Richard Matheson 1926 — 2013

 

 

On hearing the news of Richard Matheson’s death this week, our emotions were less of grief than of gratitude.

Matheson was, after all, 87  years old, and experienced much more critical and financial success than most writers ever dream of, so the grief of his loss is somewhat leavened by the undeniable conclusion that his was truly a life well and fully lived.

But gratitude?  Seriously, consider the journeys on which Matheson compelled us to join him. With him at our side, and leading the way, we fought in the foxholes of World War II, slung guns against outlaws in the Wild West, paced nocturnal, neon-bathed streets with a .38 in our pocket and a femme fatale on our arm.

We accompanied him as he diminished in size, first just a little, then to the point where his combat with a black widow spider was hand-to-hand and most definitely life-and-death. We shared his terror as he watched a malevolent gremlin on the wing of an airplane methodically ripping parts out of an engine. We fled from a seemingly insane 18-wheeler as it sought desperately to run us off the road, braved hideous phantoms in a wicked house that once belonged (and, to some degree, still belonged) to a disfigured and very egotistical man, relentlessly hunted zombie-like vampires and then threw their bodies into a flaming pit, traveled through time to be with the woman we adored.

Matheseon, in What Dreams May Come, even took us to Heaven and Hell.

We mourn his passing – and will greatly miss the outpourings of his remarkably imaginative mind – but more than this, we thank him for all the stories, those in books and magazines no less than those on cinema and television screens. We thank him for the chills and thrills, the shivery frights, the bold adventures and the spooky nights.

We thank him for all the wonderful journeys and wish him Godspeed on this, his last – at least in this dimension.

Guest Blogger Andrea Jacobs: ‘My Haunted Fall on 17th Avenue’

I fell in love with the apartment on 17th Avenue in Denver’s Uptown district the moment I saw it. The leaves were just beginning to turn gold and red. Three weeks later, in late October of 2004, I moved in with my cat Leon. My new home had lofty ceilings, immense windows and ornately carved cabinets dating back to the early 1900s.

It also had a ghost. But we didn’t meet until December.

I was still smoking then. There were only two places I could indulge my habit: downstairs on the front steps, where irritating neighbors inevitably gathered; or the second-story balcony just across my hallway. I preferred the latter.

The infamous 17th Avenue apartment house, and its haunted balcony

Two heavy wooden doors granted access to the balcony. The “public” door was situated off my hallway. The couple occupying the apartment at the opposite end of the balcony had their own entrance. They generally kept to themselves.

I was free to inhale my solitude with my smoke — until that December twilight.

It was an ordinary winter evening, cloudless and dripping with stars.  I remember gazing at the high trees and hearing people laugh as they left the upscale restaurants across the street. I wasn’t wearing a coat.

I finished my cigarette and put it in the coffee can. Then I turned the scaly gold doorknob. The door refused to budge. I tried again. Nothing. I rattled the knob, kicked the frame. Did someone lock it? Impossible. I live upstairs. No one has a lock to this door!

I banged my bare knuckles on the door for about five minutes, maybe longer, and I was really cold. The apartment on the other end seemed dark. I decided to try anyway.

“Is anyone home? It’s Andrea, and I can’t get inside!”

It was obvious they weren’t home. I could jump off the balcony but probably wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

One more time, I whispered. Try it one more time. I grabbed the knob with all my might. And the second I touched it, the door opened wide.

In retrospect, what scared me most was not getting locked out. It was being allowed back in — so effortlessly and inexplicably.

I closed the balcony door and stood in the empty hallway. I was two steps away from my apartment when I saw a blurry shadow fly straight into the wall, and beyond. It looked like a little girl in an old-fashioned dress. Although I never saw her again, she didn’t leave for a long time.

Over the next four months I experienced small-scale occurrences. When I came home from work, pictures tilted or swooned on the wood floor. Carefully arranged knick-knacks on the shelves had switched positions. I was convinced that she, “it,” was harmless yet puerile. She played with me.

“What do you want?” I’d ask the silence. She never answered, at least not in words.

I invited Chris and Lisa Leppek and Shari Valenta to see my place and suggested they bring a Ouija board. I had zero expectations. Shari and I huddled over the board.

“Yes,” it pointed after Shari asked whether someone else was in the apartment.

“Yes,” it was a little girl.

Then Shari broke up. Chris too. They had planned a nice trick, and in my eagerness I fell for it. The wine helped.

The last experience was the most frightening. It happened about a month before Leon and I relocated to Washington Park (not because of my apparitional companion but an obstinate lack of heat).

I woke up about 5 a.m. My left hand hurt terribly, like it was gripped in a vice. I was lying on my other side, the painful hand freely exposed. I bolted upright. Leon was sound asleep at my feet. I turned on the lamp next to the bed.

I was alone.

My hand was red. I could barely move my fingers. I massaged it for several minutes. Eventually the gripping sensation relented. “Go away!” I yelled. “I have nothing to give you!”  That was our final encounter.

I don’t know about God or the devil, let alone ghosts in girlish dresses. But as I reminisce on this page, I’m reminded of a passage from Edna St. Vincent Millay:

“My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.”

Whoever or whatever haunted me on 17th Avenue gave me just enough light to glimpse the darkness. It’s real. I will always be grateful that I was allowed to enter the mystery — and allowed to leave.

Optical illusion, tactile delusion or mischievous apparition? Ms. Jacobs believes it was probably the latter.

Tales of a Spooky October

Twas a truly lovely October, gruesome ones, and I just had to share a few of its highlights.

First, Lisa and I traveled to Estes Park, Colo. early in the month to spend a spectral weekend with our friends and fellow spookaholics Jack and Shari at the infamous Stanley Hotel, inspiration and setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. To be precise, it was the eve of October 7, Edgar Allan Poe’s death day — always a milestone.

A cozily surrealistic image of the Stanley

We went on the entertaining “ghost tour,” saw the famous room in which King supposedly set the double murder in his fictional “Overlook” and even witnessed a demonstration of what was claimed to be (and might actually have been) telekinetic activity using tourist children as subjects.

The best, however, was in our room, the Heritage Suite, in which a bottle of wine moved, apparently of its own accord, across the counter-top. Jack-be-nimble captured the scene on his cell:


Then, in mid-October, brothers Greg and Roland and I went on a bicycling tour in the Midwest. We took bike paths that used to be railroad grades, deep into the backwoods of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri. The settings were beautiful — fresh air, gorgeous autumnal colors, picturesque little towns — but toward dusk they would grow macabre, with hooting owls, the scent of damp fallen leaves and fading umber skies. The only thing missing was the spectral voice of Enya, from somewhere deep in the woods, singing Cursum Perficio.

Wisconsin’s witchy woods

It was while heading back toward town on such a twilit evening on Wisconsin’s Sparta-Elroy Trail, deep in the woods indeed, when we glimpsed, perhaps a quarter mile ahead of us, a young woman dressed in a long black robe or dress, with pale complexion and long dark hair, standing on the pathway, far away from any obvious sign of civilization. We were curious, began to advance, and then she literally laid across the path, her back to the dirt, her face to the sky. It was an unexpected and chilling scene, and even to three fully grown men in reasonably good shape, frightening. We decided not to go any further. There was simply something too spooky in this dim image of a witch lying across a forest path. We turned around and began the long ride back to town.  Call us chickens, friends, but don’t call us stupid!

Footnote:  Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to meet up with the macabre in this area. I recently found the YouTube video below, posted in 2009, which shows a rather eerie  apparition in Tunnel No. 3, the old railroad tunnel on the Sparta-Elroy trail through which we passed. In fact, our “witch” sighting occurred only about half a mile from where the video was taken. I know, I know, there are video tricks and all that. Maybe it’s a fake.  Maybe not.  All I know is that it seems a rather unlikely coincidence.

Press image for the video

A couple of days later, along the beautiful Katy Trail in Missouri, we chanced to come upon a bunch of cyclists heading to the little town of Rocheport, where midday Halloween festivities were in full swing. It was a great costume party, with a kick-ass bluegrass band and seriously good vibes. Many of the partygoers headed back toward Columbia on their bikes in full regalia, including the two dudes pictured below:

Beetlejuice and Buccaneer

Finally, we came home, sore of leg but full of creepy Halloween vibrations. The holiday itself was celebrated on an unusually non-snowy October 31st at the Leppek home in good old Denver.  A great ending to a great month!