Centipedes of the Mind, or Forget Fiction, Reality has Quite A Bite.


Grimmy in Wilton says hello.

Grimmy in Wilton says hello.

Happy Halloween from the MCW Crew!

John Clark sharing an accumulation of things blog members and librarians passed on to me that have scared them spitless at some point in their life. We start off with Sister Kate Flora’s account of a gift gone really bad.

Not an exact match, but you get the idea.

Not an exact match, but you get the idea.

Well, I’m one of those people who are easily scared, so I generally don’t take risks or read scary books. But here’s the moment when I thought for sure I was going to die. For his 40th birthday, I gave my more adventurous husband a hot air balloon ride. His birthday is in January, but the months ticked past, and finally in November, we heard from Mario, the balloon man, that the gift certificate was about to expire and he needed to take that ride. 

We met up with Mario and his crew in a park in Worcester, Massachusetts, and at that point, my husband declared that he wanted me to go with him. Have I mentioned that I’m scared of heights? But I obligingly climbed into a basket about the size of a shower stall, with three other riders, four propane tanks, and Mario. And found that the basket didn’t even reach my waist. I nearly died of heart failure. Then Mario gave the balloon some hot air, his crew leaped off, and we popped up into the air and began to float silently over the city. People couldn’t hear us but the dogs went crazy. I reminded myself to breathe. There was no place to go.

As we floated, and the car that would pick us up followed on the streets below, Mario got increasingly agitated. It seemed that an unexpected storm system had come up, the wind was rising, and it became vital that he land the balloon as quickly as possible. It was clear that had he known about the storm, he would have canceled the ride. Now I was standing in a flimsy basket with four propane tanks, a balloon making a huge sail above us, the wind driving us relentlessly along, and Mario was frantically trying to land in an open field. Beyond the field was a sort of frozen lake.

And the balloon wouldn’t stop. The wind was pulling us along, half sideways, bouncing off the ground and into the air, right toward the lake.

As we crouched in our corners, terrified, Mario stood tall, trying to re-inflate the balloon. Blast after blast of fire and hot air. With a monumental effort, Mario got the balloon inflated enough so that we hopped over the lake, landing sideways in the next field, where we were dragged along for a while–shaken, not stirred–before the balloon finally stopped.

We all crept out of the basket, uncertain whether we were alive or dead. The balloon was torn. The field had recently been burned and we were all bruised and blackened. My husband’s camera and glasses were gone. I’d lost my hat. And Mario was bleeding from a great gash on his face.

In the van that was to take us back to our car, the celebratory champagne became medicinal, and despite our disheveled appearance, blackened hands and faces, and torn clothes, we headed for the nearest bar.

Some academics just don't know when to retire.

Some academics just don’t know when to retire.

Trish checks in with a hint at ghosties in an academic setting: “Not sure if this is scary enough but I have seen other presences both here at COA (College of the Atlantic) and in-town Bar Harbor. There are the feelings I’ve gotten going to the third floor of Turrets at night. (I don’t do that anymore.) Then there are the ghosts of COA… which I could dredge up stories….”

From Sandy Schmitz who is on the Maine Library listserv, but in California. “This happened about thirteen years ago. At that time I owned an older house in Oakland where I lived alone with my cat (a black cat, if that matters). One night I went to bed, leaving three bottles of bubble bath lined up on the sill of the bathroom window. The bottles were small, but since they were full, each bottle weighed about 8 ounces. They were lined up side by side along the sill, but not quite touching–there was less than a quarter inch of space between each bottle and its neighbor. It was a peaceful night, quiet and calm, and I fell asleep quickly.
About 1 AM I awoke for no apparent reason. A couple minutes later I heard a loud thunk just outside my bedroom door, as if something solid had fallen onto the floor. I assumed my cat had knocked something over, until I opened my eyes and saw that she was curled up beside my pillow. She had heard the noise too; her head was raised and she was looking at the bedroom doorway. I lay awake for about an hour but, hearing no further noises, went back to sleep.
The next morning, I discovered what had made the middle-of-the-night noise. It was the middle bottle of the three bottles of bubble bath. Somehow it had left the windowsill, flown ten feet across the bathroom, through the bathroom door, and landed on the floor just outside my bedroom. The other two bottles, which had been less than a quarter inch from it on either side, were undisturbed. I had checked that the doors and windows were closed and locked before I retired for the night, and the next morning found no indication of a break-in. USGS reported no earthquakes in Northern California. I have no explanation for what happened that night.”
(I had a similar experience in a Tempe, AZ. Bar while in college, saw an ashtray fly across the room to break up a fight and no one was within ten feet of it.)


From another librarian who wants to remain anonymous: “I have known not one, but two murderers.  When I was a senior in HS a fellow drummer murdered a young girl. He had been practicing satanism, which we all knew, but when you are a teen you consider it a fad, not life threatening. The Monday following the discovery of the body we were hanging around together and he acted like nothing had happened. The trial continued through my Freshman year of college and was on the news almost every night.
The second murderer was a guy I hired to be a dogsitter. Things went wrong and he left our dogs alone for 24 hours. After that time he wouldn’t speak to either my ex-husband or me. He was creepy, but lived next door and in a small town everyone knows each other, we didn’t realize things were *wrong*.”

Party time in Hartland's Pine Grove Cemetery

Party time in Hartland’s Pine Grove Cemetery

From Lea Wait: “When I lived in New Jersey my home included a “mother-in-law” 1 bedroom apartment, which I rented out. For six years a quiet man had the key .. and his kids on weekends. No problems. After he left, I advertised for another tenant. A nice young couple came and gave a $500 cash deposit. They promised to pay a full two months rent in a week, when they moved in. The next day the husband came alone, said they’d changed their mind, and, reluctantly, I returned his deposit. Two nights later my four daughters and I were wakened at two in the morning by someone ringing our doorbell repeatedly and screaming. She pounded on the door, and was clearly either drunk or on drugs. I told my daughters not to turn on their lights, and to stay in bed. I’d handle it. I went downstairs, and yelled back (without opening the door) that if she wanted to talk with me, to come during the day. When she started throwing stones at my windows, I called the police. They came in about ten minutes – after she’d left. That was when I realized I knew the town she lived in – but not her name. Dumb on my part. The police looked around but couldn’t do anything.
The next night, same story. I was petrified when I heard her gun go off. Frozen with fear, I called the police again. They said they’d come ASAP. In the meantime, as I reassured my girls (and got them out of their front-of-the-house bedrooms,) I was petrified; I was scared she’d shoot into the house and hit one of my daughters, or set the house on fire as she screamed she could. She hit the door repeatedly with her gun, pulled the outside light fixtures off my house, and broke two windows. Finally, she drove off. Again, the police arrived just after she’d left.
The next day she came at dinner time. She seemed calm. I opened the door. She told me she had no money; her husband had disappeared, and had told her I wouldn’t return their deposit. I told her I’d given it to him. She was angry – but this time at him. I also told her I didn’t want any more late-night visits.
I never saw her again. But I can still remember how scared I was when she was trying to break into my house.

From Maureen Milliken: Sorry I’m late to the party! I promised a story, so I’m going to tell one.

Years ago, I took a little R&R trip to a remote cabin motel in Pittsburgh, NH. I brought my dog, Dewey, who was a fun companion and game for anything. It was a long drive up from where I lived in Manchester, NH, so after we settled into our cabin, I decided Dewey and I needed a walk.

It was mid-September and it still didn’t get dark too early, but a beautiful sunny day had turned overcast. I didn’t think much of it as we followed an overgrown path into the woods. The path was more of a tote road at first, and seemed like it would go around the lake our cabin was on. Seemed. As we kept walking, it got narrower and more overgrown, until I realized we really weren’t on a path at all. We seemed to be about halfway around the late, so I figured maybe we could bushwack. Bad idea. The pretty much virgin forest was knee-high with overgrowth and undergrowth. Bad enough for me, but Dewey, a corgi mix, had short little legs that barely carried him through. Still, he was a trouper and we slogged on, though I could tell he wasn’t enjoying it. It finally became impossible to go farther,. I was too stubborn to turn around and go back the way we’d come, because it seemed like it was “the long way” and the day had gone from overcast to ominous and windy.

After puttering around for a few minutes, I found an actual path that seemed to be going in the direction we’d been heading — a miracle! Maybe a continuation of the road, relatively clear and much easier traveling than what we’d been doing.

But Dewey and I hadn’t gone three yards down the road, when he stopped. He bared his teeth and started growling. A sound I’d never heard come out of him. He was a giant ball of fur, but whatever hackles he may have had were at attention. Now, a word about Dewey. He was a wonder. Nothing bothered him. He’d go anywhere, do anything, and laugh all the way. And he was fearless. I’d seen him go after police horses, tractors, 18-wheelers. I’d

The least scary thing about this story: my dog, Dewey, who loved a good joke.

The least scary thing about this story: my dog, Dewey, who loved a good joke.

never seen him act this way. I tried tugging him, but he wouldn’t move. He focused down the path, teeth still barred, still growling. I looked down the path, looked into the woods, peered in for several minutes. Couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t hear anything. But Dewey did and he wasn’t going. By now it was fairly dusky out, though it shouldn’t have been. The wind in the century-old trees was making noises that sounded like more than wind in the trees. I could feel the eyes of the forest on me. I gave in. “C’mon, Dew, let’s go.”

We turned around, and he practically lept back into the woods that he’d had so much trouble navigating. We zipped through those woods a lot quicker than we’d come, with branches and undergrowth grabbing at us and tripping us, like that scene in “Snow White,’ both of us desperate to get back to our cabin and away from whatever it was in those woods.

I’ll never know what Dewey saw or heard. It could have been anything from a mountain lion or bear to Bigfoot or the Great Ghost of the North Woods. But I don’t think I’ve ever quite been that scared or felt so far from help. In fact, it made enough of an impression on me that it became the inspiration — though wildly different scene — for a major crisis in my mystery novel Cold Hard News a decade later.

Imagine having this dropped in front of you at age 8!

Imagine having this dropped in front of you at age 8!

John Clark again. My scary moment goes way back to the 1950s and may explain in part why I stopped watching television, except for the Red Sox and Patriots, 20 years ago. You can view this for yourself at http://www.openculture.com/2015/10/a-short-vision.html It was The Night Ed Sullivan Scared a Nation with the Apocalyptic Animated Short. 59 years later I still shudder at the memory.

On May 27, 1956, The Ed Sullivan Show aired Peter and Joan Foldes’ apocalyptic animation A Short Vision, thereby scarring wee viewers who had no clue they had front-row seats to doomsday.

What’s hilarious about Ed’s decision to screen the film was the fact that he sprung A Short Vision upon his audience with barely a warning. Indeed, that evening’s line-up instead promised acts like the ventriloquist Senor Wences, the “winners of the Harvest Moon dance contest and the Hasleves, acrobats.” Here’s how Ed introduced Armageddon:

Here, verbatim, are his introductory remarks before showing what was about to become a very controversial film. Sullivan opens his comments with a timely reference to the first hydrogen bomb to be dropped from an American airplane – a feat that was trumpeted from the front pages of newspapers across the country earlier in the month of May 1956.

“Just last week you read about the H-bomb being dropped. Now two great English writers, two very imaginative writers – I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated – but two English writers, Joan and Peter Foldes, wrote a thing which they called ‘A Short Vision’ in which they wondered what might happen to the animal population of the world if an H-bomb were dropped. It’s produced by George K. Arthur and I’d like you to see it. It is grim, but I think we can all stand it to realize that in war there is no winner.”


So good readers, what chains clank in your reality? Inquiring readers want to know.

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4 Responses to Centipedes of the Mind, or Forget Fiction, Reality has Quite A Bite.

  1. Kate, that hot air balloon story is going to keep me awake at night. Not even that you crashed (though that must have been awful) but that without warning, you found yourself in a hot air balloon when you are fearful of heights. Up high in a basically open basket – no thank you!

    Lea, your story is terrifying. Someone who seemed normal, attacking your house. And needing to protect your daughters. Wow!

    And on that murder trial your librarian friend mentioned, I covered that trial back when I was a newspaper reporter.

  2. Julie Sawtelle says:

    The Ed Sullivan mishap reminds me: my mom was 14 at the time of Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast at Hallowe’en 1938. People panicked, and there were rumors of suicides due to the hysteria it caused.


  3. Forwarded to my husband with a note saying: “You win. We are never going on a hot air balloon ride. Never.”


  4. Haunted libraries? Bar Harbor’s Jesup Memorial Library has a history. When I worked there last year, my daughter and I used to let ourselves in on Sunday afternoons to write when the library was closed. (As an employee, I had a key, of course.) We would write contentedly for three or four hours each week.

    We liked the Periodicals Room because it was bright and warm and the chairs around the big round table fairly comfy. Nearby were two leather wing chairs against the wall with a small table between them. One afternoon, I heard a strange squeaking from the general vicinity of the two wing chairs. Looking over, I saw nothing out of line. I asked my daughter if she’d heard the sound. She had not. A minute or two later, I heard it again. It was coming from the wing chair on the left. My daughter looked up from her writing. “I heard THAT,” she said. It was as if someone were fidgeting, trying to get comfortable in the chair. We giggled a bit but went on writing. More fidgeting noises. We looked at one another, eyebrows were raised, the decision made. “Wanna go write in the main room?” “Sure do.”

    We gathered up our coats, laptops, purses, everything, and took seats at a rectangular table in one of the alcoves. In a building as old as the Jesup (100+ years old), there are few electrical outlets, and there were none nearby for my daughter’s laptop, whose battery was registering “low.” I directed her to the nearest outlet, which was at the far end of the room near the lovely, large Palladian window graced by two leather wing chairs. Many of you authors will recall this area from having spoken at the Jesup. My daughter plugged her laptop in and returned to our alcove to continue writing longhand in a notebook.

    A familiar sound reached our ears from the area of the Palladian window. You guessed it: the sound of someone settling themselves in a leather chair. I spoke up: “It’s okay if you’re going to sit with us, but could you please settle down? We are trying to write. Thank you.”

    We laughed, but we never did get back to writing. It’s hard to write when the hair on your arms and the back of your neck is standing on end.

    The next week I heard footsteps directly over my head while working late one evening with a co-worker, just the two of us in the building. The room directly over our desks was … the Periodicals Room. We went upstairs to be sure no one had somehow gotten into the library, but a thorough search revealed we were all alone in the building.

    We think.

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