Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Wow...2016 has been the year from hell. I knew we were off to a bad start when David Bowie died. Bowie was one of my favorite musicians, and his loss was a blow to me. I was just coming to grips with the concept of a world without the Starman, when my absolute favorite musician, Prince, also passed away. Looking back, I believe this year will one day be known as "The Year the Legends Died". In addition to the aforementioned musicians, we've also lost folks like Glen Frey, Merle Haggard, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gene Wilder and so many other giants that it's just staggering.

Likewise, my personal life has been through the ringer. My mother-in-law passed away, after a very sudden, rapid decline. It was a shock to all of us, and one we all took rather hard (despite the stereotype, I got along well with my wife's mother). Next up, a coworker discovered she had cancer, and that she was going to have to take some drastic measures to fight it. Shortly thereafter, another friend from my old church passed away from a long battle with cancer. In the midst of all of this, my wife decided she needed us to separate...a shock that I'm still trying to process.I won't go into all the details here, and I can't say for certain what the future holds for my marriage, but let's just say that it certainly is a painful process.

In addition to all of this, my thyroid issues reemerged, with weight gain, fatigue and skin rashes adding to the fun. For some odd reason (sarcasm), I started to feel incredibly depressed. Since I have been battling depression & anxiety since my teens, I have been on medication for quite some time. About every 3 to 5 years, I have to switch meds, since I tend to build up a tolerance to them. Whether or not it was solely situational, or the result of drug resistance, I decided I needed to visit my doctor for a consultation. It was decided to ween me off of one drug, while slowly introducing another into my system, which is fairly standard procedure. In the past, I've never had more than mild withdrawal symptoms when switching, so I didn't really expect what happened next. I was weening off of Cymbalta, and noticed that I was experiencing a rather brutal case of "brain zaps". For those unfamiliar, brain zaps are a fairly common withdrawal symptom of anti-depressants, but they usually fade after a day or two once you've switched to a new one. The feeling is akin to having a strong electrical current passing through your entire head, thus the name. After two weeks off of Cymbalta completely, I was still getting intense zaps, which I'd never experienced in the past. In addition, I started to experience short-term memory loss, nausea, migraines, and (my personal favorite) night terrors! This all culminated in me suddenly experiencing intense paranoia coupled with extreme depression. Like I mentioned earlier, I've dealt with depression since my teens, but this was a new level for me. At this point, I still hadn't connected the dots that it was the withdrawals from Cymbalta that was causing all of this, with the exception of the brain zaps. When I finally figured all of this out, I took to the internet to discover that I wasn't alone...apparently this drug has this effect on many people, and it is considered one of the worst in terms of withdrawal. A friend of mine confided to me that she had been through the same ordeal, and she probably came up with the best description I've heard to date, when she said it felt the way you'd imagine it would feel to be around the Dementors from Harry Potter. I felt like all life and hope was being drawn out of my body. In that moment, I knew how those who had committed suicide must have felt, as I had to fight to not give in to the abyss that seemed to have opened inside of me. I kept thinking of my children, and held on to my faith in those dark moments.

One night, the night terrors were particularly bad as I awakened to find a hand upon my mouth and nose, unable to move or breathe. In that moment, I wasn't sure if I was going to survive. About a year ago, I had watched a documentary about night terrors called "The Nightmare", & I remembered the description that the various victims described. I was able to calm myself down when I realized what was happening. Still, being unable to breathe was terrifying, and in that moment I knew it was likely that I wouldn't survive. Finally shaking off the sleep paralysis, and regaining the ability to take oxygen into my lungs, was a relief, to say the least.

Needless to say, I couldn't take being in such a state indefinitely. I called my doctor, who put me on a lower dosage of Cymbalta to get rid of the symptoms. In a couple weeks I'll be going back to discuss with him exactly how we should proceed from here. I know I don't want to continue taking this poison, but I also don't want to experience that hell again.

I don't post all this to try to elicit pity. In fact, it seems like almost everyone I've talked to has related to me that their year has also been incredibly difficult. Illness, death, financial woes, personal strife...it seems like everyone I know has really gone through their own form of perdition in 2016. No, I relate all of this for a couple of reasons: one, if you have been on Cymbalta (or its generic counterpart) and you experience anything like this YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Get a hold of your doctor immediately to address what you're experiencing. It can literally kill you...if not from suicide or sleep apnea then from seizures or strokes (I didn't experience either of the latter two, but many do). Second, I also want to explain the long gap in my postings, as well as why there has been no Halloween related content here so far.

On the plus side, my family & friends have been very supportive. My sister, my kids & even my estranged wife have been there for me in some of my darkest moments. Some of my longtime friends have spent late nights listening to me and providing sound advice. Since I've been living in an apartment, I have no home to haunt this year. Rather than let this get to me, I took the opportunity to take a job at a local professional haunted attraction called "Screamworld". This haunt has been a favorite of mine for years, so it's great to be on board as a member of their cast! I don't know if I'll make this a regular thing for the Halloween season or not in the years to come, but right now it's a fun way to get my mind off the various crap that is going on in my life, and the world at large.

Hopefully, this won't be my only blog post of the Samhain season, but you never know. I'm trying to look at October 31st in much the same way as the Celts did in ancient times: as a time of reflection and the end of a cycle. I'm hoping that the cycle so many of us seem to be in this past year will be reaching its conclusion, and that better days are ahead for one and all.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Religious Tracts

Growing up, my parents attended a rather fundamentalist church at one point. While my mom & dad have always been Conservative Christians, they were way more relaxed than many of the individuals that attended the services at this particular church. As far as I could see, most of the parishioners had the viewpoint that EVERYTHING was "Satanic", from the music I listened to, to the shows I watched on TV. Hidden, subliminal messages, intended to turn young people into mindless slaves of Lucifer, were found in almost anything. Even certain Christian rock bands were denounced as secretly being in league with Ol' Scratch!

One staple of this time in my life were "Chick Tracts". For those of you who lived normal lives, let me explain the insanity that is a Chick Tract: these 3x5 pamphlets had a comic art story, usually running around 12 pages, that told of all sorts of horrible sins that could lead to your demise. Everything from drugs, homosexuality, rock music, trick-or-treating or being Catholic could lead you straight into the bowels of hell!! They always concluded with a call to salvation through Jesus, naturally. It wasn't uncommon for these things to show up around the Youth rooms, usually brought in by one of the adults who took it upon themselves to "educate" us on the evils lurking in things like our candy (no...really! Halloween candy is cursed or contaminated by witches!). Of course, we were encouraged to read these, and then pass them on to others who might be in danger of becoming thralls of Beelzebub. I'd heard stories of some churches sending their youth groups out to rock concerts to hand these out to folks as they went to see Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Barry Manilow or any other evil dabbler in the infernal music of "rock" (I'm not even being sarcastic about Manilow. I actually heard someone denounce his tunes as being Satanic!). Thankfully, I was never asked to do so...though I did see some tracts laying on the floor at a few concerts I went to later in life. Obviously, someone was out there handing these out to the lost sheep.

To their credit, my parents read a couple of these and rejected them outright...as did a few of the Church's parishioners. My folks viewed these as being too extreme, and noted that you'd have to cut off all ties with the outside world to live the supposedly "Christian" lifestyle that these pamphlets advocated. As an adult, I am rather shocked by the content when I see them now. A friend of mine, with a similar upbringing, hipped me to the fact that Chick Publications is not only still in business, but now has their tracts available to read online. If you're so inclined, you can check out the insanity here: http://www.chick.com/ Reading these now, with a more refined worldview, I'm stunned at the level of hatred this so-called "Christian" group teaches (a sad statement that seems to be true of many who use the label these days). While it isn't exactly surprising to see non-Christian religions attacked in these, the Chick group also goes after many Christian denominations as well! Yes, you have to believe EXACTLY the way that Jack Chick does in order to receive salvation...forget all that John 3:16 stuff about "whosoever"...it only counts if it's done in the way Chick approves! As someone who views themselves as a Progressive Christian (which is about as far away from this stuff as you can get), I just cannot contain my disgust at this stuff.

There is also an unintentionally comedic element, as the hysteria presented is so over-the-top and uninformed to actually draw a chuckle or two. In many ways, that may be the best way to handle these things...to just view them as the goofy, backwards thinking of some nuts. In particular, I got quite a laugh at a couple of tracts that put forth the theory that the Catholic Church actually created Islam in order to...oh hell...I dunno...it gets pretty insane! Don't get me wrong, I love a good conspiracy theory, but man...these are just BEYOND crazy!

I bring all of this up for one reason...I recently stumbled across a rather hilarious send-up of the Chick Tracts that used their format to Proselytize....for Cthulhu!


So there you have it! The important information you need for the coming of the elder gods! Hey, it's not as crazy as half the stuff in those Chick publications!!!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Haunted Mansion Candles? Yes, Please!

There are two events that I can trace my desire to create my own haunt back to: a school Halloween carnival, and a trip to Disneyland where I was introduced to The Haunted Mansion. Something about the twisted mixture of the whimsical and the macabre really struck a chord with me as a child, and to this day my favorite things are those that display this blending. Be it The Munsters, The Addams Family, ToxicToons, The Nightmare Before Christmas or what have you, I love those things that are creepy...but also a bit amusing.

As I said, all this can be traced, in part, to that visit to the Haunted Mansion in California. As an adult, I've taken my kids to the Florida incarnation, and they seemed to enjoy it almost as much as I did. When I set out to do my yard haunt, I used the classic ride when pitching the idea to the wife...keeping things creepy, but also kooky, was the order of the day. I still strive for that balance, and hope to get closer and closer each year. The Mansion is definitely reflective of the days when Walt Disney was running the show, and pure imagination was the way of things (you know, back before the name Disney automatically called to mind the image of a giant, faceless corporation).

Despite all these memories and associations...I can't honestly say I remember how the ride itself smelled. Researchers claim scent is one of the strongest senses associated with memory, and this is most likely true...but when I think of my trips to either Mansion, the scent of the place doesn't come to mind. It's always possible that getting a good nose-full of the aromas might make me automatically think of Madame Leota or the Grim, Grinning Ghosts...I just can't say. Well, one intrepid team on Etsy has released a scent that purports to do just that! Anthology Candles has released their "Haunted Mansion" candle, and I gotta admit...I'm EXTREMELY intrigued! The description for this item just sounds like my cup of hemlock: "Happy haunts beware: We've bottled your Haunted Mansion! Boasting the eerie fragrance of a long-abandoned ghost house full of musty carpets and dusty furnishings - complete with its own graveyard - once you light our candle, you may never want to leave! SCENTS: Musty Carpets, Dusty Furnishings, Graveyard Grasses". Wow!!! I may buy this, and then use it in a Jack O' Lantern on my front porch this Halloween

"Hey! Someone light a candle in here! The Hatbox Ghost just let one!"

This candle (along with several other Disneyland/World inspired entries) can be purchased here:


Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Witch Room

So...a while back, Guillaume asked me to write a short story. I started this tale, sticking to the parameters he'd set...but life got in the way. Recently, I stumbled across this lost, unfinished ghost story, and decided to finish it. I tried to venture out from my usual writing style with this one, going for a Lovecraft style vibe. Not sure I was successful, but you be the judge:

The Witch Room
by David R Gill

From the journal of Thomas McArty

June 16th
I’m not the type of man who typically keeps a diary or journal, but I feel that I must put these thoughts down while I still can. In some ways, I’m just trying to have some tangible trace of these events, which seem almost dreamlike when I ponder them for any length of time. No…not dreamlike…nightmarish is more fitting.
For anyone who might read this, I suppose some sort of history is called for. I have successfully owned a pub by the rail station for two years, a small but upscale establishment. It was always a dream of mine to own a European style pub, and when this property came up for sale, I jumped at the chance. This particular property is rich in history, once being part of a hotel that was built next to the rail station. For the first year and a half, things went swimmingly. No issues whatsoever, and my clientele had all been wonderful people who brightened my day.

My troubles began six months ago, when I decided to expand my pub. Many of my patrons expressed an interest in having some sort of restaurant in the area, so I thought it might be a good financial move to incorporate a full dining room into the pub. The property on the other side of mine, which had also once been a part of the same hotel before being divided into sub-units by the developer, had recently come up for sale. Why this particular unit wasn’t already on the market, I cannot pretend to say, but I do know that it had remained vacant since I’d started my business. I acquired this unit, and began the process of renovating.

Almost immediately, strange things started to occur. Now, understand that I am a rational man, who doesn’t believe in things that one cannot see. I’ve never had time for the ridiculous notions of ghosts and aliens that seem to populate the mass consciousness today. I don’t abide superstition, so when some of the workers first reported their experiences, I dismissed them for being primitive, uneducated fools. Perhaps they weren’t the ones being foolish…
One afternoon, one of the workers reported that, while demolishing one of the walls between the pub and the new area, he had found something. The man seemed unsettled by whatever this discovery was, so I followed him to have a look. Nestled in the wall, on a shelf that had seemingly been built behind the boards themselves, were several odd items. Some sort of fetish, made of sticks and twine was bundled into the shape of a five pointed star. Next to this, a mason jar containing the bones of what appeared to be several small birds sat covered in dust. Nearby were strange trinkets that seemed to be the type favored by some sort of occult or new age group. The designs upon these were intricate, with seemingly arcane symbols etched upon them. They all appeared to be quite sinister, but I was certain this was the intent. I told the construction worker to dispose of all the items, as I believed this all to be nonsense. No doubt it was either a prank that was never fulfilled, or the result of some fear-filled religious zealot who believed these items would ward off evil or some such notion.

How wrong I was. Oh, how completely blind I was! That very night, workers reported hearing scratching sounds coming from within the walls, which I attributed to rats. The workers were quite insistent that these noises were far from the ordinary skittering of vermin, but something far more sinister. Naturally, I ignored their claims as the ravings of the superstitious.
Two nights later, one of my wait staff reported hearing voices coming from our supply room. Upon inspection, nothing appeared amiss. Since there is only one entrance or exit to this room, and no intruders were detected, I chalked this up to the sounds of patrons conversing, being carried through the ventilation system. Old buildings are especially susceptible to such phenomena, and I refused to entertain the notion that there was anything outside of the natural at work here.

As the months passed, and the construction progressed, there were occasional whispers amongst the staff of odd occurrences. Most of these were mild annoyances…objects disappearing or being moved, seemingly of their own accord. I thought these incidents to be, most likely, either pranks or the result of distraction and overwork. After all, it was far more likely that a worker has simply put his hammer down absent-mindedly in some odd place, rather than think that some spirit from beyond was moving these items. One worker was so distraught, after claiming she’d witnessed a mop bucket fly across the kitchen, I had to send her home early.

While all these disturbances were troubling, I still wrote them off as the collective delusion of an uneducated group of primarily migrant workers, bringing their superstitious notions with them from their less developed home lands. This continued until the restaurant finally opened…and the experiences became far more intense and frequent. One night, a few weeks after opening our doors, I was in the kitchen with our lead-chef, Rose. We had closed for the evening an hour or so before, and went about the task of cleaning up for the night. While putting away washed utensils, Rose let out a flesh-chilling scream. I turned to look at the source of her distress, to see the words “YOU WILL ALL DIE”, smeared in blood across the wall above the sink! Since I had just been by the sink moments before, and Rose was on the other side of me, there was no possible way anyone had snuck in and written these words. I knew that neither of us had done this, so I couldn’t fathom how this had been achieved. Naturally, I tried to think of a rational, scientific way this could have been done. This was the first inkling I had that, perhaps, my employees were not as foolish as I’d previously believed.
As the weeks gave way to months, the incidents grew in number. More and more employees expressed their fears over the “haunting”, with one even begging me to contact his priest to perform a blessing over the building. I still refused to accept such an idea, and went about my business. All of this came crashing down for me one night, when I heard a voice in my office. I was alone, working late to go over the business finances, when I plainly heard a raspy, wretched voice state “you don’t belong here”. I went out into the hallway, but spotted no one. As I made my way to the kitchen, I could make out the form of someone fleeing into the dining area. I ran as fast as I could, hoping to apprehend this intruder, who obviously had been playing sick pranks on my staff myself for months on end. When I reached the dining room, however, there was no one at all. All doors and windows were shut tight, so there was no possible way for anyone to get out. I looked around, vainly searching for the culprit, when I heard the voice again declare “you will feed the Beast! He will devour your soul”! With that, I then felt burning hot razor blades slice down my back, cutting my flesh and drawing blood!
When I arrived at my home that night, I looked in the mirror and surveyed my back. While my shirt had sustained no damage, save for the blood that had soaked through the fabric, I spied four claw-like slashes that ran the length of my back, from my shoulder to my waist! I was now experiencing physical effects upon my person, and could no longer chalk this up to the ravings of the superstitious.

So now, we come to this night…and the terrors I have witnessed! I still cannot believe this is real…that it has been a true event that I can claim to have witnessed, but there is no denying what my senses have revealed to be factual. On this night, as I conferred with my chef and her kitchen crew, we all heard a horrid howl come from the alley. I went to investigate, finding a dog…well…at least that is the closest approximation to what this…thing…was. It was covered in black, filthy fur, matted to its stinking frame. Its physique was strong and muscular, yet it somehow seemed to reek of sickness and death. A low growl, quite unlike anything from an ordinary animal, passed from its throat…growing into a horrid snarl as it turned to face me. Its eyes had a feral wildness, yet seemed to be possessed of some sort of otherworldly intelligence. I could smell its fetid breath as it reared up to pounce at me. I fell back inside, slamming the door right as the dog-thing lunged for me. For what seemed an eternity, the dog-thing slammed into the door, testing the limits of the lock. After some time, the pounding suddenly ceased. A subsequent search of the area revealed no animal, canine or otherwise, anywhere near the premises.

June 20th
Since my initial entry, the disturbances have continued, unabated. In most cases, these things occur after we have closed for the night, thank God! Two of my kitchen staff have quit, citing fear for their very souls over the diabolical manifestations they have witnessed. One of the cooks claimed to have seen a spectre of an old woman, dressed in rotting black robes, pointing at him and smiling in a sinister fashion. Oh, this is all too much to take! I have to get to the bottom of this…haunting. I must find out why these evil things are happening to us!

June 26th
After internet searches proved fruitless, I took to the public library to see if any public record exists of some sort for this building. After pouring over the microfiche for hours on end, I finally found what I was looking for. The hotel that once occupied the space of my business was one fraught with many troubles. In particular, one room became notorious for a string of unrelated murders. As you might surmise, that room is now where my dining area is located. The hotel was closed in the 1950’s, after the owner went mad and killed his family. For many years, it seemed that the building was vacant, but in the late 1970’s local police found out otherwise. While investigating the disappearances of several local youths, an anonymous tip led them to the condemned structure, where a cult led by a self-described witch was in residence. This “witch” was not of the Wiccan religion that I am vaguely familiar with, but rather one that fancied herself a practitioner of the “dark arts”. If I hadn’t witnessed the things that I had recently, I would find such a claim ludicrous, but I cannot dismiss anything at this point. The police arrested the cult members, on a charge of criminal trespass, but weren’t able to find anything linking them to the missing persons.

As time went on, more and more people vanished, but no leads were found. The detective in charge of the case still suspected the cult, which was devoted to the worship of a demon they called “Azazel”, but had no proof. Finally, a break in the case occurred when a teen that went missing was witnessed in the company of one of the known cult members. A search warrant was issued, and the police were given carte blanche to turn the premises of the abandoned hotel inside out in their quest to find evidence. The cult had returned to the hotel, naturally, and the raid yielded grisly discoveries: bodies were found in an artificial wall built in the basement. All of the missing were subsequently identified, along with the bodies of dogs, cats and many types of birds. All of these corpses were the result of sick “sacrifices” the cult had made to Azazel. The “witch”, who has never been positively identified, was defiant when the authorities tried to take her and her followers in. The cultists attacked the police with knives, but were either gunned-down or subdued. The witch herself died as the result of a gunshot wound to the head. Could it be that she and her followers are still in this place? Were the trinkets and bones found in the walls some sort of way of consecrating this space to their demonic “master”? Did the rituals and spells they made actually manage to summon up dark fiends from the netherworld? I suspect that all of this is the case. Oh, what to do…how do I defeat an enemy with no flesh or blood?

July 8th
I have no doubt, at this point, that the forces we are dealing with are the remnants of the demon-worshipping sect that previously resided here. Most of my staff has quit in fear, and many patrons have ceased to visit. Word has spread of the “haunting”, as the activity has spread to the daytime hours as well. It seems that, whatever these things are, they thrive and grow with fear and despair. Many customers report feeling uneasy, with some even saying they have seen phantoms appear before their eyes! Late last night, when I was locking up, I walked into the dining room to find a dark figure standing in the middle of the tables. A sickly looking woman, with skin like parchment stretched over bones, stood before me. Her hair was matted and filthy, with rotting black robes covering her gaunt frame. A foul stench, like decaying meat, hung in the air. As my mind struggled to comprehend what I was seeing before me, a dry, cracking sound issued from her lips. The cracking became a sickly laugh, and a devious grin split across her face. She raised an arm out, and pointed a bony finger at me. Fire seemed to flit across her eyes as she uttered the words “you will feed the Beast. Azazel will rise”! For many minutes, she stood there, seemingly as solid and real as any person I’ve ever seen. Before my eyes, her features slowly faded into the form of an amorphous cloud that seeped into the cracks in the floor and the walls. I have no idea what to do at this point. I’ve never been a religious man, so I would feel a hypocrite to reach out to any church or priest. Most mediums and gurus strike me as nothing more than charlatans…con men in the disguise of enlightened mages, so I see no good coming enlisting their aid. I am at a loss as to how to proceed.

July 10th
It has all come undone. The repugnant scent from the manifestation has lingered over the pub since it first formed. Customers cannot abide to stay in the place, and my staff has all left in fear. Rose, a brave soul like none I’ve ever known, stayed on until yesterday. She has urged me to contact her priest, but I see no value in that. She finally told me that she could no longer support this course of action…that if I refused to have the building blessed that I should then burn it and salt the earth where it stood. Perhaps she is right. The sound of sinister laughter can be heard, as if in another room, from all points in the building. Even retiring to my house brings no peace, as I’ve seen the faces of the witch and her followers peering in from outside the windows. Scratching comes from the walls, day and night, and putrid odors waft throughout the halls. I have begged these forces to give me rest…to leave me in peace, but I’m only left with that awful, haunting laughter as my answer. Even now, as I write this, a darkness seems to press upon me. I can feel the evil forces gathering, as if in a coming tempest. I have no defense, no fight left in me. The witch and her diabolical master are circling me, like hungry lions around their wounded prey. At any moment, I expect them to strike, delivering a killing blow. Oh, how foolish I’ve been…to dismiss those around me as lackwits, when I myself was the one who couldn’t see the evidence before me. This is all upon my head!

This journal was found on the morning of July 11th, lying next to the body of Mr. Thomas McArty. Police stated that it appeared he had suffered numerous wounds upon his body, as if by the claws of some sort of large animal, but his clothes were intact. No animal prints were found inside or around the premises, and the doors all appeared to be locked from the inside. Authorities have not ruled out foul play or suicide, but at this time they have no concrete explanation for just what transpired the night of July 10th that led to Mr. McArty’s death.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Midnight Syndicate's Christmas Album!

Many musical acts have tried their hand at making "dark" Christmas albums, with varying degrees of success. In most cases, this consists of taking Christmas standards and playing them at a slower tempo, in a lower key to create a "creepy" feeling. There is nothing wrong with this, per se, but it usually just feels like the artist in question is trying to put a Halloween-type spin on Christmas carols. It was, with this thought in mind, that I came into the newest Midnight Syndicate release, Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering, with some trepidation. Now, longtime readers will know that I've hailed the Syndicate's previous releases as masterpieces. Their Halloween "soundtracks" are truly wonderful, each telling a story of foreboding and fear that truly fits the Haunted season. It was my love of their previous albums that made me take the plunge and buy this album, but I was a bit concerned that it would be another collection of down-tempo Christmas songs that just gloomed up the Yule season. The first track, "Christmas Overture", seemed to confirm that this was the direction the album would go in, providing a medley of classic carols done in a distorted, eerie style. Fortunately, this was the LAST time the album would prove predictable, as it quickly shifted gears. The duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goska decided to get the expected out of the way in the beginning, and moved to crafting something truly magical for the remainder of the songs!

Midnight Syndicate have not forgotten that, prior to Halloween becoming the holiday it is today, the Yule season was originally one in which ghost stories were told by firelight. Most modern audiences know Dicken's classic A Christmas Carol, but many aren't aware that this story was one that was in a long tradition of Spectral tales told at Christmastime. Seeing as how so much of these herald from Victorian and Edwardian traditions, and Midnight Syndicate have drawn from those time periods for much of their inspiration, it should come as no surprise to see them exploring those themes here. What sets Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering apart from other "dark" Christmas offerings, is that Goska and Douglas don't try to add a Halloween flavor to Yuletide tunes at all, but instead plumb the rich history of the 19th century Christmas Ghost Story genre. This is a Christmas album, through and through, not a Halloween disc in a Santa suit. The tunes aren't intentionally darkened, but naturally have a nighttime hue that comes through sonically. There is a purely enchanting, joyous and (dare I say it) merry element that invokes a feeling of mystery, while still warming the soul. It's the musical equivalent of looking out the window onto a cold winter's night, while curled up next to a fireplace.

The tunes that comprise this album are a mixture of Seasonal standards and original compositions, but they all flow together organically. The original tracks are a delight, as they evoke images of impish mischief ("Night of the Krampus", "Little Helpers") or of the majesty and power of winter ("Winter Storm", "Into the Stillness"). The classic tunes are all recognizable, yet sport fresh arrangements that make them seem bold and new. You've heard "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" a thousand times, but I promise you've never heard it quite in the way it's presented here. This album is consistent in its themes, yet encompasses the Yuletide's various facets in a truly beautiful way. The album closer, "Christmas at Midnight", is simply enchanting, and wouldn't sound out of place alongside such staples as "Silent Night" or "Auld Lang Syne".

For those who crave Christmas music that isn't the typical fare, but also are tired of the usual "dark" holiday interpretations, give this release a listen. Once again, Midnight Syndicate have proven that they are more than just a novelty act, but actually damned good musicians with an ear towards composition. This disc will be in rotation in my Holiday playlists as much as their regular releases are during October!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween 2015 Wrap-up

Alas, my favorite night of the year has passed, and now begins the long trek to Halloween 2016. A part of me always feels excited about the prospect of planning the next year's festivities, while another warns about getting too far ahead of myself. Being that a large component of Halloween is honoring the dead, while also thumbing your nose at death itself, it always occurs to me that nothing is guaranteed in life. The transitory nature of life itself is something that has to be taken into account, and there is no promise of tomorrow for any of us. Of course, isn't that largely the whole POINT of Halloween? Seizing the moment, and reveling in being alive are, to me, a large part of what makes the High Holiday so wonderful. Facing our fears, overcoming the fear of death itself...these are the things that make it all so wonderful.

Early on, I knew that this would be a very different Halloween for me. Having been out of work earlier in the year, and thus having to relocate, meant that some constraints were going to be put on the overall plans. Having my daughter away at college, and my son at an age where he is far more concerned about what plans his friends have for the Night, also contributed to this year being a major departure. Truth to tell, since so much of 2015 has been fraught with disappointment and frustration, I half-expected some sort of disaster to befall us. Rain was also in the forecast, with most of the morning and early afternoon being rather soggy. I had put up some of the yard decorations, but not all, because I just didn't have the time. The inside of the house was left undecorated, since there was little point with many of our possessions still in boxes. Facing all this, I just decided it would be best to roll with it & embrace the differences. I'm glad I did!

The early part of the day, I was drafted by my niece and her husband to put in an appearance at their comic shop. 8th Dimension Comics & Games is Houston's premier comic shop, and they were hosting "Halloween Comic Fest" in the store. They had all sorts of freebies and goodies for kids and adults alike, and they asked me to come in as my Count Baklava character to preside over the fun. The Count is a horror host type character that I came up with when I was asked several years ago to MC a Halloween carnival. He's always fun to perform as, and he usually gets a really good reaction from the audience. Kids, especially, seem to find him enjoyable, and I had a couple of them who seemed to really get a kick out of his antics.

Afterwards, I had to rush home to put the final touches on the yard haunt. Thankfully, the rain subsided by late afternoon, with only mild sprinkles cropping up now and then. One downside was that all attempts to find the various remotes needed to run the projection system were fruitless, so we had to forego this aspect for 2015. Fortunately, this was balanced out by our fog effect looking better than ever this year! I made the switch to Froggy's Fog last year, and it made a huge difference. Something about the placement of the fogger in the bushes at the new place really enhanced this effect further, so it wasn't so bad having the projector out of commission this time around. In many ways, this year seemed like a "trial run" with the new house, and if all goes well we'll easily top the expectations come next year with the elements we were forced to skip this time around.

While we didn't have a whole lot of guests over, two of my best friends stopped by, one bringing his wife & daughter along. His daughter is my honorary niece, with me getting an "Uncle" title for her before she was even born. Having come to my house for every Halloween since she was in the womb, she has long grown accustomed to my spooky costumes and decor, and thus has no fear whatsoever!

Your's truly with my niece!

As the evening progressed, and the traffic of Trick-or-treaters subsided, my other buddy and I headed out to a concert. I normally don't take in concerts on Halloween, but this being a different kind of year...well, it just seemed right! Adding in that one of my ABSOLUTE favorite bands on the planet, Calabrese, was set to appear...well, I couldn't resist. The headliner was Doyle, the solo project for the legendary Misfits guitarist, so it was like the show was tailor-made for me! As always, both bands put on an incredible show, and the Calabrese boys hung around to meet and greet the fans. Those of us who follow this band are rather zealous with our fandom, and tend to go to every show we can, so as a result many of us have gotten to know each other and become friends. Even better, the band themselves tend to remember us, so every show is like a party with friends!

"Butcher" Baker, Bobby Calabrese, Yours Truly, Davey Calabrese & Jimmy Calabrese

Partying with the World's Greatest Horror Rock Band!

The Reaper approves of his likeness being used on Calabrese merch!

Really, you couldn't ask for a better show on a Halloween night! For me, it was all about good friends and damned good music. Sometimes, things going a bit differently than the norm is a REALLY fantastic thing!

At the end of the night, when I had shed my costume, hanging with Davey Calabrese and Brandon Strate from Doyle

Friday, October 30, 2015

Almost Halloween...

Well folks, we're in the home stretch here. Naturally, I didn't blog half as much as I intended during the Samhain Season, but hey...it's been a pretty crappy year all the way around..no surprise that the Haunting season has been incredibly hectic and exhausting as well. The move is, of course, a large part of the problem. We're still living out of boxes, and finding things has been quite a chore (as of this writing, I still haven't found the remotes to work the projection system, so I may not be using it this year). *sigh* Such is life, eh? The seemingly eternal mantra of "well, maybe next year" is being chanted once again in the House of Haunted Gill.

Still, I DID get some decorations up in the front yard, and I'll hopefully have those pics up in the near future. The yard haunt is stripped down, and I went for a decidedly "old school" vibe with it. The forecast is calling for ridiculous amounts of rain, so it may be that it really isn't seen by many this year...but what can you do? The good news about all this is my neighbors seem really down with it all! I was out one night setting up, and had many different folks come by and introduce themselves to me, and all were very complimentary. One individual I spotted coming from the house across and catty corner to us, on the cross street. My first thought was "uh oh", because their house was adorned with many different religious signs and what-not. I thought, for sure, that I was about to have a "holy roller" come over to preach about the "evils" of Halloween. Thankfully, this wasn't the case at all! Turns out, these folks were extremely excited by my display! The husband is a former opera singer, and is heavily involved in local theatrical productions, so he was completely on board! A short while later, his wife joined us, and she likewise gushed about how happy she was to have another theatrical person in the neighborhood!

The only thing close to a "negative" reaction came from an older lady...who expressed disappointment when I told her that I don't do a Christmas display that is quite as elaborate! I asked her if she wouldn't mind seeing a full-on Grinch display one day, which she seemed to get a kick out of, so it wasn't too terribly big of a let-down for her (and I really do want to make a display based on the classic Chuck Jones adaptation of the Grinch...that wasn't just me trying to placate her). So, it's the good with the bad, as always. We've certainly had our share of bad, but since life has given us lemons we're carving those suckers into little, yellow Jack O' Lanterns!

So, a most Happy Hallowe'en to one and all! I hope your Night is filled with lots of spooky goodness!