Welcome to my Nightmare by Alice Cooper & the Muppets
Haunted House by Lonnie Johnson
Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon
Ghost Riders in the Sky by The Blues Brothers
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult
You think you’ve heard what happened in Castle Elsinore back in fifteen-four-ought. You know, how Hamlet had his Daddy’s revenge on Claudius. Well, that’s not the story the Ham’s best bud, Horatio, told me, and he ought to know. He was an eye witness to all things Hamlet.
The truth of the matter is the Ham was afraid of ghosts. Hard to believe since the Old Man showed up slinking around the castle like he owned the place. But if you’re living in a castle five hundred years old, what can you expect? Walls gonna talk and what they’re going to say is Boo.
And not just ghosts scare bejeesus out of the Ham. Shadows walking the halls. Even his own shadow. The graveyard. Ophelia tippytoe-ing down the hall in her flip flops. His Mommykins anoring so loud it could be heard down in the graveyard. Claudius giving a kingly command. You name it. He was afraid of it. If he heard a clinking of armor outside his room at midnight, he was kissing the ceiling.
When the Ham was knee-high to a grasshopper, his Dad had sent him to Anti-Boo Skool. But that hadn’t worked. Those monks walking around in black scared him all the more.
Since this was the middle ages, there was no internet, no tv, no smart phone, no movies. There was not even books. So folks had to find a way to entertain themselves. After a while, counting toes just don’t hack it.
That’s when Polonius came up with a boo-a-thon. He just loved running up behind the Ham and watching him turn white as a white picket fence. Pretty soon half the castle was in on the gig. The one that sent the Ham the highest with their boo won a prize. It might be a free ticket to the fair. It might be sitting on the king’s throne for a minute. It might be getting on the graveyard express with poor Yorick. It became so popular that Claudius and Gertrude joined in.
For the Christmas, 1541, Polonius planned a boo-a-pa-looza, For the winner, there was a week’s vacay with the Romeo and Juliet Sunny Italy Tour. Some years before, the R&J had been a venture capital startup with King Lear as a silent partner. That had been in the days before Goneril and Regan had conned daddykins out of his kingdom and he ended up in the mad house.
Well, the Ham’s Dad got wind of the plan on the other side. Seems Horatio had a seance with Macbeth’s three witches and they communicated with him.
“What to do? What to do?” Dad asked in his best W.C. Fields. He asked Faust. He asked Beelzebub. He even asked Beetlejuice. Three times, no less. They came up with nada. Nothing. They thunk and they thunk until they were boo in the face. Then it hit them. Their old friend Scrooge. Perhaps he had a solution.
Scrooge introduced Dad to Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim knew people. He was a regular medieval Facebook and he had thousands of Friends and millions of Likes. Tiny Tim introduced him to Doctor Frankenstein. Doctor F snapped his fingers and said, “Have I got a monster for you,”
He opened his closet and rolled out the ugliest thing you ever saw. It was on roller skates.
“This is Thing,” he said. “He’s slow on the up side but I think he’s the Thing for you.”
Needless to say the night for the boo-pa-looza was not a pretty sight. Dad slipped the Ham out of the castle and dressed up Thing like the Prince.
Around midnight Thing left the Ham’s room. It was Polonius who took the first boo. Thing turned and went, “Boo.” Polonius’ eyes became saucers. His whole body turned white. And he left the castle faster than a speeding bullet. Right behind him were Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Ophelia and the rest of the boo-pa-looza gang. They disappeared into the darkness and haven’t been seen since.
Hamlet decided Italy was the place for him. it was sunny and the food was good and everybody had wonderful Italian names.
As far as Elsinore was concerned, it became a ghost town. I mean, literally it was a ghost town.
I closed the book Dubliners, the words of the story “Araby” lingered in my mind. It brought back memories of my first love, maybe my only love, though I have loved several women since. Her name was Shannon after the River Shannon in Ireland. Though she was not Irish and had no Irish blood in her as far as I knew, still she was named for the river the Irish call Abha na Sionainne. I was in the fourth grade and she was my baby sitter.
She sat afternoons with my sister and me after school, watched over us and kept us out of trouble until my mother came home from her job in the cotton mill. Some afternoons she played the piano my mother kept insisting I practice on. Her fingers made their graceful way across the keyboard, giving voice to the notes Beethoven wrote. It was such a lovely sound that it always moved me, sometimes to tears, sometimes filling me with joy. Even today, I cannot hear Beethoven without stopping and letting my imagination recreate those moments when Shannon sat at the piano.
About six, Mother came through the door and hugged us, not once but twice, as if she was making sure we were real and not something from her imagination. Then Shannon gathered up her things and off she disappeared into the evening. The setting sun created a glow around her that made me think of the angel in the picture above my mother’s bed.
I returned Dubliners to its place on the bookshelf. My wife out of town and off tending to her sick sister, I had the house alone. It was getting late and there would be an early morning the next day. All that was left for me to do was let the dog out for one quick run around the yard, then it would be bed for both of us.
The night had turned chilly, so I ran with the dog to keep warm. Five minutes of this running and she was ready to come in for the night. I lay down in my bed with the Irish terrier at its foot. But it was not a night for sleep. It was a night for ghosts.
Not meaning to I had betrayed my first love. One night I sneaked out and followed her home. I was desperate to know her better. Where did she live? Who was her family? She walked a half mile or so until she came to a beat-up old trailer. It was unpainted and rusting, its door only half hinged to the front. I peeked through a window and looked into the interior. Only shadows made by the moonlight revealed what was inside.
She went to a cabinet and pulled out a glass and filled it with water. Slicing a loaf of bread, that was her supper. She got up and walked over to a nearby dresser. For the first time, I realized one leg was shorter than the other. Her back to me, she pulled the pins out of the bun on her head, her black hair falling, falling to the floor like an endless stream of water. She undid the necklace around her neck and laid it out before her. I watched, fascinated, yet also curious to see the real Shannon as she removed her makeup, rinsed her face, dropped her dress.
A fallen branch snapped under my foot. Shannon faced me. No, I couldn’t believe it. It could not be. It was her face, but it wasn’t her face. Horrified at what I had seen, I dashed home as fast as I could.
Though I never saw Shannon again, I am haunted by that night and how I broke the heart of the woman I loved. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up to the sound of music as her fingers touch the keys of my mother’s piano downstairs.
Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Song is the Doors’ “Riders of the Storm“:
I wasn’t much of a Doors fan. The Rascals, the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds were the American bands for me. Then I heard the album, “L. A. Woman”, and I was impressed. “Riders on the Storm” was the last song on the album. It could be that it is the Doors’ “A Day in the Life”. It was the Doors’, and Morrison’s, last song, and one of their best.
It opens with rain. Then the keyboards. Then Morrison’s voice and the guitar. There’s a hypnotic effect from the music and a certain spookiness. The music is so powerful that I tend to ignore the lyrics. Inspired by “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, the music has the effect of taking you into a ghost world.
Previously, Quills Takes Charge
The ghost, B. P. Nutt, lay in the hammock behind the Haggismarche Manor house. It was such a lovely autumn day, the kind of day that you think heaven must be made of. The morning was a bit misty as autumn mornings tend to be. But the mist had cleared away and the afternoon sun was a nice toasty warm wiping away the chill that came with this sort of season. The ghost swung the hammock easily back and forth to the rhythm of “Get along little dogies”, his favorite song.
Elsewhere in the world, the times on the Thames was the kind that made for a jolly good swim, the weather being what it was. America had sent over a new ambassador and he had presented his affectations at the Court of St. James. The Queen’s race horse, Tallyho, had tallyhoed his way to winning at Ascot.
Jack the Rapper was rapping about the streets of London at night, and he had all the prostitutes scared out of their pantaloons. Though they were often out of their pantaloons, this was different. That was for business, this new threat seemed downright scary. If a whore couldn’t trust a client, who could she trust? Certainly not the police.
It was an age of technological advancement. The world had been introduced to new and newer inventions at unbelievable speed. Henry Augustus Glump became world famous and extremely rich after his invention of the very popular backwards unicycle. It was a conservative invention. Instead of moving forward, folks were returning to the scene of the crime. Those bikes were taking them back to the Crimean War and the charge of the Light Brigade. Pretty soon they would be back at Waterloo and that would be their waterloo.
Sir John Crapper kept waking up to the sound of his wife rushing to the outhouse, singing, “Got to go. Got to go. Got to go.” So, it was the indoor toilet for her and nothing less. Phineas Fogg, upon returning from his eighty days around the world, won the International Tournament of Whist. His prize, a trip around the world. What could be more appropriate?
The world was doing what it normally does. Getting on with itself and letting everything else get on with itself too. And B. P. was a happy ghost. His howling howdies had been flipped on their butts and came out with a smile and a jest. Ever since he returned from the Spirit World, he had been in a right-good, jolly good mood. Nothing but nothing could break down his wall of merriment. He was having a good time and he wanted everybody at Haggismarshe Manor House to know it. He floated out of his hammock and did himself a jig.
“What are you doing there, you fool of a ghost?” Butler said.
“I’m doing a Texas broad jump,” the ghost said, feeling the breeze sneak under his sheetlike exterior. It tickled but it felt pretty darn good. “What does it look like, you fool of a butler? “
“It looks like you are head over heels in love with your own ectoplasm,” Butler said.
“Why don’t you go,” B. P. said, stopping his hammock from swinging, “and butle something and leave a ghost in peace?”
“Have you no brains?” Butler asked, standing there glaring through the apparition. Why was it always his job to clear things up?
“No brains here. After all, I am a ghost. Or didn’t you know?”
“I know. That’s why I am here.”
B. P. stopped his dancing and floated over to Butler. “Okay then. I give up. Why are you here?”
“Even though her ladyship is still alive, that doesn’t mean she will remain alive.”
“Oh,” B. P. said. “She’s in good hands. Giles, our Times man, says she’s safe in Spain. Has a bit of the amnesias. But otherwise she’s safe and sound. Staying in a convent. So relax.”
“Haven’t you realized,” Butler said, ‘that her ladyship may not have her position and lands when she returns to England. Lords, you know.”
Now he was curious. “What are y’all trying to imply?”
“The House of Lords has been on a rampage to take her title and lands away from her since Lord Wimpleseed Prissypott’s death. Once they find out that she is alive they will be after them again. We have to come up with a strategy to save her ladyship.”
“Pardner, you are absolutely, I mean absolutely right,” B. P. said, getting excited. “Wait here and I will get Earl Grey and Sir Long John Longjohn.”
B. P. was off, flying hither and thither and yonder until he came across Earl Grey in the Master Bedroom. He rustled up Sir Long John Longjohn out of the kitchen pantry. He was having a snack. The three headed back to the hammock. Butler was waiting.
“What’s so urgent?” Earl Grey yawned. “I was hibernating right nicely.”
“I was about to have an Earl of Sandwich,” Sir Long John said.
“Y’all, we have a problem,” B. P. said.
“Just because her ladyship,” Butler said, “is alive doesn’t mean we’re out of hot water. We may lose her still.”
“How can that be?” both Earl Grey and Sir Long John said in unison.
“The House of Lords may vote it so,” Butler said.
“Oh, yes, Lords,” Earl Grey said.
“I forgot about Lords,” Sir Long John said. “Oh, what oh what can we do?”
“I’ve an idea,” Earl Grey said. “It’s not been done for centuries. The last time was against the Armada and the Spanish. But we might be able to pull it off.”
“How so?” Butler said.
“You’re right,” Sir Long John said. “It might work.”
“What might work?” B. P. said.
“A Gathering of the Ghosts,” Earl Grey said.
“What the—“ B. P. went to ask.
“My exact sentiment,” Butler said.
“It works like this,” Earl Grey said. “We call a Convocation of Ghosts at the House of Lords. Ghosts from all over the British Isles will converge on Lords. We’ll surround Lords and won’t let the lords out until the situation with her ladyship is resolved. We’ll squeeze them until they pop. And pop they surely shall.”
“But we can’t leave the manor house,” B. P. said. “It’s hard enough for one of us to get permission. You are talking about all the ghosts in England.”
“And Scotland and Wales,” Earl Grey said. “You’ve done this before, Sir Long John. How shall we proceed?”
“We have to have a very urgent need,” Sir Long John said, “one of national import.”
“This is of national import,” Butler said. “If Lords can take her ladyship’s lands and title away, then no one is safe. No American girl will marry a English lord ever again. There won’t be the guarantee of a title. This movement is led by all those wives of lords who are British. They don’t care for the American incursion. The large estates will eventually be split up and die without the wealth these American women have to offer.”
“That’s national and emergency enough, boys,” B. P. threw his two cents in. “Don’t you think?”
“I say,” Earl Grey said. “I believe it is. Then we call a Gathering of Ghosts.”
“First we have to get permission,” Sir Long John said, “from the Riders of the Sky to approach the Spirits Council. Earl Grey, you were a solicitor. You prepare a brief, and make your brief brief. Please don’t be the windbag you are in these cases. If the Spirits Council agrees, there will be a Gathering of Ghosts, and Lords will never be the same. But we don’t have much time. I have one question for ye lads?”
“Yes?,” B. P., Butler, Earl Grey asked.
“Can I wear my kilts, mon?” Sir Long John asked.
“I would say kilts would be quite in order,” Earl Grey said.
“And I can get out my new stetson and my justins. It will be the biggest howdy old England has ever seen. I say we go for it.”
Earl Grey wrote the brief. The Riders in the Sky agreed that the three ghosts from Haggismarshe might have a relevant case for the Spirits Council. The Spirits Council listened in awe at what was being proposed. It had never been done in peace time. But dire times call for dire resourcefulnesses. The Spirit Council agreed. They unlocked the walls of all the haunted houses and castles throughout the British Isles. The ghosts flooded into the surrounding countryside as the rain poured down. It was a dark and stormy midnight.
From Dublin and the County Cork, from Ulster and Shannon, the ghosts left their abodes and trod. From the Highlands and the Lowlands, the ghosts proceded. From Dundee and Aberdeen, they trod. From Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, they came. From Portsmouth and Plymouth and Cardiff, they walked. From Clwyd, Gwynnedd and Dyfed, they trooped.
They marched across the sea, They marched through forests and cities. They marched through the rain and the fog. They marched, and all of England knew there was something astir. Their trek led them through Hammersmith, Paddington and Kensington and onward, splashing their way to Westminster and the House of Lords. When they arrived at the Lords, they spread out in two directions, making a circle around the Palace. When the circle was completed, they began their howl.
“What is going on outside?” Baron Duffield asked his good friend, Sir Quinton Nobody, the Lord Mayor of London. Of course, the Lord Mayor did not have a clue. He couldn’t even guess. But the sound was very unpleasant.
“I say,” Sir Quinton said, “perhaps one of us should go outside and find out.”
“Whatever it is, it is downright scary,” the Baron said. “At least the rain has stopped. Thought we were going to need Noah and his ark.”
“You’d think somebody was on the warpath or something or the other.”
“I volunteer you, Quinton, old chap,” Duffield said. “to go find out. After all, it is your city. You are supposed to be keeping the plebeians in check. And when you check, keep your stiff upper lip. We would not want whatever it is to think that we were intimidated. We are not.”
Quinton walked slowly to the door and out into the great hallway and to the front of Westminster Palace, the home of kings of old. He came to the front door and turned to the doorman. “What is going on outside?”
“Ghosts, sir,” the doorman chattered. “Ghosts.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts. I refuse to even fathom such a thing. It is unscientific.”
“Unscientific or not,” the doorman said, “there are ghosts out there. They are running amuck. We are unable to go in or out, sir.”
Next Week, Prime Minister informs the Queen.