By Anne McKee
— We are approaching the “creepy season.” Halloween --- costumed parties, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, bonfires, haunted tours, apple bobbing, Fall Festivals, jack-o-lanterns, and scary stories top each Halloween agenda.
Not only is Halloween a time of busyness for children and adults, but also money-making projects for many worthwhile organizations. These organizations, such as volunteer fire departments, school carnivals, nonprofit’s, and civic clubs create their own “creepiness” in order to collect admission fees, sell food, stage short plays and produce scary activities – the money is then distributed for the needs of our communities. It’s all good.
In America, we just have Halloween fun, but how did it all start? There are many stories concerning the origins of this immensely popular worldwide holiday. History tells us the word Halloween was first coined in the 16th century. An important Christian holy day, All Saints’ Day, was celebrated November 1. It was time to pray for the recent dead – that they might reach Heaven. All Hallows’ Eve, the night prior, was a last chance for the dead to claim vengeance on their enemies, bringing forth the present-day tradition of trick-or-treating, thus when the little goblins and witches ring your doorbell, always have candy on hand to drop in their plastic pumpkins.
As a storyteller, this year I’ve incorporated Southern Gothic Tales into my fall telling agenda. Even though I was skeptical, my good storytelling friend, Terrence Roberts, encouraged me to try it. He said my voice was perfect for the genre. I was kind-of-glad and kind-of-hesitant, until I tried it out on my husband. It was when he said I made the hair stand up on the back of his neck that I knew I was ready.
The stories I tell are ones I’ve written – each story has a kernel of truth that I have embellished through the craft of creativity. As I teach my Meridian Community College’s creative writing classes, without the creative factor, the story will be humdrum, but with a storyline that is unique, the story will “pop” and grab the attention of readers, listeners, and sometimes, even editors and publishers.
Below is a song that grabbed my attention and began the creative process for me to write a couple of scary stories, which I tell. The Long Black Veil is a 1959 country ballad written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell. Since that time the song has been recorded by many artists including Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews Band, Mick Jagger, and others.
The Long Black Veil
Ten years ago on a cold, dark night,
someone was killed 'neath the Town Hall light.
Just a few at the scene, but they all did agreed, that the man who ran looked a lot like me.
The judge said "Son, what's your alibi? If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die.
I spoke not a word, tho' it meant my life, for I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife.
The scaffold is high, eternity near.
She stands in the crowd, she sheds not a tear.
But sometimes at night when the cold winds moan, in a long black veil, she cries o'er my bones.
She walks these hills in a long black veil.
She visits my grave when the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees,
nobody knows, but me.
--Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin
That’s creepy, isn’t it? The writers indicated the song was inspired by a combination of true facts: (1) a newspaper report about an unsolved murder of a priest. (2) The legend of a veiled woman, who often visited the grave of actor, Rudolph Valentino. (3) Red Foley’s song “God Walks These Hills with Me.” However, it’s not just song lyrics that are inspired by true events. If authors and writers will admit it, just about all creative writings, which are declared as fiction, are inspired by true events or real people.
I was inspired to write two short stories: Murder and Madness in Beulah County and Eva Nell Kitchens: Healer, Murderer, or Survivor? As I listened to the song, I thought of a true murder story my mother shared with me that happened in the early 1900s, and I wrote the Murder and Madness story. I have a short story version and am currently working to convert the short story into a novel. The storyline captured a time of domestic violence toward women, even until death, without the husbands or boyfriends receiving any punishment.
The Eva Nell Kitchens story came to me by hearing the song lyrics as well and also by a story of a woman who died near Meridian in the early 1900s. As death approached her, the eerie sounds of a wild animal could be heard in a nearby thickly, wooded area located behind her house. The animal or “Banshee,” as some called it, moved closer and closer to Eva Nell’s rickety shack at the time that she entered into eternity. At the moment of her death, the unknown “thing” ran through the dogtrot cabin screeching and squalling. The short story as well is on my writing drawing board to become a novel.
Why would a fun-loving author, such as I, become inspired to write two rather gruesome stories? I’m not sure, but, perhaps, the stories needed to be written? As I teach my students – always be observant. That includes people, music, family stories, legends, as well as the elements of nature and the everyday events of our lives. I have found readers enjoy written work that is shocking, astounding, and entertaining as well as stories that relate to their everyday lives.
So at this creepy time of the year, have fun with it – don’t over-think-it or over-analyze it. The only thing we all need to do, really, is to have candy ready when your doorbell rings for those trick-or-treaters.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. See her web site: www.annemckee.net.