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October 2019

A Real Ghost Story For Halloween

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Halloween is a night for ghosts. Real ghost, also.

It is the night of Samhain, when the ancestors of the Celts walked the pathways between the living and the dead. The living were not so sure that the Dead might not want to take them back with them.

So, this is a true story for All Hallows’ Eve, although it did not happen on Halloween.

I was visiting the Bay of Fundy island of Grand Manan. I had booked a room in a bed and breakfast and arrived mid-evening. I went elsewhere for a meal, but did meet the owners, and noted there were a couple of others staying there. I returned around eleven, chatted to the owners and one guest, then went up to bed.

 

The room was top of the stairs and across a landing. Comfortably rustic with a radio. The bed was fine and I was not long getting to sleep. In the dead of the dark (no streetlights here) I was awakened by the touch of hands on me. I was sleeping on my left side. One hand was over my groin and the other on my chest. There was also the weight of a body next to me and the pressure of an arm across my side. I was initially surprised and confused but not frightened.

 

Time probably stretched but it seems to me I lay like this for ten or fifteen seconds. Then, the very first coherent thought which came to me was that someone laying behind me could not have both arms over my body. There could not be two hands placed on the front of my body. I got out of bed very quickly and did indeed experience fear. I turned on the overhead light but saw nothing. I heard nothing. The temperature was not unusual. I was frightened and certainly uncomfortable, but I can’t say that that aura was present.

 

I went to the bathroom across the landing. The house was silent. I returned to the bedroom, thinking both of leaving the light on and turning on the radio. But then I thought that that was just giving into fear, and might encourage the fear instead of ease it, so I did neither. I did not seem to take very long to get to sleep.

 

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast. I heard the owner talking to two other guests as I approached the kitchen. Just as I entered she interrupted her conversation and turned to me. She said: “Let’s ask him. He’s the one sleeping in the haunted room.”

 

I don’t know if they had been talking about ghosts or if something else had happened in the night. I relayed my experience and the owner then told the story of the house. As with many buildings on the island it had been a farm house, with the owners also fishing. It was a century or more old and left to a daughter. When she herself got old and could not look after it, her family forced her to leave, something she fought against. The present owners then bought the building and started taking in guests. However, whenever they attempted renovations, they were discouraged by having paint cans overturned, new wallpaper peeled from the wall, ladders moved, hammers and such hidden.

 

The new owners’ daughter lived next door, and looked after the house when her parents went away (trips to Florida in the winter). She inevitably had to come over to the house and close doors, turn off lights, put furniture back in place. The old woman who was forced to leave had the reputation of being a mean and unpleasant person. I don’t know if she was taking a liking to me or not.

[Image]  http://www.mgtdesign.co.uk/webdesign/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/two-halloween-ghosts-pumpkin.jpg

Waiting For The Dead On Halloween

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It is Samhain, and we lay in wait for the dead.

Not to flee from them

Not to hide from them.

But to be prepared.

The moon is full and the trees are bare and the old year ends and they come to dust us with their cold hands. To seep away a little of our warmth. To have just a taste of the life they once had. Blood in their veins. Breath in their mouth. Tears in their eyes. From the cold.

Of course, we are fearful of their touch. We are told they might have the stench of the grave upon them. We are told their skin might slough off on our own. We are told their rotted clothes might fall from their bones, and we will see things to make us scream.

We are told the fresh decay of our parents and uncles and aunts and grand folk will be the worse. They have had their year in the ground and are beyond any excuse to linger. They are the most reluctant. They have the clearest memories of what it is like to live. They, more than all the others, want it back. They might wish, if they can, to suck life right out of us and feel warm once again.

It is best we disguise ourselves from them.

It is best if we hide our faces with masks and wear clothes not our own.

As a last resort we can fill frightening faces with flame and scare them away.

We are all prepared for that.

And when the day passes over into the night; and the full of dark, and the promise the cocks will again bestir themselves to start us into the cold of winter: we will light pyres of wood, and open the cask of ale, and have a feast with dance and song.

If we manage to get through the night.

[Image] 1.bp.blogspot.com/-f9TFFXhu8f8/UJFA-Bj2R4I/AAAAAAAACCQ/pMvabFcW3d4/w1200-h630-p-k-no-nu/115116d1339798513-vintage-halloween-photos-5277724533494196_ewnwqjb0_c.jpg

Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid of Halloween and Ghosts at the Top Of The Stairs.

stairs

 

I like Halloween, though I am more prone to appreciate its origins, and the additions imposed by those wily Christians, than either on its own. This blend with the new, upstart religion actually keeps alive the foundation of the old. Druids became priests and all’s well with the world. Amen and pass the hollow turnip.

I once had an apartment at the top of a darkened, high-ceiling flight of stairs. Even people who knew me, and came to call, commented that the entrance could make them nervous. It was perfect as an entrance for those trick-or-treaters who dared to try.

As the gates between death and life nudged open a bit, I replaced the usual light bulb with a black light. I spaced a few candles from midway up the steps. I had a prominent jack o’ lantern sitting on a chair at the top landing. I placed a speaker  in the vicinity of the grinning pumpkin and favoured loud Satie, Night On Bald Mountain, Gregorian Chant, and like-minded music. I also had a nice bowl of treats at the top of the stairs, and all who reached it were welcome to take what they wanted.

I had few takers.

One year, when the weather was warm enough to leave the top door open, I sat and listened to the passing traffic of costumed trick-or-treaters. At one point four   teens clustered at the bottom door. They were in conversation.

“OK. That’s spooky.”

“What’s that music?”

“Are there any other lights in the window?” [Actually there were – candles.]

“You going up?”

You go up!”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hell, no.”

And they didn’t.

[Image]  https://kingsriverlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/stairs.jpg

The Celts Reach Past Samhain To Halloween

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This morning, on a regional radio show, the host told us – with surprise – that he recently learned the folk in Newfoundland & Labrador hollow out, and carve faces on, turnips for Halloween, instead of (or, in addition to) doing so with pumpkins. Had he pursued this knowledge further, he would have found that the ancient Celts, who created the original Samhain from which the Christian All Hallows (Halloween) comes, did this very same thing.

I don’t know if I have any direct connection to the Celts. My Scottish grandmother had an ancestor who was classed as a “Herb Doctor”, well versed in the healing ways of nature. Oddly (very oddly) I have such a character in my first published novel,  A LostTale, dealing with the Celts and Druids and their supernatural ways. I wrote it long before I knew of my “Herb Doctor” ancestor. In my novel, she is just referred to as “The Old Woman”.
I have another odd connection to the Celts. During the Second World War, my father guarded Stonehenge. And he did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared that the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument. He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be. Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language – what a waste.

Though I have not been to Stonehenge itself, I have written three novels about Celts and Druids, one of them set during World War Two. I’m happy to believe that, in the supernatural realm, there is some ethereal connection.

With Halloween upon us, and it having become a major festival in the last few decades, let us give thanks were thanks is due. With some grudging recognition to the Christians.

[Image]  z.bp.blogspot.com/-PyK4hGSbA9w/Umf_tzo39ZI/AAAAAAAAAb0/EoM1vWXqAd8/s1600/Jack_turnip.jpg

No Giller Prize For Margaret Atwood … Or Me

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Much literary note has been taken that, although Margaret Atwood has won (jointly) her second Booker Award (for The Testaments), she was not even a finalist for the most prestigious (and lucrative) book award in Canada – The Giller. In some small way I can feel her pain (if, indeed, she cares at all).

I was in the fancy downtown Library a few days ago. When I left, I took a different route than usual. On the non-street side of the library, for its whole length, there is a walk/bike/delivery area. Down at the auditorium end, three chaps were unloading a van. I was surprised when one of the men smiled and waved at me.

He is a musician acquaintance who – oddly – I come across in similar circumstances, at other places, two or three times a year. This time he and his mates were unloading their equipment for a gig later in the evening at the library. They were going to play ‘background’ music for an event concerning the Giller Prize.

I have since looked it up on Google. It appears the Giller finalists are being presented at a half dozen venues across Canada, to be part of some type of panel about writing.

Anyway, while explaining what they were doing there, he told me he was so out of touch with Canada’s literary world, that he wondered if I was there because I was a finalist for the Giller, and on the panel.

I believe that we were both disappointed.

It Always Ends In Kafka

Statue of Franz Kafka

A short story:

The old Rabbi moved slightly on his bed, and the young man raced over.

     “Yes, Rebbe?”

     The old Rabbi opened his eyes, showing the cast of death which had almost consumed him. “Ka … ” he groaned.

    The young man had been told the dying Rabbi would never regain his senses, and he did not know what to do. He was scared, almost horrified, but he leaned closer.

     “What is it? What do you want?”

     The old Rabbi struggled for breath. “Ka … Kaf …”

     The young man gazed at the face, saw its pallid features and the clouded eyes. He touched a shrunken cheek, raised his voice to a shout. “What is it? What can I do?” He could hear wheezing, the struggle for air. He put his ear directly over the gaping mouth.

    “Ka … Ka …” One last ragged breath, a low hollow whisper. “Kafka died for your sins.”

A Storm of Wind and Rain and God and An Elephant

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From: The Elephant Talks To God

The elephant surveyed the remnants of shattered trees, the gouged earth, and the still turbulent waves.

“You know,” he said, looking up at the storm cloud hovering overhead, “A herd of us on the rampage have got nothing on you, when the mood strikes. You trying to tear down in one night what it took seven days to create?”

“Six days,” noted the cloud. “On the seventh … ”

” … day you rested,” finished the elephant. “You gotta be patient with us lumbering beasts; after all, you didn’t give us fingers so we could count.”

“But I did give you memories.” said the cloud.

“I know,” said the elephant. “I haven’t forgotten.”

“And this display,” added God, “Looks far worse than it is.

Natural forces occur to keep my earth in a happy balance. Life is already reviving and reasserting itself.”

“Could you not be a bit more gentle?”

“My winds must go somewhere,” said God. “As you already mentioned, even elephants go upon the occasional rampage.”

“I’ve never done anything like this,” said the elephant.

“You’ve not seen yourself from the ant’s point of view,” answered God.

[Image] https://www.hindustantimes.com/rf/image_size_960x540/HT/p2/2018/02/02/Pictures/_6e2719ec-0809-11e8-90ea-37dc70df54a3.JPG

Kafka And A Hungry Bird Give Thanks

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[Franz Kafka and his sister, Ottla.]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the many diary entries Franz Kafka either did not make, or destroyed after the fact. He would have made no references to an actual ‘Thanksgiving Day’, but I feel this is close enough.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

30 September 1917

There was a knocking at the window this morning. A polite and concise rap rap rap. It awoke me while the room was barely light.

Who could want me so early? And then again, an insistent rap rap rap. I was confused, wondering where I was. The panic of Prague weighted down the covers, and I was sorry I had opened my eyes. The room, the smells – even the bed – was not familiar, so I was both bothered and assured by the strangeness.

When I realized I was not in Prague – for who could knock on my third floor window – I remembered I was in Zurau, where things were different. Here my window looked onto a yard, and anyone could  be at it. Was there something wrong? Was Ottla after my help? I even wondered, as I searched for my slippers, if her young man had somehow arranged leave from the army, and after much travail had managed to reach the wrong room. I could understand that very well.

I walked hesitantly over to the window, and cautiously pulled back the curtain. Such a commotion ensued that I stepped back in some fright. A bird flew immediately past the glass, its wings frantic as it screeched in agitation. It had been perched on my window ledge, pecking away at the frame. Ottla says it may have been after insects or grubs settled in for the winter.

“Insects in the walls of the house?” I asked.  “Yes.” She was quite matter-of-fact.  “It is a warm place for them during the cold months.”  I was not inclined to argue with the logic, but neither had I thought I would be existing in such close proximity with the tenants of nature.

Houses for warmth and bugs for food. It is a blend of the base and the subtle which I can appreciate. Much – I like to think – as does the annoyed bird.

Sandy Oliver’s Dilly Beans

via Sandy Oliver’s Dilly Beans

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