Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 67- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

In this episode, hosts Tori and Amanda discuss Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, some not so great old timey racism and get down to the real meaning of Fall: paganism.

The Creature

Despite my current nature of being one that fears the natural world and nature: when I was younger, I was a very curious explorer of nature. I liked going to the park with my parents, I liked climbing trees, I liked running through the ditch next to my house and popping up out on the other side. My friends and I as children knew the concrete path created by artificial water control measures like veins that connected houses and us to the outside world where imaginations ran wild and we could be kings, queens, knights and adventurers. 

One place I particularly loved to visit as a child was the lake. I grew up in North Texas and Joe Pool Lake was a common haunt for my family to visit. The lake was teeming with aggressive carp that were rumored to eat children and small dogs if they got too close. We’d feed the fish there, mostly bread which now I know is unhealthy but as a youth was more enamored by their voracity. 

The drive to the lake was always a quiet one, passing field after field as back then North Texas was still mostly suburban aside from the hustle and bustle of Dallas. I spent a lot of time in the backseat of my parents’ car looking out of the window as fields yielded to streets and housing divisions. 

Driving back from the lake one day, as I gazed out into one of those amber fields told of in American myth and legend, I saw something that didn’t make much sense to my eye as a kid. It was a figure in the grass. It was big. It was dark. It didn’t make much sense to me, really. It looked like it was sitting down and maybe my brain then just assumed it was a dog. Then it did something I surely did not expect as a child: it walked. The thing, that thing in the field walked like people do; on two legs. There was no animal that I knew of that did such a thing and my young mind mostly kept that memory hidden, safe somewhere from a reality that I could not process or understand. 

As an adult, I still don’t really know what I saw. My memory is still pretty clear of that day despite all of the other things about my childhood that are now hazy with trauma. Did I see a large dog? Was it a person in a field? Was it just a fluke of the imagination? I’m not sure. 

The study of creatures that may or may not be there is cryptozoology and since my days of watching MonsterQuest for hours in my college dorm room, I have been fascinated by the study of cryptids. I love the idea of creatures that may be real but also may not be but I’m more fascinated by the fact that they seem to be culturally universal. Almost all cultures have an upright hairy creature in the woods. Almost all cultures have a dragon. Almost all cultures have a blood-sucking or life force-sucking creature. What were these people seeing?

If I have to suspend logic for a moment and use that part of my mind and heart that is still somewhat childlike, I have to assume what I saw was a Bigfoot or similar creature. Such sightings aren’t unheard of back home but are rare due to the urban sprawl of the area. There is no reason for Bigfoot to run down Harry Hines Boulevard. 

Personally, at the risk of sounding too crazy, I do think that such creatures can exist. Do I think that they are as prevalent as many…experts…would say? Absolutely not. While there are plenty of unexplored forests in the United States and around the world, I cannot imagine that with the urban settings that make up too many sightings of the paranormal that a population of anything that isn’t a raccoon, possum or coyote could survive in.

I would be more skeptical if in fact that was the first and only time I had seen a creature that I could not explain. 

It was not.

I was coming home after a time with family and friends for the holidays. I was on a stretch of highway that connects almost all of Texas’ major cities. The drive is long and mostly uneventful if you don’t count people who willfully ignore the speed limit but it does remind drivers and passengers that some of Texas is in fact, still wild. For a moment as I passed a median, I saw something in the grass there. From the body shape, I assumed it was just a wild hog: we have those here. I assumed that the black mass in the grass was just a hog. I thought I saw a tail and tusks, I thought I saw coarse hair and a round body. I thought I just saw a hog. That was until it moved. It moved on all fours, sure but the way its body moved was so unlike a pig. Not a trot, not a gallop, it was almost cat-like the way it moved down that stretch of grass that broke up the concrete hell of highways and byways. 

I didn’t know what to think of that moment, it happened so fast that I don’t think I had time to process it. When I told a friend, we all agreed that this was just one of those things that happens to people and as far as what I saw that time…I don’t have an answer. Was it a pig? Another Bigfoot? A wendigo? I don’t know and I can’t say the mystery has haunted me but the curiosity indeed has. 

This spooky season, remember to keep your eyes open: you never know what you may see. Believe your eyes when you can; they do not always play tricks on you. And suspend your disbelief; there are indeed things out there that resist simple explanations. 

Happy Halloween, dear readers. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 43- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Welcome to Spooky Season with our first Spooky Story of the year. Let’s talk Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Shadow

Earlier this year, I moved into a new apartment. I doubled my square footage and gained myself a bedroom for the first time in my history of living on my own. I was not sure how to approach having a bedroom for a while, but more importantly, I was skeptical about having a bedroom door. I live alone, when I first moved, I had no reason to keep that door closed. I don’t have roommates, I don’t have many people over, I have no reason to close my bedroom door when I sleep. 

My evening routine is pretty simple. I come home, I shower,I change into my night clothes, I wrap my hair, I watch TV in the living room until I’m tired and then I retire to the bedroom. 

This is my routine day in and day out. 

But one night, something was different. One night, something caught my eye. 

The way my bed is positioned, I can see my open door from the corner of my eye, usually before my cooling eye mask goes on. And as I did my best to “unwind” by mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds in bed; one night, out of the corner of my eye I swore I saw something. I sat up to get a better look at it was gone. 

Just some image my tired mind conjured. No big deal. 

The next night, the routine went on as usual and as I climbed into bed and once more I swore that something was watching me. I sat up and saw something that truly did scare me: I saw the shape of a man. The man was tall, there were no features, but it was clearly a man: standing there; imposing, watching. 

I was scared; I immediately shoved the covers back over my head and prayed that whatever horrors may come will be swift and that my end will be painless. My brain was lucid enough to see that this wasn’t a physical threat: I didn’t think it was an intruder; no one who could cause me corporeal harm but something that could damage me psychically, spiritually, or even just emotionally.

I woke up the next day and assumed that it was a just a weary brain adjusting to a new home. 

But when I saw the Shadow Man again, I became worried. From what I knew no one had been horrifically murdered in my new apartment. I didn’t notice things going missing. I didn’t hear any phantom noises. I didn’t notice anything else that would signal a typical haunting. 

The Shadow Man haunted me for a few days and as I did my best to sort through just why my brain would imagine such a haunting visage. I, of course, blamed myself because anxiety does that. I assumed it was a hallucination; the machinations of a tired mind or just a failing of my eyes but seeing the Shadow Man more than and at different times made it difficult to assume that it was just a sleepy brain and if it was a hallucination, it was a damn good hallucination. 

I bought sage on my next trip to my local apothecary. I was determined to rid my home of the spirit. I wanted the creature to be gone. I wanted sleep. I wanted safety. I wanted to feel secure in my new home.

I never did light the sage but I did keep it safe and for a moment, the evil seemed to vanish. Incense was burned. Crystals were kept. Runes were taken out of bags and tarot cards stayed in the damn box because I inherited a deck that isn’t mine and it’s old and I don’t trust what is in it.

I haven’t seen such a cruel spirit before in my life. I have tangled with demons before after staying in two haunted dorm rooms but I never saw anything or really felt anything emotionally. I had scratches that one time and things did go missing but I never saw shadows or faces in my room. 

Shadows are a common form of ghost that appears in homes with lots of energy. Shadows aren’t always evil, but they’re usually negative in a vague sense. But most shadow figures are airy, fluid, and fleeting: the fact that this one stood and stayed reminded me so much more of something solid rather than a fading spirit. It felt more like the stories of those stalked by Bigfoot or Skinwalkers or even the famous Smiling Man. It felt like there was something in the room with me; watching me, menacing me. 

I think the Shadow Man is gone now. It’s been months since I’ve seen him last. I have a ghost radar app on my phone and every once in a while, I’ll turn it on just to see how things are. One day, the app gave me a strange string of words: wrong and one. I was a little confused as I had not asked a question but talking a friend did help provide a little context. The weeks prior, I had been slowly poisoning myself. I have food allergies and I had been feeling poor for days. I didn’t realize that the coffee creamer I purchased with almond milk based, something I am very allergic to. I told a friend about the strange words I got and she said “well, the creamer you got was the wrong one.” and I practically threw my phone across the room. 

The concept of ghosts is one that is both comforting and terrifying. It does seem to confirm that for some, there is some manner of afterlife, an existence after death and thus perhaps a second chance at life. But it also seems to be a form of punishment, an entrapment, a lack of rest and a lack of a conclusion or peace.

Whatever that thing was that kept me awake at night was not an entity of peace or of good feelings. It wasn’t a lost parent or memory of a loved one.

It was a monster. 

The Woman In White

-Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.-Arthur Conan Doyle.png

It’s that special time of year again. Last time, you all loved my little ghost story so much that I decided to tell another one. You may know where this story is going but that won’t stop me from telling it. And if you’ve heard this story from me, then sit back, pull up a chair because you know it’s a good one.

Let’s take a step back in time. It’s the 90s. My parents and I were on a road trip. My dad’s family lives out in the side/middle-butt part of Texas. On the way back one night we decided to stop in Corsicana. Corsicana has a strange little restaurant called Catfish Plantation. And the plantation part is very literal. It was an actual plantation house with a Master, a Misses and a modest amount of slaves. Well, the Civil War ended and now the establishment is a seafood restaurant for some reason. And like all things old and Southern, it was of course, supposed to be haunted. The restaurant prided itself on being extremely haunted and my dad being the large Southern skeptic he was decided this would be the perfect place to take his wife and young daughter. I couldn’t have been anymore than 8 or 9.  

It was late. Later than we normally had dinner since the drive back from the middle of nowhere Texas took a couple of hours at least and Corsicana is sort of the middle point. I had no interest in this allegedly haunted eatery. I just wanted chicken fingers and sleep and probably my GameBoy. Naturally, since this was a haunted establishment, there was a long and overdone tour. My mother was somewhat interested since she loved history and my dad was somewhat interested since he was the one who had this brilliant idea and he had a point to prove. I couldn’t be bothered. I was bored to tears and the entire time there was this woman behind me who seemed fixated by my hair. She didn’t say much. She was tall (well, tall to me. I didn’t reach over 5’0’’ until I was 13). She was pale and her clothes looked funny to me. So the little bit of interest that I had in this ghost-infested fish house was dampened by the fact that there was a woman who keep bothering me. She looked mean. She kept looking at me like I shouldn’t be there.

The tour group wasn’t very large but it did seem to go on forever in between mentions of how quality the catfish was. The overly enthusiastic tour guide continued to prattle on about how bad slavery was (which we are African-Americans knew) and that just before the battles really got down to business in the state, the slaves rebelled and took revenge against the master and his wife. All the while the same woman continue to leer at me and now had started to touch my hair which my mother had so expertly styled into twin braided pigtails.

After what seemed like hours of enduring this I finally snapped and shooed a hand away from me. My dad immediately reprimanded me. My mother followed up and said I was being rude. But I told them the truth. There was a woman in the tour that wouldn’t leave me alone. There was a woman bothering me and when my parents asked me who it was I pointed up and they saw nothing. They saw no one there. There wasn’t anyone there.

“Congratulations.” the tour guide beamed “Your daughter has met the mistress of the house. She’s been dead for over 100 years.”

No one said anything for a while. No one mentioned it for a while. My mom and dad rarely spoke of the fact that clearly their little girl had seen some sort of apparition.

We finished a satisfactory catfish dinner. We stayed in a kitschy hotel for the night and we as a family didn’t speak of the ghost again.

In hindsight, it made sense that a ghost would appear in front of me. I was a small black child running around this old Southern slave owner’s home. It was perfectly logical and there’s many theories that ghost appear to children because kids pay attention to them. Adults try to rationalize everything away but kids are honest. If they see a ghost, they say they saw a heckin’ ghost.

There’s something amazing about being spiritual, being Catholic and believing in ghost stories. To a good Catholic, ghost stories are the antithesis of faith. The dead are meant to rest until the resurrection. If you believe in a God, a heaven and a redeemer: then how could there be ghosts? But there was always a spiritual, almost magical, part of my family. My great-grandfather was a mystical man despite being a devout Catholic. My grandmother was also hilariously superstitious until her death. After my grandfather died, we would still hear his footsteps on the plastic slip cover in the hallway at night. My aunts took great comfort in knowing that their father was resting in heaven but still wandered his house sometimes. When I went through my magical rebellious phase, my aunts were horrified until they realized that the grandfather they looked up to (my great-grandfather) also had a tarot deck and could quote Edgar Allan Poe well into his 90s. Suddenly, I didn’t seem like quite the little edgelord anymore.  But knowing that I came from a legacy of magic, mysticism and spirituality helped make sense of the world I saw. My godmother’s Cajun and thus very spiritual. Both grandparents held long standing superstitions. My aunts believed in ghosts and my parents couldn’t help but admit that it was a compelling event that happened at Catfish Plantation. I was always a weirdly mystical kid. Dr. Langston, my rhetoric professor, called me an Indigo Child more than once and Indigo Children were always thought to be special, to be magical. And it never bothered me to still use the Roman Catholic faith while also still believing in tarot, crystals and reading about alchemy and the Fox Sisters. Catholicism still looks very pagan for many reasons to this day.

We tell ghost stories for a variety of reasons. We like to imagine that some people never leave us. If there are ghosts then there has to be an afterlife. There has to be something after death and that is much more comforting than facing the cold indifference of the universe. But ghost stories also haunt our hearts. They give weight to those we lost, even if that person didn’t mean anything to you. A ghost story forces you to care about someone. Forces you to carry the weight. And a good ghost story should stay with you forever.

I know I’ll never forget my ghost stories.