyde. They were attacked by circus animals or their planes fell out of the sky or their ships sank in shark infested waters.”
On the days when the people in his hometown died quiet and traditional deaths it also fell to Mr. Hoode to write their obituaries.
” Those were the slow days.” Mr. Hoode got up, stretched his legs and sat back down. ” Not challenging at all. I mean, I could have written them in my sleep and most of the time I did.”
Sometimes when he was finished stretching his long spidery legs, he would tap the side of his nose and say, ” Let me get my scrapbook. I have a write up that will tickle your fancy. ”
On this particular day, my fancy was tickled to death.
Mr Hoode bounced out of the room and then he popped back in and while he was still standing he opened his leather scrap book with a flourish and then he handed it to me.
” For real? He had a heart attack and died while burying his business partner behind their offices? ”
I tried to not laugh but I did.
” Burns and Cahill were an exception to the quiet spectacular deaths. They sort of went out with a bang ” Mr Hoode said as if he was a little mystified by these deaths but he shrugged it off.
Whoa to me and Mr Hood because the day I read the story about Burns and Cahill was the day one of the Care Givers was sitting with Mrs. Linden and she heard and saw Mr. Hood and I going over that story.
Mrs. Linden’s caregiver ( Ms Toliver ) got up and when she was sure she had our attention and nobody else’s attention she leaned over the backs of our chairs and hissed- and I mean she hissed just like a snake, ” I’m getting sick to death of listening to the two of you and your twisted morbid death stories every Sunday. So you understand me? I am SICK TO DEATH OF IT.”
I reached to backpack and unzipped it. I fished around for a pen and handed it to Mr. Hoode. ” Go on. It’s to good to good a story to pass up. Maybe they’ll run it. ”
Mr. Hoode dropped me a wink, took my pen and and sat down. He flipped his book to the last page and with a smile eating away at his face from ear to ear he began to write.