Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Musings: What scared you as a child

Happy October, nearing Halloween and Nanowrimo...both scary themes for me.

Which is why I'm asking our Musers...what scared you as a child. You know those are the fears that stick with us, even if only in memories.

When I was a child, my grandmother lived with us. I had the bedroom next to hers and the entrance to a concrete storm cellar (built because of her fear of storms) was right outside my windows. It had a heavy steel door, rigged with a hanging weight to make it easy to operate.

After I got to high school, I'd stay up late, reading. One night I heard the weight move, scraping against the concrete walls next to the steps like someone was outside, opening or closing the door. It never happened unless everyone was in bed, asleep, and it didn't start happening until after my Grandmother died.

As a little girl, my family lived at my old house down the street. It's white, two stories, and generally cute. Built in the 20s or 40s (positively ancient to a six-year-old), its stone basement is cramped, damp, and interwoven with enough hanging spiders to tie up and suck the life out of any child. It would flood. If we needed winter coats/boots/etc., we'd have to tramp down the rickety wooden stairs, gagging on must, and reach up on tiptoe to yank the lone, hanging bare bulb on its chain. When I was REALLY little, the door concealing the basement was this narrow, sickly yellow thing with one of the old locks you'd yank into its recess in the frame and then twist into place. Our only bathroom at the time was downstairs...directly across from the door. Imagine being a child and having to pee in the dead of night! I'd flip on ALL the lights: hallway, living room, bathroom, and sometimes even keep the door wide open so I could make sure the basement door wasn't creaking open and some sinister monster wasn't waiting in the shadows to claim me. Then I'd flush, wash my hands, and flip off lights while scampering as fast as I could back upstairs because, as all children know, as soon as you turn off the light's you are free game. We also had a barrel, in the basement, that reputedly had been there even before the previous owner. Smallish and sitting on a wooden stand in a far corner, it wasn't very terrifying. But we never opened it. Not even as teenagers. We joked how, if we DIDN'T open it, it would be filled with gold, treasure, old clothes. But then we'd remember stories of people finding old wine casks, drinking them dry, and then finding a preserved body hidden in the dregs. Surely it held a curse, a demon, a child's corpse. I was about seventeen or sixteen when we moved, I think, and my entire family joked about cracking the thing open. We never did.

The door to the cellar was in the kitchen. We kept it shut so we wouldn't smell the musty odor. Heavy, prolonged rain flooded it and the concrete walls and floor kept in the chilly dampness. One ceiling bulb couldn't brighten the room. I wasn't just afraid of the cellar. I was afraid of walking down the staircase. They weren't just steep, they were opened on one side. I was a temptation to whatever evil lived under those stairs. A tasty morsel waiting to be grabbed.

Funny story about the cellar...

Senior year in high school, my parents were out of town and I had a couple of girlfriends spending the night. Of course, we invited some guy friends to hang out. It's late, we're watching The Shining, Jack Nicholson is terrifying his wife when suddenly the house goes dark. I mean pitch black, no electricity. We screamed, and it wasn't just us girls either. I'm sure it was only a minute or so, before the lights and TV came on but it felt longer. Turned out one of the guys thought it'd be funny to sneak into the cellar and flip the breaker. Ha! We laughed once our hearts stopped racing.

What didn’t scare me is more accurate. I was afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, strangers, clowns, creepy crawlies, dark places, and sleep walking and waking up in the pitch dark basement. I’m sure there’s more. The sad thing is most all of these things still bother me. At least I don’t sleepwalk anymore. Of course I have new fears as an adult, because I have more knowledge about the dangers in the world. I suppose my biggest fear (or maybe anxiety is a better word) is something happening to my teenage daughter with autism.

I graduated college in 1989. I still sometimes have nightmares about showing up for class unprepared, or getting to finals without ever having attended class. At least now I have enough control over my dreaming that I tell myself, still asleep, “Shut up, you graduated. You have a degree. School is done.”

Top fear – worries about my daughter. Second place, still those bleeping clowns.

My parents and I lived in a three storey house with a basement and attics. My cosy bedroom was on the top floor. I used to kiss my mother goodnight, then go upstairs on my own where I would sit on a stair on the flight below the one leading to my bedroom, frightened because there was no light to guide me up those last stairs. Finally, I would pluck up my courage, dash up to my bedroom door, open it and terrified of the witch, who I imagined lived under my bed, literally jump up onto the comfortable mattress and bury my head under the blankets.

It was no use turning on the bedroom light before I got into bed because I couldn't sleep with it on. If I had switched it on before I settled I would have had to get out of bed, cross the floor with the phantom witch at my heels to turn off the switch.

Years later, I told my mother about my fear. Her reply. 'If you had asked your father would have installed a light on the third floor and I would have put a lamp by your bed.'

What really scared me as a child was not usually anything "real", but the villains from Disney movies. I was mortally afraid of the organ from the Beauty and the Beast Christmas movie, as well as the witch from Snow White during and after she turns into a hag. I used to have nightmares with her chasing me, and I still remember two of them vividly. There was also a horror movie called The Others that I watched at a friend's sleepover, and I was afraid of that for years. Even now, I don't watch horror movies, because I get scared too easily!

What really scared me as a child? Night. Dark. Loud voices. Loud voices in the night.

I gave the antagonist in "Broken Bonds" my night/dark phobia.

No, I don't sleep with a night light. I like to sleep with it totally dark, though I'm perfectly capable of dozing off with the light on.

What scared me as a child? The great, black, unknown. Falling down a rabbit hole, like Alice, and never hitting bottom. The sound of my parents fighting on the other side of my bedroom wall. It wasn't until much later that I developed a fear of graduate school mathematics exams; for years after I was out of grad school, I dreamed I walked into a calculus exam for which I had done no studying {shudder}.

Here's one of my many night-themed poems:

Winter Night

A silver sliver of slender moon
hangs high in a darkening sky.
Barren branches of empty trees
watch moonbeams as they waft by.

Broken breeze blows through empty trees.
Dead foliage flutters and flies.
Echoing dark swallows the light
of stars that flicker and hide.

A few clouds float across bright stars.
There is no light to see
a trail that twists through lonely woods
thick with layers of leaves.

Icy branches heavily droop
down over a rambling road.
A few break off and fall to earth.
A gale continues to blow.

Flakes of snow sail slowly down
to cover lanes and fields.
Fog drifts slowly across the ground
but no one is there to see.

Oh boy, you're reaching, aren't you? *laughs* Okay, okay, I'll reach. The dead walking...zombies... As a child, my family lived a couple blocks from a cemetery. We couldn't play in the yard without seeing the back corner of the cemetery and it's stones. Luckily, it was the newer section, so the deceased weren't...well, that deceased. Unfortunately for me, that was the shortest distance to school every day and the way I walked. So, I would start at the newer addition and work my way toward the older/oldest part as I got closer to school. Needless to say, when it was still dark in the mornings, I hated walking that way. It was creepy! I couldn't keep my imagination from running wild and taking off in the direction of the dead climbing from their resting places and walking out of the cemetery.

Now, they say to overcome your fear confront them. As a teenager I did. Sadly...those experts didn't know what they were talking about. I DID NOT overcome my fear of zombies and the dead walking until I was a grown adult with children of my own. However, on a side imagination is still wild and if I let it run away, well, I'd be curled up in a ball crying my eyes out each night I watch a horror movie in the dark.

The movie Jaws did it for me. We have a local lake/beach where is pretty much only reaches your waist forever. Mom and I don't swim but we walked out and out and out, till I started to look around and think Jaws. Yup, hightailed it back to shore.

Then there was going to see Amityville Horror for the first time...the first movie...spent the last 15-20 minutes with eyes closed and fingers stuck in my ears. Would you know it, I had rearranged my bedroom that day, so now my bed was smack in the middle of the room with no walls to protect my back. Yup, bad night for sleeping.

Mostly though my fear as a child was losing those around me or being lost from them.

And spiders...any multi-legged thingy.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Musings: How Halloween plays into writing and those who celebrate differently

Happy Sunday Everyone.

We're getting closer and closer to Halloween, but not everyone celebrates this night of unease. Today Musers are sharing how Halloween plays into their writing as well as offering us their own celebrations for this time of year and its meaning.

When writing it's always good to remember that not everyone celebrates the same, believes the same, and that you may just find something new which speaks to your writing or your heart.

Halloween doesn't enter into my writing, or it hasn't as yet.

My mother thought trick-or-treating was a form of begging, so we never went out or otherwise celebrated the day.  Also, there was no way we could afford even the cheap costumes available then.

However, Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day, a holy day, and I attend the vigil Mass.  That brings me out in good time to see the small children in their costumes.  In my neighborhood, those are usually marvelous and highly imaginative.  The little ones are truly adorable.

Our former pastor used to dress up as well and stand on the rectory steps so the children could have their pictures taken with him while collecting their candy.  The giant carrot was good.  The best was when he was a great white shark (complete with :"victim).  His golden retriever Penelope was sitting beside him dressed up as, of course, a dog fish.  He should have charged for those photo sessions, because he was mobbed.  A lot of the people were adults, and many of them were not parishioners.

My kids are grown, so we lay in a supply of candy for the neighborhood kids. We might also haul out a few of the Halloween decorations (spouse is big on holiday decorating).

I actually have a good answer to this. Last year around Halloween, I wrote a short novel called Shubiao's Girls. It's original working title was Strange Bedfellows, but I didn't want people to get the wrong idea. October arrives and my brain takes anything as sinister. Creaking door? Probably a murderer. In the shower with suds in your eyes? Girl, scrub them out and peek through the shower curtain because you are a damsel in dire distress. Closing a window at night? There's definitely someone waiting in the darkness so do it quick. I woke up one morning at college, groggy like I hadn't slept at all. At that moment, I had the weirdest thought: what if monsters didn't really live UNDER your bed? What if they lived...IN your bed? What if you woke up tired because you hadn't been sleeping? Or...something was stealing your sleep? Your LIFE? Wikipedia told me about all kinds of life-stealing beasties, including Chinese mouse spirits which sat on your face and breathed in your sleep, effectively stealing your life. The spirits stopped aging and took human form--but only for a day. Then the process repeated, the mouse using a sleeping human as a host. Mice on your face is enough to make most people cringe and freak out, but a mouse sitting on your face, stealing your life, and then morphing into a girl with black eyes and see-through skin? Pretty creepy. All of my Halloween vibes went into making this story: a demon who steals peoples' names in order to eat their souls (names are very important in Chinese mythology) comes into play, and the two main characters try to hide at a crazy Halloween party. All these taboos and old superstitions are used and it was all-over delightful to write.

I'm writing a YA story about a boy growing up in the Texas hill country in the 60s. There's ghosts and voices and things that go bump in the night. This is the first time I've had a chance to write about Halloween, and I'm loving it. The time of year, the holiday itself, everything about it. Ghosts, strange voices and things that go bump in the night.

Halloween is a glossy, American import. I am the type of person who turns off the lights and pretends not to be home! Last year hubby and I went to a double showing of Alien and Aliens at the local multiplex which counted to me as an appropriate celebration.

What I am interested in is Samhain, the pagan festival that pre-dates Halloween. Samhain is the most important of the four annual festival days in pagan culture. It denotes a time of year when the nights are getting darker, the harvest has been completed and animals are slaughtered for the winter months.

There is natural transition at this time of year from the plenty of summer to the scarcity of food in the winter that has echoes of life and death. In Scottish folklore it is believed that Samhain is a time when the veneer between the real and the supernatural is at its thinnest with the potential for monsters and creatures to walk amongst us. The bonfires and costumes that we enjoy today were originally designed to scare off any wandering ghosts or ghouls! My novella, Dark Waters of the Heart, is set on Samhain and centres on a young reporter who encounters a kelpie – a water horse taking the form of a handsome man.

Scottish mythology provides a rich tapestry of ideas that naturally seep into my writing.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at