Five hundred and ninety

A ghost story for a ghostly day…

It was late at night when Lindsay entered the old Custom House in Hamilton.  She knew the stories of the hauntings: a woman in black buried in the walls of the basement who still wanders the halls; a young boy playing, perhaps an old student from the night school that was once there; the shadow of a black cat caught in between window panes or scampering up the stairs that vanishes into thin air.  She heard of the terror the workmen restoring the building went through in the nineties.  She didn’t really believe it, though.  They are just stories, passed on through word of mouth and adapted like in the game of telephone into the elaborate tales they are now.  Surely the workers didn’t really come in one day to find their tools stacked in a six foot pile, balancing precariously until toppling down when one of the workers tried to approach the tower.

The rain was coming down in sheets as she ran from her car to the door of the old building built in the 1850s.  It was beautiful, but something about it gave her the creeps. She shuddered, shook off the rain and knocked on the big old door.  A tall bald man with a dark goatee, wearing a long black coat over an old suit opened the door with a creak.

“Hello,” she said.  “I’m looking fo-”

“I know,” he answered in a low, quiet voice, then opened the door a little further, gesturing for her to come in.

He pointed to the coat rack and then stood over her, starring.  She took off her wet coat and scarf.  She could hear the winds rattling against the tall windows to the right of her.  As she looked over at the noise, she saw a shadow and jumped.  There between the grand staircase and the window was was a life-like sculpture of a man.  He looked so realistic, she was certain there was another person in the room starring at her.  She swore his eyes were following her.  She shook it off and followed the real man with the goatee into a drawing room.  She was determined not to let her imagination take over.  I don’t believe in ghosts, only science, she said to herself.

She was left in the room to wait.  All the windows were shuttered closed and an alter of candles at the front was the only light, casting shadows around the large space.  The wind made the shutters shake a little.  All of a sudden, one of the hinges on the shutter came undone and swung down with a huge clang.  She jumped.  A giggle escaped from her mouth, a coping mechanism for awkward situations that sometimes gets her in trouble.  It was just the wind, she told herself.  She looked around the large empty room, surprised no one else was there yet, but didn’t think too much of it.  She was early.  Ten minutes went by until the man with the goatee re-entered and gestured for her to follow him.  She was relieved to be leaving the room.   She wanted to make her apperance and get home to her cozy bed.  She had been looking forward to it, but the rain and cold had made it difficult for her to leave her house and drive the hour to get there.

When she got into the front foyer she looked over at the sculpture of the man, just to make sure he hadn’t moved.  She giggled again.  She is being so silly.  He’s made of wax, he can’t move.  But those eyes of his are so creepy, like there is a soul trapped within them.  She heard a noise to her right and realized her guide had left.  She hurried after him, down some stairs, and through a door.  She was alone in a dark hallway with three other doors.  He hadn’t waited for her or told her which one to go through.  She stood in silence for a few minutes, hoping he would come back or she would hear him calling.

Fat chance, she thought.  That creepy dude wants me to be scared and alone.  She weighed her options.  She could just go back up the way she came and drive home.  Although she had been looking forward to this for awhile.  Or she could just pick a door and hope it was the right one.  Maybe everyone is playing a trick on her?  After a couple more minutes of complete silence she started to feel really hot and annoyed.  She looked at each of the doors.  She remembered the stories of the basement.  There was a woman’s decapitated head that supposed fell through a dumb-waiter.  There’s a room with an old, excavated staircase where there are cursed boots and a woman was supposedly raped on the stairs and haunted in her dreams after setting foot in the Custom House once.  One of these doors also supposedly had the body of the woman in black buried in the walls and a bunch of men buried in an old tunnel in the floor because of an earthquake.

She looked at each door again, not sure which one to choose, then look a leap of faith and pushed open the first door on her right.  A gush of wind knocked her a little off balance and she stumbled into the room.  The door slammed behind her.  Her heart was racing.  It was pitch black besides a small red lantern in the far right corner.

“Hello?” she said.  No answer.

She saw her guide sitting next to the lantern facing a hole in the wall to his right.  A wave of relief fell over her.  It then occurred to her that there was no one else in the room. What were they doing here?  Where is everyone else?  She can’t be that early.  Her heart started to beat faster again.  She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her body.

“Is this the place?” she asked her guide, trying to be forceful, but what came out was more of a whisper.

He didn’t respond.  She took a couple of steps towards him and tripped on the uneven floor, but caught herself before she fell to the ground.  She looked down and thought she saw a hand reaching out from the stone floor, but just as quickly it disappeared.  The man with the goatee stills didn’t talk or move.  She was starting to get really scared.

“Is this a joke?” she said.  She tried to take deep breaths to calm herself, but she was certain she saw that hand coming from the floor.  And why was the man not responding?  Maybe she should leave, she thought.  Instead she took another deep breath, approached the man and the hole in the wall.  “Hello,” she said, trying to get his attention.  He continued to stare into the hole.  All of a sudden a strong smell of sulphur filled the room.  There was something wrong.  She leaned in to touch the man’s shoulder.  He turned very slowly around and looked at her silently.  She jumped back.  Where his eyes should be were just black holes.  She started to panic, stumbled back as quickly as she could, but it was too dark to see where the door was.  As she felt the walls to find the exit, a wave of cold surround her and a white light around her height and build appeared beside her.  She screamed.

The door to the room opened. “Hey!  Lindsay. Are you okay?  What are you doing in here?  The ghost tour starts upstairs.”  Her friend James stood in the door.  He was the guide for the ghost walk she had come to the Custom House to go on.

“But, I was shown down here by…”  She turned to point to the man with the goatee in the corner and her voice escaped her.  There was no one there.  She was the only one in the room.  “But.  There was a man.  He had black eyes.  He made me follow him here.  And a white figure. And a hand from the floor…”  She walked towards James stunned, a few tears brimming at the corners of her eyes.  She looked at him, looked back into the room.  She tried to look brave.  There are no such thing as ghosts, she told herself.  It must have been a refraction of light.  Or she was just tired.

“Are you okay?” James asked kindly.  He guided her up the stairs.  She took a deep breath, thanked him, told him she wasn’t feeling well, grabbed her coat, and walked out the door.  She was not sure what she experienced, but she knew she never wanted to go back into that building ever again.  She drove home and got right into bed, vowing never to tell anyone what happened.  They wouldn’t believe her anyways, she convinced herself.

Just as she was about to close her eyes she felt a cold gust of wind hit her face, the smell of sulphur filled her nostrils and the shadow of a woman in a black dress walked through her room.  She pulled the covers over her head and tried to sleep.  She repeated over and over that “there are no such thing as ghosts”, but no matter how many times she repeated it, she couldn’t convince herself that it was true.

Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’alls neighborhood

Happy Hallowe’en y’all!

(Based on a true story.  Thanks James Pettitt and Haunted Hamilton for the legends of the Custom House to help with my story.  Yes, I really did tour the Custom House, but did I experience the horror from the above story?  I’ll leave that up to you to decide…)

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Five hundred and eighty-three

I’m depressed by how it doesn’t seem to be getting any better…

I’m depressed by the fact that a 15 year-old boy was arrested for the string of sexual assaults on women in the Bloor/Christie area of Toronto.  I’m depressed that a 15 year-old girl committed suicide and there are still kids harassing her on social media after she is dead.  I’m upset that I know people whose children threaten to commit suicide or are taken to hospital for eating disorders because they are bullied.

The biggest problem is this is not new.  I was teased and bullied as a child.  I was hit so hard on the back of my head by a girl “friend” of mine in the hallway during middle school that I fell to the ground and couldn’t get up.  This was only because I had a happy childhood and she didn’t, so she picked on me to make herself feel better.  I had boys call me a Nazi because my last name is Schwietz, which is not even german.  I was asked out by a boy as a joke to his friends so they could laugh at me.  I remember writing a letter to my parents telling them how upset and alone I felt because I couldn’t talk about it out loud.  I told them in the letter that if it weren’t for them, I’d probably kill myself.  I was 14 years old.

I recently read a blog entry about “What it’s like being a teenage girl” which tells the story of how this woman writer was bullied as a teen, her body being sexualized, and how important it is to openly speak to boys and girls about sexuality and boundaries, women are not objects, and men are not entitled to our bodies.  Fortunately, in my small middle and high schools, I didn’t have to deal with sexual objectification as a teen, but I know friends who did.  Fortunately my mother and father talked openly about sex and respect to both my brother and I growing up.

Maybe education is the answer.  Maybe parents need to be educated about how to tell their children these things.  Maybe parents need to set an example for their children and stop being bullies themselves.  Maybe we just need to keep talking about it until it is taken seriously.  I was told to just ignore the bullies when I was a teen, but now with social media, how do young people get away from it?

When I got a little older, I found friends who loved me for me, found interests that I focused on and tried to avoid the occasional bully that I was faced with.  I am now 32 years old, stronger for what I went through and I have more compassion for everyone, from the cool kids to those who have a harder time with social interaction.  I try to be kind and inclusive to every person I meet.  There is a campaign started in the LGBT community by Dan Savage, the It Gets Better Project, where older people tell younger people facing harassment that “it gets better” and to try and stay strong.  It does get better as we get older, but it doesn’t seem to be going away as a whole.  Yesterday I watched a video circulating on social media, made by a grown woman news anchor talking about bullying, how she was bullied in an e-mail about her weight, and how she dealt with it.  If adults think it’s acceptable to bully, how do children learn not to?

I was going to talk about how happy I was that I made it over 100,000 views for my blog, but I can’t be happy when this continues to happen.  When I feel unsafe walking in an area of Toronto because a fifteen-year old boy is sexual assaulting women, it makes me sad.  When I fear that if I have children, they will have to go through this, and it worries me whether I want to raise a child in this world.  When I have personally been Facebook bullied by a co-worker a few years ago that made me take down my “wall” so my family wouldn’t see the lies she posted about me, it’s not right.  The co-worker was in her early twenties.

I don’t know what to do.  I feel helpless and depressed.  I feel like it’s not getting better and that although I am stronger for what I went through, not everyone is – some teens don’t make it, no matter how much they reach out for help.  Whether it’s sexual assaults, cyber bullying, or mean e-mails, none of this is acceptable.  If 15-year old teens are sexually assaulting random women on the street, bullying their peers to the point that they kill themselves, and making themselves throw up to the point they need to be taken to hospital just to fit in, what is this world coming to?  Where is the hope that things will get better when it seems to be getting worse?

I am depressed, but I do see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I see young people standing up for bullying in vigils for the girl who was bullied to death.  I worked with a lot of good kids when I worked at a youth theatre for awhile.  I see all the articles being written and the videos being made trying to keep talking about bullying.  I see all these things and I see that many of us are trying to make a difference.  But I want the change to come sooner, because every time I hear about another tragic suicide by a teen it makes me cry and a little more depressed.  It has to get better, right?  I don’t think it can get much worse.

Five hundred and seventy-seven

Oops! Thursday instead of Wednesday post…

Days seem to blur together right now for me.  One day turns into the next and I forget whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday.  I’m busy trying to get the book finished so my agent can get me a publisher!  I’m working on the editing phase now and I find it presents whole new challenges.  It’s hard to delete my words and get rid of sections.  It’s difficult to figure out what’s best for each paragraph, then each section, and finally the fluidity of the whole thing.  It’s hard to choose what is important and what isn’t.  I’m also trained as a journalist, so therefore I tend to write using the clearest, fewest words to express what I need to succinctly.  I’m not a writer who adds in description words, but I find that when writing a book I have to do this.  I like to leave it up to the imagination of the reader, but my agent is keen to have me use more colourful language.  I’m learning so much every day that it fills my brain and leaves little room for figuring out what day of the week it is.  I’m so happy I have a calendar that I write everything down on, or else I’d forget to show up to work!

Cooking disasters

I do somehow still find time for baking, though.  I find it very stress-relieving.  Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  This week belongs in the latter category.  In the wake of my success last week with my Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcakes’, this is proof of how the opposite outcome also often happens in my kitchen.  Here is a photo of my attempt at gluten-free, vegan Pumpkin Banana Muffins with quinoa flour, which I couldn’t even stomach eating one of because they were so gross (I brought them to work and my co-workers told me they weren’t that bad, although I’m pretty sure I saw them throwing out everything but the bite they took in my presence):

My cooking and baking have come a long way since I didn’t know how to bake a chicken breast a couple of years ago, but I still have my regular disasters.  I guess you can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes once and awhile!  And at least the act of baking does the job of balancing out my brain when I become too wrapped up in the book – whether it ends up tasty or tasting like bitter banana pumpkin mush.

Five hundred and seventy

Pumpkin-spiced

I am sipping my homemade pumpkin-spiced latte (recipe here), listening to Edith Piaf, with a disaster of a kitchen around me.  I have spent the day baking.  I’ve heard many people are sick of hearing about “pumpkin-spiced” things.  If you are one of those people, don’t read any further.  The following paragraph is full of the virtues of pumpkins, baking pumpkin-spiced goodies, drinking pumpkin-spiced beverages, and generally enjoying pumpkins.  How can you not like the bright orange globes?  Even if you don’t like the flavour, they are pretty to look at and make great centrepieces.  They are great for baking everything from pies to cakes to cookies.  I even found a recipe for a vegan macaroni and cheese that uses pumpkin.  The seeds are delicious roasted, plus they are so fun to carve for Hallowe’en.  And what little girl didn’t wish a fairy godmother would come and turn a pumpkin into a carriage for her like Cinderella?  To all you pumpkin-haters out there, I stick my tongue out at you!  (Yes, I know, very mature.)  You only have to put up with pumpkin-spiced things for a couple of months.  Deal with it and stop your whining!

My mouth is watering thinking about the Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcakes’ (recipe here) I get to devour shortly!  Mmmmm.  I’ve taken a few photos that I’ve included below.   I got the recipes from my favourite recipe site: OhSheGlows.com.

Pumpkin Pie Brownie ‘Cupcake’

Pumpkin Spice Latte

A silly photo of me trying to take a photo of myself baking!