Horror in the night.

I dragged my husband to hell last night.

temp bedLately, I’ve been running on too little sleep, so last night I decided to take a hot bath and turn in early (for me.)

At about about 1:30 am, I finished ripping off my skin with my new, incredibly effective, exfoliation cloth. It’s a chore, but it makes you all silky-smooth. It also restores a kind of tactile sensitivity that you didn’t even know you’d lost. You “feel” more — a warm breeze which would have been pleasant before the flaying, is even more noticeable and more pleasant afterwards. (The reason this matters will become clear in a bit.)

After applying restorative unguents and potions all over, I crept into our bedroom where Ogre had been asleep for an hour or two. The TV was turned on and a PBS show was filling the room with  a dim light and a soporific drone. The cat — who is normally curled up wherever Ogre’s hands are (because he knows The Man pets soft things, even in his sleep) — was NOT on Ogre, but, instead, on my nightstand. Every line of his body told me that he thought he was hunting something.

He does that.

I gleefully put myself next to Ogre’s hands (because I, too, know The Man pets soft things, even in his sleep) and told the cat he was a fool. He ignored me and continued to stare into the corner.

I was turning on my sleep tracker when a peripheral motion, a couple of feet to my left, caught my eye. I looked directly at the wall just in time to see something big and insectile scurry behind the drawn blinds.

Now, I don’t really fear spiders, but I don’t believe they belong in my home, and certainly not in my bedroom. I turned on the bedside lamp and carefully opened the blinds so I could see just how creepy this particular trespasser was. (Ogre is used to me moving around all night, so this didn’t disturb him.) I couldn’t find a spider. I kept looking, because I knew I hadn’t imagined the movement. After a long examination of the windowsill, I finally found the crawler, but it was no spider. It was a huge, hideous, billion-legged centipede (about two inches long) and it was trying desperately to blend into the woodwork.

We were both frozen for a minute, then it moved. No, that’s not right; It undulated. As each of its legs rose and fell, I could FEEL a corresponding footfall somewhere on my skin.

I threw on a robe and ran to get the little vacuum, which is my preferred bug-catching tool. By the time I got back to the room, the cat was on the floor under the window, peering into the heating register.

Well, damn.

I plugged in the vacuum which immediately roared to life. I quickly unplugged it and soothed Ogre, who was becoming just barely aware something abnormal was going on. I told him that I had to vacuum up a big bug, but that he could go back to sleep. He did.

I changed from my robe into a heavy flannel nightgown while keeping an eye on the cat and the area around him. I made sure the vacuum’s switch was off, plugged it back in, and took it into the bed with me. From there I could watch the cat, as he watched the register. We waited.

Nothing happened. I turned off the bedside lamp and kept vigil by the light of the TV. Sure enough, The Thing eventually came out of the register and headed toward the bed. The cat did not notice as it skittered past his haunch.

I turned on the light, switched on the vacuum, and dived for it. It escaped …into the shadows under the bed. Ogre rolled over.

I got up, went into the living room, tucked my legs up under myself in the desk chair, and googled centipedes. I found this:

centipede

Ayup. That’s it.

I read the article entitled, ‘The House Centipede: Get Rid of Them or Let Them Be?” I learned that centipedes are GOOD bugs. That they hardly every bite people, and that they eat other bugs (including spiders.) That they are scared of people. And that an individual centipede can live for TEN-FUCKING-YEARS.

Then I read the comment thread. (My son has warned me repeatedly to never read the comment thread, but do I listen?) I learned that centipedes do bite people (and that the bite isn’t much worse than a bee sting.) That they often skitter right toward, and over, people. And that they seem particularly fond of getting right into the bedding, then …wriggling. (With all their billion legs.)

Every few minutes I “felt” something crawl onto my exquisitely sensitized skin.

After an hour of that, I pulled on a pair of sweatpants under my nightgown and put on some socks. I went back into the bedroom, exhausted and determined to get some sleep.

As I sat  in the spot closest to center of the bed, in a posture that would make a second grade teacher proud, with my head  spinning 360 degrees every minute or so — you know, like you do when you’re tucking in for the night – I saw The Thing again. It was on the wall, up near the ceiling, above Ogre’s nightstand.

I took a few deep breaths. I slid out of bed and grabbed the vacuum. I crept around the foot of the bed to Ogre’s side. I got into a good position and stretched the hose out so that its opening was hovering just over the creature. I switched on the vacuum and and saw part of The Thing’s body lift away from the wall … then The Thing came to life again. With some magnificent, twisting motion, it managed to escape the hose. Instead of being sucked up, it dropped behind Ogre’s dresser and out of sight.

I lost my freaking mind.

Perhaps that doesn’t convey what happened clearly enough: I shouted bad words at the top of my lungs, then burst into tears, then fled the room. (Remember, I was very, very tired even before this saga began.)

Ogre woke up.

After some explaining on my part and some consoling on Ogre’s part, Ogre asked me to sit with him while he waited for it appear again so that he could kill it. Of course, The Thing refused to come out where we could see it. (It was probably under the bed … or somewhere in the covers. Or behind the picture that hangs over the bed …)

Finally, I decided I would have to sleep on the sofa. I told Ogre I’d be fine and that it was important that he get some sleep, and yada ya. I know he would have been fine just going back to sleep in there, but he opted to join me in the living room instead. I am a lucky woman.

Well, I’m a lucky woman who will not be able to sleep soundly any time in the next ten years.

(Yes, I am aware that The Thing could be anywhere in the apartment now. So very, very aware.)

 


Macabre Media: Behold the Darkness, Fit to Write, Pandemic, The Theory of Everything & The Imitation Game

Today, in Minnesota, we are having our first winter snowstorm of the season, and it’s a doozy. Some parts of the metro are expected to get more than a foot of snow. Before the snow, there was sleet, so the roads are awful. Also, the temperatures are dropping fast and the wind is picking up. It honestly doesn’t look too bad right here where I live, but I’m dreading going to fetch my boy from work.

The shift to winter-time (the end of daylight savings time) has been kicking my butt. I lose all energy with the sunset, which does not work for me. I need my late-night hours to be productive. My son and I came up with the idea to close the blinds and turn on all the lights in the apartment at about 4-4:30. This trickery seems to be helping, at least a little.

I’m trying other strategies to get past my general malaise, too, so I’ve been preoccupied with health & wellness this last week. That, too, seems to be working. The good news is I got some fiction writing done today and I’m still feeling pretty good, even though it’s deeply dark and treacherous out there. I’m hopeful for the coming week.

NOW:

YOUR MUSICAL INTERLUDE: Behold the Darkness by Medwyn Goodall

I know this is on the soundtrack of some game I’ve played, but I can’t put my finger on it.
If you, like me, need this song for your writing playlist it can be downloaded in MP3 at Amazon, for 99 cents HERE.

*****

MY FIT TO WRITE TEAM AT SPARK PEOPLE

I’ve mentioned the fitness and weight loss community called Spark People before. (Back in February, I wrote the post ‘Resolutions Review: How Spark People helped me lose 10 pounds in 11 weeks without dieting.‘)

There isn’t much overlap between that world and this one, but I thought I’d share the project I’ve been working on over there. I intend to grow it slowly, and mostly by invitation. (If you’re part of my regular blog crew, you write well enough for me to want you in the group, if you have an interest.)  It’s sucked up a lot of time to get it set up, but it’s well organized now so it should be easy to run and use. It should help keep me aware of my physical needs this winter.

fit to write collage

Wanted: Dedicated writers who need to develop & maintain a healthy lifestyle. Let’s build a community centered on being Fit to Write. Check out “Welcome Letter” in the general forum on the team page.

*****

PANDEMIC — A cooperative board game

pandemic_new_ed_

My son used some of his tip money to buy a new game and I am completely addicted. My family has been playing several times a week. I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so the cooperative nature of this game means I’m actually having FUN. We’ve managed to win a few times. Here’s the description from the game designer’s site:

Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.
Players must work together, playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. But the diseases are outbreaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures. A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.

Source: This is from the same company that gave us Carcassonne.
Cost: approximately $25 – $40, depending on where you get it. (We got ours at Barnes & Nobel, but you can also order it from Amazon.)
Players: 2 – 4, working together against the game
Special Features: This is a good-looking game, with quality game pieces. It has fantastic replay-ability, because each player randomly selects a new specialist role for each game. Expansions are available.

& LATER:

We are STILL waiting on Horns. I’m afraid we may have missed it. It played two weekends ago, in one local art house. We intended to go this weekend, but it was already gone. This week, it’s way up in Duluth. We saw St. Vincent instead. (Which was really good, if just a tiny bit sappy. The skill of the actors in it, though, saved it.) This weekend we’ll probably go to Before I Go to Sleep, before that disappears.

At St. Vincent, we did see two trailers for movies we’re excited about. Granted, their subject matter stretches the boundaries of the “paranormal” theme here at the blog, but if Stephen Hawking and Allen Turing aren’t “alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to” normal, I don’t know who is.

I’m pretty sure these films will be around for a while, once they finally open. (Oscar bait, anyone?)

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

PG-13
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
Release date: playing now in select theaters.

(Local folks: it’s at the Edina Theater this week.)

*****

THE IMITATION GAME

PG-13
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley
Release date: November 28th (in select theaters)

Here’s how this works:
If an item is posted in the NOW section, I have seen (or in some way experienced) it, and am actively recommending it. NOW items are immediately available to you if you have access to the same basic services I do.
If an item is posted in the & LATER section, it may mean that it has not yet been released, but it may also mean I have become aware that something of potential interest is currently available, but have not yet sat down with it.

Macabre Media: Strange Things, House of Cards, Under the Skin, Redbox, Salem, Twin Peaks

NOW: I mentioned, last week, that there are two movies in the theaters right now that I want to see. We haven’t made it to either yet. I don’t see anything great on the horizon, so I concentrated on Netflix and Redbox this week.

& ALWAYS: I’ve been working my way toward a better understanding of what I’m doing with the Macabre Media posts. A while back I started dividing my finds into “now” and “& later.” Thanks to Netflix and Redbox and Youtube, determining what belongs in which category can be confusing. Here’s the new rule:

If an item is posted in the NOW section, I have seen (or in some way experienced) it, and am actively recommending it. NOW items are immediately available to you if you have access to the same basic services I do.
If an item is posted in the & LATER section, it may mean that it has not yet been released, but it may also mean I have become aware that something of potential interest is currently available, but have not yet sat down with it.

NOW:

YOUR MUSICAL INTERLUDE: Strange Things by The Sparrow Quartet

HOUSE OF CARDS (Netflix original series.)

Here’s a show that is totally off-topic for this blog, but I am completely addicted. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are riveting.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you have time to watch the first two seasons on Netflix streaming before the new season starts. That is, of course, if you want to do it a reasonable pace. Ogre and I came to it late, and watched the whole thing in about two weeks, but that’s crazy, right?

The third season is expected in February 2015.

UNDER THE SKIN (available in Redbox right now, also via Netflix DVD)

I can’t say I’m really recommending this film, but I want to mention it while it’s still easily obtainable. If it’s something you want to see, now is  the time — when you don’t have to invest much money or time into it.

I pretty much hated Under the Skin (except for some beautiful visuals) while I was watching, but now I’m rather glad I’ve seen it.

It is extremely slow-paced and art-y. I guess I’m just old school — I like accessible movies that happen to be artistic and layered. The central question of the movie is pretty cool, and there are a couple of great moments. If you’ve seen it, let me know what YOU thought.

REDBOX: YOUR NEW VIDEO STORE

BTW, did you know that you can use Redbox in much the same way you used to use a brick and mortar video store? If you create an account online, you can view the current contents of all nearby kiosks, reserve titles, then go pick up your movie(s) at you convenience. Start here:

Redbox Reservations

& LATER:

SALEM (WGN)

This week, I noticed that the first season of WGN’s Salem is currently available on Netflix streaming. I never caught an episode but was intrigued. If you’re in the same place, now’s your chance to see if the show is for you.

I have confirmed that the series has been renewed for the 2015 season, and is expected to begin in April.

TWIN PEAKS

The two-season cult series, Twin Peaks, is available on Netflix streaming. I have no idea why I didn’t watch it back in the day, but I’ve added it to my list because time has made me curious AND because I just found out from Rolling Stone that Showtime is bringing it back in 2016 as a 9-part miniseries.

I’m going to have to pony up the cash to re-subscribe to Showtime, aren’t I? I already miss: Penny Dreadful, Shameless (don’t judge me), Ray Donovan, and Homeland.


The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement: Unhinged (2014) – Review with spoilers.

I’m not giving you much notice on this, but I do want to pop up a review of The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement: Unhinged because there’s still time to go this week. (The basement will be open from today through November 2nd.)

QUICK FACTS: The tickets cost $25 – $27, depending on whether it’s a week night or a weekend night. You should wear comfortable and tough clothes and shoes that you can move in. You should be as unencumbered as possible. There is a coat check. The bar serves craft beer and wine and accepts only cash. You will have to wear a light-weight, plastic mask which the venue provides — for this reason, you should wear contacts rather than glasses.

This was like no haunted attraction I’d ever attended. It is one of a new genre of haunts which are often billed as “extreme”. This is the kind of place where you have to sign a waiver and prove you’re 18+ before you will be admitted. Here in Minnesota, even people who don’t like horror, or go to Halloween attractions, have heard of it. Most of them will tell you it’s the scariest haunted house in the state.

As I’ve browsed the websites of such attractions, I’ve seen hints that each has its own definition of “extreme”. It’s hard to tell, though, exactly what you’re getting into. I feared that the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement would lean toward the gross-out. Happily it did not … at least not for me.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it wasn’t intense. When I was talking to a friend about my adventure, he suggested that it sounded like a visit to an S&M club. Though there was no obvious or overt sexual content, I could not deny that there was something about it that did feel distinctly submissive and, perhaps, masochistic. Maybe it would be best for me to just describe the experience I had so you can understand what I mean.

From this point forward I will be revealing many details about what happened to me. If you want to go in with about as much information as I had, stop here and go read the venue’s webpage.

WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS! WARNING! SPOILERS!

BEFORE:

We tried to go to The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement last year, but when we got to the venue on a lovely mid-October date-night in 2013, it was sold out. (They’ve since changed the way they do things, so I don’t think that will be a problem this year.)

This year, Ogre surprised me with tickets for a scheduled presentation. I found out we were going when I woke up one morning in early October to find that he’d left a browser window open on our desktop PC. From the moment I saw that digital receipt, to the night of our experience, I veered from being excited to being scared to death and back again.

On Friday, October 24th, we left more than an hour before our 8 o’clock show time. We knew that parking was limited (street parking) and we didn’t want to be rushing. We made good time, though, and finding a spot wasn’t too bad. We had to walk three blocks or so to get to the Soap Factory.

soap factory exterior

Photo obtained from the Soap Factory website, for promotional purposes.

[NOTE: this is the site of the former National Purity Soap Company—a historic, 48,000-square-foot warehouse built in 1884. It is now an art gallery.]

When we stepped into the industrial-looking building, we were greeted by a bouncer-type who told us to sign a waiver and present our IDs. He stamped our hands and pointed us toward the ticket table. A young woman there scanned the QR codes on the the tickets we’d printed out at home. Two more women were handing out plastic masks and repeating general instructions and directions.

We were told where the bathrooms were, that we MUST wear the mask for the entire time we were in the basement but could choose not to wear them in the lounge area, and that we’d receive further instructions in a little bit. When Ogre and I stepped up to the table, we caught most of the spiel, but waited for another round of repetition so that we’d hear the first few second’s worth of info.

Unhinged masks

Photo obtained from the Soap Factory website, for promotional purposes.

That pause must have made us stand out a bit, because one of the women took my mask back from me and scrawled some sort of symbol on its forehead with a blue marker.

I asked, “what’s that for? Why do I get a mark?”

She smirked at me and said, “Because you’re special.”

Then we were waved into the lounge area.

IN THE LOUNGE:

There was a makeshift, cash-only bar, where patrons could buy craft beer or wine. Twenty or so small bistro-style table and chair sets were scattered around the dimly lit and echo-y space. A shabby sofa and a half-dozen worn-looking, upholstered chairs faced four large video monitors which were arranged in a grid. These monitors each showed a night-vision view into the haunted basement. We must have arrived before the first show, because for a long time there was nothing happening on the monitors. (After the 7:20 group went in, however, we were able to watch folks going through.)

One monitor showed a wide corridor lined with closed doors. Another showed a straight-backed, wooden chair which appeared to be sitting in the middle an otherwise empty room; I got the impression that this room was pitch black. Two more monitors showed simple hallways.

At 7:20 the group before us was summoned to gather around a woman who then explained how the experience was to work. In essence, she said,

  • You must wear your mask for the entire time you are in the basement.
  • You are not allowed to speak while wearing the mask.
  • The actors will touch you … in fact they will HANDLE you.
  • You are not allowed to touch the actors.
  • Groups of three or more will be punished.
  • Don’t try to stay with your friends. The actors will work to separate you from your friends.
  • If you get too scared to continue, the safe-word is “uncle.”
  • To use the safe-word, remove your mask hold it over your head, and repeat “uncle” over and over. Someone will guide you out of the basement.
  • There is no path. There is no destination. You will know your experience is over when you hear the birthday song.

Then the group was lined up single-file at the head of a stairway that went down into the basement. Actors (in slightly menacing street-clothes) directed 1-4 people at a time to descend.

For the next 20-30 minutes, Ogre and I sipped at the beer we were sharing and watched the monitors. The hallway views seemed pretty standard. Ogre mentioned that it must be terribly dark, because people were moving through with hands outstretched. Occasionally a costumed actor would pursue or pester a victim as they moved along the hall. Every once in a while, we could hear a loud crash or bang or strain of music from below us. The victims visible on the monitors would all jump in response. Periodically we would also hear screams drifting up the stairway.

The monitor that showed the view of the chair was the most riveting for me. The resolution of these screens was not good, so it was hard to make out the details of the costume worn by the Keeper of the Chair, but he/she/it was reminiscent of a madwoman or a Shakespearean witch or a ghoul. It had long, stringy hair and moved in a hunching, clutching way. This Keeper would appear in the frame, tugging or pushing a victim toward the chair. The victim would be placed in the seat and left alone for an indeterminate period of time. Sometimes the Keeper would come back and move around the victim while petting and/or nuzzling him or her. It appeared to be chanting or whispering as well. Sometimes the victim would be simply abandoned. It was fascinating to see how long a patron would stay in that chair before deciding to get up and move along.

The view of the corridor of doors caught Ogre’s attention. He was surprised that everyone who entered the space treated it like a dead-end and turned around to backtrack out. No one checked to see if the doors would open. Sometimes this space was occupied by an enormous man in a dirty-looking clown suit and smeared makeup. He appeared to be fond of yelling at the patrons who came into his area, but often it seemed the guests were calm so he must have spent some of the time elsewhere.

A young man approached our table and asked if I’d fill out a survey. I said sure. He was friendly and sweet. When he saw that this was our first trip to the basement, he became invested in making sure we’d get the most out of it. He said that my blue mark (you didn’t forget my blue mark did you?) was a very good thing. He also advised us to get away from the other guests and look for side areas to explore. He suggested we take our time to really LOOK at the installations and reminded us that the basement was put together by artists. Then he was gone and we went back to talking and watching the monitors.

I noticed that over time more and more “orbs” (swirling dust motes) were visible on all the cameras.

I had time to regret my decision to leave the cell phones in the car. (I had been worried about them getting lost or broken.) I realized I very badly wanted to take photos of the lounge area and of us in our masks.

When the 7:20 group returned, they looked flustered and exhilarated. As far as we could tell no one in the group called uncle. Most of them milled about for a little while then disappeared into the evening. The folks Ogre and I were going to be with had been arriving steadily. Before we knew it, we were being called over to form a ring around the speaker who was to tell us the rules.

ENTERING THE BASEMENT:

We put our masks on, got into line and waited to be sent in. Ogre was leading, but we weren’t holding hands or anything.

Earlier in the evening, on the drive to the basement, I had finally decided that I needed to let go of the idea that we had to stay together. I had realized it would be just one more thing to stress out about — especially for Ogre, who tends to want to protect me. It turns out I’d made a wise decision.

As we filed past a hooded figure, a baton came down between us. I watched Ogre continue down the stairs before I was directed through a side archway. Entirely alone, I followed a well-lit hallway that led to an exterior door. With nowhere else to go, I went outside. There was another figure that guided me and a handful of others (some of whom, but not all, had marks on their masks) around the building to another entrance. We were allowed to enter the building in ones and twos. A slim, blonde woman was sent in with me. I didn’t really notice her until I realized she was clinging to he hem of my shirt.

Here’s where things are going to get more free-form. The experience was so disorienting that I can’t describe exactly what happened, in what order, while I was in the basement. I know that the young woman stayed with me for a while, and even followed me to a dead-end. At some point later, she was just gone.

In fact, what I have is mostly impressions, and I think that’s the way I’ll present the next section–with descriptions of those events that left the strongest impressions on me.

The beginning.

My least favorite part of the experience was the first few minutes. I believe everyone is released into the same general, maze-like, extremely dark area. There’s not much to see. A few actors wander here but there’s little real characterization. This is the part where you become disoriented and lost. The worst of the jump scares happen here. (And some of those are caused by other masked victims like yourself as you stumble around, trying to find a way to somewhere.)

Coming out of the black.

Upon emerging from the part that felt like a maze to me. I was met by a tall character.

It’s hard for me to describe what any of the actors looked like. For one thing, the illumination is intentionally bad everywhere. There’s a lot of flickering and strobing lights and sudden black-outs. Also, It seems that one of my survival strategies is to avoid looking directly at an antagonist. Thankfully, in exchange for losing the ability to take in the details of any given character, my sensitivity to peripheral motion was increased. Another instinct was to move slowly, quietly and gently. Because of these two accidental strategies, I was rarely surprised by the sudden appearance of an actor. (Or maybe I was just lucky.) In any case, it was far more likely for me to come upon an actor who was otherwise engaged than to be startled by a jump scare.

The tall character came forward to meet me and curled a hand around the back of my neck. He ushered me to a wall. He was not rough, but insistent. He pressed against the back of my head until the nose of my mask was in contact with the boards. He released me and stepped back. No one else was around, so I could tell he hadn’t moved far away. I stood obediently for a minute, until I sensed he’d slipped away. Then I stealthed to the side and deeper into the basement.

The altar.

I found myself moving down the center of a hallway. It was rather narrow, but the lighting was a little better than other areas so I had my hands tucked against the center of my chest, in prayer position. (This wasn’t intentional, I just didn’t need them to feel my way forward and I didn’t want them dangling.) The light was fading and a pool of darkness was ahead. I slowed and looked hard into the shadows. There was a small, skinny creature half-crouched in the darkest corner. When I saw it, I stepped backwards, thinking I could go another way. The creature kind of hissed the word “pray” at me and scurried forward. She caught me by the hands and molded them back into prayer position. Then she led me through a few turns, all the while muttering, “Time to pray. Must pray. We all have to pray.” She pushed me into a room lit by flickering electric candles. Someone — maybe her, maybe someone else — guided me to kneel.

I wish I could better convey what was on the altar but all I have is the the memory of artful clutter that included chalices and photo frames. I looked up to see what was on the wall behind the altar and thought I saw old shoes, maybe hubcaps, and a large golden angel. The display may have been ten feet tall. Someone from behind me clasped the top of my head, bent my neck and told me to pray. Near my knee I saw a black and white photograph. I reached to pick it up, but it was glued flat to the floor. I was going to bend lower to see what the subject of the shot was, but someone took my elbow and tugged me to feet, gave my a light shove, and said, “You’re done praying. Get out.”

The chaos.

Though I’m attached to the dreamier events I experienced in the basement, there was a lot of other stuff going on too.

PARLOR: One of the first full scale rooms I came to was a disordered, dusty-looking, blood stained parlor. It was clear to me that there were many different ways the scene could be used, and many different places for actors to hide. When I entered it, though, there was nothing going on and no one there. Much later, I ended up in a place where I could look into the parlor as our time was coming to an end. By then, the basement was full of loud music and shrieks. Many characters were in the parlor, gyrating and posing in a frantic strobe. Each seemed to be herding a victim (or several) through the room and toward the eventual exit.

DANCER: When I turned a corner from a hall into a large open space, someone immediately grabbed me from behind and rushed me toward, and pressed me against, a chain link fence. I automatically curled my fingers around some of the links. A spotlight lit the space on the other side of the fencing. A whirling spiral pattern was projected onto the floor. A thin character in tights spun into the spotlight and danced. Behind me, the actor who had grabbed me was pressed into my back. He was gibbering into my ear, but I have no idea what he was saying. The dancer lunged toward me then stopped short. At this point I was making very good eye contact with him. He looked into my eyes for a long moment. I felt something graze one of my fingers. the dancer deliberately dropped his gaze. So did I. He was tracing a knife blade along my skin. I didn’t jump, but I did withdraw my hands. The guy behind me had released some pressure. I slipped sideways along the fence and he didn’t follow. The dancer bent at the waist and appeared to retch. A dribble of clear liquid spattered into the space where my feet had been. The scent of vomit bloomed. (Apparently the Soap Factory employs “scent artists.”)

SHEETS: One large area was simple, and beautiful and wonderfully suspenseful. From what must have been a grid of high-strung clotheslines, many pale sheets hung. I moved through the space thinking of the days we used to hang the bedding out to dry on breezy days when I was a child. Mostly, the sheets were clean and neat-looking, but as you wandered from one sheet-box to the next, some were tattered or stained. I encountered one character who just loomed at me until I faded back and away. I also encountered several other guests, all of whom stopped to look at me the same way I was looking at them. Once we both decided the other was no threat, we just passed each other and moved on.

BATHROOM: One installation was a grimy, blood-spattered bathroom. Ogre later told me he saw it too, but there was no one there at the time. When I came across it, though, there was a large, woman-shaped figure in a red dress, in the corner, curled up into the smallest ball she could possibly make of herself. She was softly and piteously sobbing. It was the only time I was tempted to break the rule about touching the actors. She seemed so sad that I actually started to move toward her to soothe her, before I remembered I was in a haunted basement.  It occurred to me later that she could easily have been waiting for my sympathy to draw me closer so that she could achieve an incredibly effective jump scare. I still feel sort of bad about not comforting her though.

DUCT TAPE: Though I was not taken by the character who wielded the duct tape, I did see him in action as I slunk through his area. He seemed a bit rougher than most of the actors. He’d grab a victim and bind him or her at the wrists or around the torso, with the arms pinned down. I sort of wanted to follow a victim once he or she was released, to see if they would free themselves or just tolerate the handicap. I got either lost or distracted so I never learned what happened to any of them.

Maybe the blue mark made a difference? 

After it was over Ogre and I compared experiences. He pointed out that the installations were dynamic. (Remember how the bathroom was empty for him?) He also noticed that he was touched less often and more aggressively than I was. In particular he was taken by the hair and head-butted in the chest. (In neither case was the experience rough enough to be painful, but it was clearly different from the way I was handled.)

I mention this because I suspect that each visitor had a unique experience in the haunted basement. I also believe this review will only be truly useful for the remaining days of the 2014 season. This year’s theme was clearly insanity. I know in years past the themes have been entirely different.

THE BEST PARTS, SAVED FOR LAST:

The corridor of doors.

I never came across the straight-backed, wooden chair which I’d seen on the monitors in the lounge but I did stumble into the corridor of doors.

When I first entered the space, I didn’t recognize it. For one thing, it was not a corridor. It opened out  on one side to an installation of a mad person’s bedroom. One that might be in the basement of an old factory or a run-down suburban tract home. Cheap framed prints of normal subjects hung on the walls, but someone had painted over the original images. There were books, and pages torn out of books, everywhere. They looked as though a breeze would set them in motion, but they were in fact each firmly attached to whatever they rested on. The bed was one of those wrought iron twin-size jobs, and it looked like someone had just thrown back the covers to rise. The scene was incredible detailed and I marveled that none of the people I’d seen on the monitors had stopped to really look at it. When I was there, there was no sign of the enormous clown. (And, yes, of course I tried all the doors.)

The girl with the swing.

This was my favorite experience of all. It was almost tender. A female character joined me in a murky, narrow space and took my hand. It felt as though I were the one who was leading, but that’s probably because I was heading in the direction she wanted to go. We were moving from darkness toward a softly glowing area. When we turned the corner, I saw a plank swing. I followed its ropes up with my eyes. I could not see the actual ceiling; the ropes simply disappeared into the shadows.

The girl put me on the swing. She wrapped her hands over mine and started to push me gently. With her face half-buried in the side of my neck, under my ear, she murmured at me incessantly. I caught no particular words but her voice was melodic. I tried to pay attention to the setting around my, which was actually quite visible, but nothing could really register over that breath on my neck and her nonsense litany. I have no idea how long I was on that swing. Other guests came through the space and stared at us as they sidled by. I realized I had become part of the installation.

Ogre tells me he saw the swing girl, and that she had a victim at the time. He thinks it’s possible it was me.

Go here. Buy tickets.


Macabre Media: Gone Girl, The Calling, Before I Go To Sleep

Today at Macabre Media, it’s all about the women .

NOW:

Ogre and I  recently saw Gone Girl in the theater. I was really caught up in Rosamund Pike’s performance and she is definitely the star of this film. Gone Girl is a great date movie, if you want to have some in-depth conversation with your partner after seeing it.

We missed The Calling (which I included as an “& LATER” selection in a past blog) when it was playing on the big screen, but we rented it via Redbox. (I don’t think it had much of a run.) This is not a typical serial killer movie. I’m not even sure I’d call it a thriller. It was, however, a serviceable canvas on which Susan Sarandon could paint a complex and realistic character.

Neither movie is precisely horror, so for those of you who want something a little more seasonally appropriate this week, have a look at my Netflix streaming suggestions.

At the theaters:

Gone Girl (2014) R

In Redbox:

The Calling (2014) R

On Netflix:

I rounded up my recommendations for Halloween-appropriate movies which are now available through Netflix streaming in the post:

Almost Halloween: reminders and shortcuts for this week.

& LATER:

If we go to the movies on Saturday or Sunday (once Halloween is done) we’ll probably see either Horns (which I mentioned last week) or this one:

Before I Go To Sleep (2014) R

A woman wakes up every day, remembering nothing as a result of a traumatic accident in her past. One day, new terrifying truths emerge that force her to question everyone around her.

Starring Nicole Kidman & Colin Firth
Opening on October 31st, 2014

As usual, I’ll send a heads-up out on FB & Twitter & G+ when we get a little closer to the release date.


One week to Halloween!

halloween countdown 2 final

 Only ONE week until Halloween!

I just got back from the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement: Unhinged.

It was awesome.

It’s late, and I’ve still got some date-time left, so I’ll just toss up the countdown post for now, but I’ll be back later this weekend to review this haunted attraction which is billed as the scariest in Minnesota.

Our October weather, so far, has been lovely, and it looks good for the upcoming week. For some reason I’m running a little late with things like decorating around here, but I think the seasonal zeitgeist has finally caught up with me. I’ve got lots to do. Luckily, I needed to update the one-week-to-Halloween post today, and that’s helped me get my plans together.

Now’s the time to think about what we still have the desire, time and energy to do. I’ve gone through all the posts in my Halloween countdown, to cherry-pick the links that might be most useful to you, now that we’re down to the wire. (Even if you haven’t done much in the way of setting things up.)

Read: Almost Halloween ~ reminders and shortcuts for this week.

PS: Thank you for the kind and thoughtful comments on last night’s post, a bad night at the paranormal hotel. I was a little concerned that the aftertaste of all that would spoil my fun at a haunted attraction. Tonight, though, I got the chance to be brave and I took advantage of it. One reason I love horror so much is that it allows us to practice things like courage, quick-thinking, flexibility, and resilience.

Thanks to my Ogre (who quietly encouraged me to go even if I was nervous) and to my beloved genre, tonight I am better than fine.

PPS: Come play with us at:

2014: The Paranormalist’s 1st Annual Halloween Photo Scavenger Hunt

halloween countdown main fridays

 


A bad night at the paranormal hotel.

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE

2013-04-03 paranormal hotel innkeeper plaque

I had a rough night at the paranormal hotel.

For those of you that don’t know, the hotel where I work is a like a hybrid of a flea-bag hotel, a 1940s-style rooming house, and a budget motel for low-income travelers. (In form if not function, though, it is technically a modern multistory hotel, located just beyond the edge of St. Paul.) At the hotel, we get all kinds. I’ve seen a lot go down at this place. Some of it has been good; much of it has been sad; a little of it has been frightening. I call it the paranormal hotel not because it’s particularly haunted but because it’s such a strange place — one that absolutely captures the essence of the literal definition of paranormal:

Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.”
normal / nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”

Last night, I had three distinct unpleasant encounters there. In this one shift, I was:

Blindsided by sideways, passive misogyny:

First, a regular guest decided to share his vacation photos with me. He’s always been quite courteous and dignified with me before. He looks and (usually) acts like any late-middle-aged, blue collar business owner from Minnesota. I didn’t think there’d be a problem with his pictures, but apparently he’d spent the week at a motorcycle rally in Florida, and the photos were of scantily clad young women. I was okay with the one of the girl wearing a peacock-feather-themed body paint instead of a shirt. (I mean, that’s interesting, right?) I was less impressed by the shots of him with a stripper’s groin pressed into his face. It felt icky to be shown such a thing by a man who is actually a stranger.

Why don’t more 60 year old men feel weird about having sexual fantasies about and (purchased) encounters with teenage girls? And why did this particular guy think showing his trophies to ME was a good idea?

I congratulated him on having a good time and disappeared to fold laundry.

Accused of racism:

Later, a woman who has a $700+ balance owing implied I was racist when I tried to collect some kind of significant payment from her. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been attentive to the clearly difficult situation her family is attempting to deal with. There are two polite and well-dressed brothers, who seem to have some sort of mental deficit, staying at the hotel. They are never a problem. There are two sisters who are struggling to come up with enough money to keep the two men fed and housed. All of the siblings in question are in their late 50s to late 60s. Last night, I called one of the women over to the desk so that I could let her know that my boss is getting close to the point of evicting the brothers. She promised that she was coming back in a couple of hours with a payment of more than $500. I was relieved — for the family and for my boss. (For the record, my boss has been more than just patient and understanding … he also heavily discounts the room.)

At roughly the appointed time, the OTHER sister, whom I’d previously only spoken to on the phone, came in to pay $60. I was confused and surprised. I told her that her sister had been in earlier and promised a larger payment. The woman standing in front of me said, “Sister? I don’t have a sister. You must have me confused with some other black person.”

I stood my ground, called her by her first name, and reminded her of some of our previous phone conversations. Then she told me that her sister would not have said such a thing and that she was in the car, so she could confirm that. She went out, came back in and said, “She never said that.”

I accepted the $60.

Confronted by direct, active misogyny:

About an hour before I was scheduled to go home, a tall, slim, construction-crew type guy came in to the lobby. The scent of whiskey clung to him. He was carrying a bag of fast food and a cell phone. He strode up to the counter and said, “I have a room here.”

After a few moments of reasonably civilized – if slurry – conversation, it became clear that he though he’d already paid for the room, via Priceline and his credit card. The moment I told him that we don’t list with Priceline, but only Bookings.com (where you can make a reservation but not where you can pay before checking in) things started to get ugly.

He showed me the screen of his cell which, indeed, appeared to show a confirmation message from Priceline. He was so convinced that he’d already paid, that I called one of my bosses to confirm that the policy hadn’t changed recently. While I was talking to her, the guy’s swearing intensified. Over-hearing his belligerent tone, my boss offered to speak to him for me. He listened briefly to her, then started shouting into the receiver. When he told her she should get her lazy ass down here to see his confirmation for herself, I knew the police were going to have to get involved. When he threw the phone back at me, I asked my boss to make the call. I knew she would be watching the security feed of everything that was about to happen, but also knew there was really nothing she could do for me besides calling the police and hitting the record button.

At that point, I just wanted him out of the hotel. I told him the cops had been called. If I couldn’t get him to leave, I wanted to prevent him from escalating too far before the police arrived.

In the next twenty minutes all of the following things happened, most of them repeatedly. (Also, there were a ludicrous number of f-bombs in his rant.)  I’ve listed the events in something like real-time order. (I admit, I’m a little fuzzy on the exact sequence.)

  • He told me stop “batting my eyes” at him and to stop grinning. ( I’m pretty sure I was doing neither. I suppose I was trying to not antagonize him further with my body language; I remember continuing to call him “sir” no matter what he called me.)
  • He called me a lazy bitch who didn’t understand what a real day’s work was because I sit in a chair all day.
  • He accused me of being a scamming whore who was stealing his hard-earned money.
  • He demanded that I give him his money back. Right. Fucking. Now.
  • He leaned as far over the counter as he could. as often as he could, in order to better loom.
  • He put his hands on the desk, and made as if to boost himself over the counter.
  • He began a litany of, “I’m just going come back there and get it.”
  • He said. “I’ll punch you right in your smirk, you cu**.”

By now I was standing well back from the counter, near the door into the hallway, in case he made good on his threat. I was keeping my gaze fastened to his face, to best gauge his next move, but I was also paying attention to the front door, where I hoped to see a cop appear at any second.

Instead, two young men came in. At first I thought this was a good thing. Then it became clear that they were with the psycho on the other side of my desk and that they were drunk too. Mercifully, they seemed to know that First Guy was out of control. Their efforts to calm him, however, back-fired. With an audience, First Guy got more verbally abusive than ever. I noticed that one of the semi-sane guys was holding onto a fistful of  First Guy’s tee shirt very tightly, literally and forcefully restraining him from coming over the counter.

I explained the situation to the other two men while First Guy continued to lunge at the counter and cuss at me.

Third Guy said, ” That’s okay. I’ve got money. I’ll pay for the room.”

I told them – in the most soothing, unconfrontational voice possible – that I would not be able to rent a room to any of them. Not after what had already happened.

Second Guy said I had to, because they didn’t have a car and had arrived in a cab which had left long ago.

I said I just couldn’t do it, and that the cops were on the way, and it would be best if they just left.

Third Guy said in a low, deadly growl, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

It didn’t take a genius to see that I was about to have two psychos on my hands.

That’s when the light from a cop car’s cherries strobed through the window. First Guy peeled away from the other two and walked out, brushing right past the cop that was coming in. The two semi-sane guys continued to stand at the counter, as if nothing had happened, trying to get me to rent them a room. The cop waited patiently behind them. I had to ask them to step aside so that I could speak to the officer. They went outside.

I told the cop what was going on. He went outside.

The next thing I knew, the cop car was pulling away. I ran to the two alternate entrances and locked them so no one could come in off the street without me knowing. I counted out the cash drawer and made an early drop. I spoke to my boss who wanted to know if I was okay. I stepped into the side room and let a few tears come. Then I went outside, very cautiously, to have a smoke.

Someone was standing behind a tree at the far end of the parking lot. I couldn’t tell how many people were there, nor could I be sure that it was any of the men I’d been dealing with. What I could determine was that the person or people were standing very near my truck. I realized I wouldn’t be able to leave at shift’s end without revealing which vehicle in the full parking lot was MINE.

How it all ended okay:

Now, I could have had the Mike the Boxer walk me to the truck when he came to take over the desk duties. And, if the mysterious figures WERE the drunks I’d been dealing with, they would not have been able to follow me home or anything, BUT I really didn’t want to set myself up for some future vandalism, on some future work-night.

I called my newly-licensed, 19 year old son, and he was still awake. This was a break, because I knew he was sick and he might have turned in early. I told him about the guys in the parking lot and explained that I wanted to just leave the truck where it was, safely anonymous, until morning. He was more than willing to come pick me up at the back door of the hotel at midnight. He was asking me if I wanted him to come sooner when the two less-threatening men came back into the lobby.
I said, ” Oh, it is them, and they are coming back in.”
He said, ” I’ll get Dad and we’ll be right there.”

It was Second Guy and Third Guy, of course. They said they had been waiting for a cab, but that it wasn’t coming so they needed me to rent them a room.

Because we live very close to the paranormal hotel, I’d only been talking to the two semi-sane drunks for a few minutes when my husband and son came in. My men-folk took a seat as if they were just a couple of guys waiting their turn. They exuded calm awareness. The drunk men were telling me that the other guy — the foul-mouthed, violent one — was gone so I should go ahead and rent them a room. They said he’d disappeared and the cops had never even seen him.

I was able to convince them that I could not and would not rent to them. After making a quick call to find out if a nearby hotel had a room for them, I directed them down the street. They weren’t happy with me, but they eventually accepted my decision. (At least I think they did. As far as I know, they did walk to the other hotel.)

Even though the danger had passed, we opted to have my husband drive my truck home so that no one would see me getting into to it. (We still don’t know where First Guy went.) My boy and I took the car, which they had parked around back.

Why this shift bothered me so much:

Folks who have been readers of the blog for a while know that I’ve been through some tough shifts at the paranormal hotel — shifts that were probably more dangerous than last night’s. This one, though, shook me deeply and, at first, I didn’t know why.

When we got home at about ten after midnight,  my husband and son needed to get to sleep, so they pretty much went straight to bed. I, on the contrary, was wide awake and totally keyed up. Luckily, my daughter (who lives 1,500 miles away) was available for a conversation about what had happened. She used to work as a clerk at an all-night gas station, so she really understood the feelings I was having. I realized while we were talking that I’d never felt targeted at the paranormal hotel before. I’ve been a witness to some terrible things, and I’ve intentionally inserted myself into some risky situations to help someone else, but I’d never been the sole focus of someone’s unreasoning rage in the way that I was last night.

It wasn’t until my daughter pointed out that verbal assault is still assault that my reaction made sense to me.

I think it was that word. That word which I just now decided to type out without using an * to take the place of  a couple of letters. Cunt. I used to think that the word cunt didn’t bother me so much. It’s just a word for female genitalia, right? I’m a feminist. Why would a synonym for a vagina be an insult?

Of course, it’s not. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word itself. But when it is spewed, along with droplets of spittle, from the mouth of a man who really wants to punch you — specifically YOU — in the face, it’s terrifying.


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