Haunted House

Typically by this time we have already made our way to AZ for our fall trip at which time we open up the house and prepare it for our winter arrival on Christmas Day. This year, because of a doctor’s appointment related to Bill’s participation in the clinical research study, we have postponed our trip until November 6, the day after his appointment, at which time we will fly to AZ rather than drive, and return to Denver about a week-and-a-half later. I’m happy to say that our AZ house has already been opened up by my niece Maggie and her family, who are using it as a stop-off between selling their house and moving into their new home. It makes me happy to think about our little house in Mesa being lived in by Austin and Lilly (and their parents, of course). The patter of little feet and all that jazz.

We are, in fact, having to remain pretty flexible this year as a result of the research study. Part of the requirement is that Bill meets monthly with the doctor in Denver, which means that he, at least, will have to fly back once a month. I reckon as his care partner, I will be accompanying him. It will be a chance to give the grands a hug and kiss.

Anyhoo, it has been years since we have been in Denver for Halloween. We always get photos, but it will be fun this year to see the grands dressed up for trick-or-treating in person. We will have to make do with photos for the Vermonters.

As much as I like to read a good thriller, I’m frankly not much for watching scary movies. I really never have liked them, though I was more amenable to them when I was younger. I’m pretty sure the last horror movie I saw was The Sixth Sense, a film that scared the devil out of me. There is a scene in that movie where the little boy who “sees dead people” glimpses a dead woman with half of her head shot off walk from one room in his house across the hall to another room. For the next six months, every time I stayed up later than Bill, I would come upstairs, stop at the top of the stairs, and then run like hell down the hall to our bedroom. Hand to God. If Court had come out of his room about that time, I am certain I would have had a heart attack.

So I ask myself why-oh-why did I think watching a scary movie Saturday night when Bill was not home was a good idea. Some time ago, I read (and reviewed) the book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I found the book sufficiently spooky, but readable. Netflix recently began streaming an original version of the story, not in one film but in a series of eight or so episodes. As a tribute to Halloween, I decided to watch the first episode. At home by myself. I seriously wasn’t more than six or seven minutes into the first episode when I heard a gigantic crash somewhere in the house. You’ve got to be kidding me, right? I nearly jumped out of my chair. I paused the program and carefully began searching the house for a ghost, or perhaps a serial murderer. I went to the top of the stairs, but the woman with half a head was no where to be seen. I even managed to gather up all of my nerve and creep carefully down to our basement, but there was no ghost there either.

I managed to convince myself that the noise came from outside, perhaps someone throwing a pumpkin into the street. But I wasn’t able to bring myself back to the movie. I removed The Haunting of Hill House from my Netflix list, and I watched The Princess Diaries instead. How scary can Julie Andrews be?

Yesterday morning, I went into our guest room to look for something in the closet. I noticed that the piece of art that I had hung up after our painter was finished with his work was on the floor, the frame broken into pieces. I’m unwilling to admit that I just did a bad job of hanging the picture. I’m pretty sure the woman with no head was in our house Saturday night.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Unquiet Grave

The best thing about most of author Sharyn McCrumb’s books are the ghosts. They’re never scary or murderous. They’re not generally out to do anyone harm. The ghosts are just a part of Appalachian mythology. Like Cole in The Sixth Sense, Nora Bonesteel, featured in many of the books in McCrumb’s Ballad series, sees dead people. She has the sight.

Nora Bonesteel is not in McCrumb’s newest offering, The Unquiet Grave, but a ghost does play a key role. The book, unbelievably enough, is based on a true story in which an accused murderer is brought to trial based on evidence supplied by a ghost. The Greenbriar ghost, to be exact. The murder took place in West Virginia in 1897.

The reader first meets James P.D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer who has been confined to a segregated insane asylum since attempting suicide following the death of his wife. He begins to be treated by Dr. James Boozer, who is trying out the newfangled practice of treating mental illness by conversation rather than lobotomy or electric shock treatment. In the course of their conversation, which is woven in and out of the novel, we learn that Gardner was involved as an attorney in the Greenbriar murder case. The story is told through these conversations.

Back in 1897, beautiful and willful Zona Heaster marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a blacksmith who has been married twice before. His second wife died under mysterious circumstances. It isn’t long before Zona’s family starts to notice that things aren’t as they should be in the Shue marriage. Zona rarely sees her family, she is skin and bones, and she is isolated from the entire community. Within a short period of time, she dies from a fall down the steps. The fall is determined to be an accident.

Zona’s mother Mary Jane is suspicious from the get go. Though not a bit superstitious and deeply religious, she claims to see the ghost of her daughter, who tells her that she was murdered by her husband Trout Shue. Despite Mary Jane’s husband’s misgivings, Mary Jane pleas her case to the county prosecutor, who agrees to have the body exhumed. Upon examination, the doctor determines that Zona was indeed killed, likely by being strangled and then pushed down the stairs. Unlikely though it would seem, Mary Jane manages to convince him to bring the case to trial. Even more unlikely, Shue is found guilty.

All of the above characters are apparently real, and the case is genuine.

While The Unquiet Grave is nowhere near the best McCrumb novel, the story was fascinating nevertheless. The book is relatively short and the ending was extremely unexpected (and unable to be verified in any way as fact). It satisfied this reader. I also enjoyed learning the story through the conversations of a very interesting character, Mr. Gardner. It was a clever story-telling technique on McCrumb’s part.

The Unquiet Grave is not a scary ghost story. Instead, it’s more of a history lesson.  The Unquiet Grave is not part of McCrumb’s Ballad series, a series, by the way, I highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.