Friday, October 31, 2014

Memories of haunted Halloweens gone by

1991 vintage Flash mask
PANAMA CITY — When my son was 3, I took him to a kid-friendly haunted maze at a Kmart store’s garden center. His sister was a newborn down the street at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, and our first photographs of them together show him in his Flash costume.

She turns 23 today, our little Halloween treat. But a visit to the Panama City Jaycees Haunted House under construction earlier this month set my mind on a minor event of that momentous day in 1991, and from there the Halloween memories began to tumble.

Apparently, the red-and-yellow plastic coveralls with the lightning logo conferred upon her brother the super-speed powers of the comic book hero whose adventures he had viewed on television. At least, one would think so, to see him running everywhere he went.

The mask and costume also rendered him fearless. Near the end of the haunted maze, a man in some kind of scarecrow/clown outfit squatted down and made spooky noises at the boy, who drew back his right arm and promptly punched the man in the nose of his mask.

I apologized, the man laughed, and Flash propped his fists on his hips in a heroic pose, having vanquished evil.

Jessi and Nathan
The Flash’s greatest adventure was on my mind when I walked the unfinished maze above Panama City Marine Institute, which has sheltered the Jaycees Haunted House for 11 years. (You can view a video tour through the haunted house at, and see the schedule on pages 10-11 for times and details on the event.)

Will Hancock, who has supervised the Haunted House project for the Jaycees for several years, told me last week that the event is “very alive” and doing robust business.

“I am pleased with all the hard work and dedication put in so far,” Will said. “The ‘13 Ghosts’ room and the ‘Oculus’ room have been the most consistent (frights) so far, but that can change tonight. We are adding more sound and lighting as we speak.”

The scares, while safe for adults and teens, are not appropriate for little children. I just hope no one gets punched in the nose.

No frightful creatures jumped out at me during my tour — which was lucky, since I had no hero handy to leap to my defense. But suddenly, 1991 seemed like only yesterday. When I wondered where the years had gone, I could feel them piled up like a bottleneck, heavy and thick with sweet memory.

Jessi playing with makeup.
... Sitting with the kids at a fire in a friend’s Cove area front yard, reading “The Raven” and handing out candy.

.... Wrapping the kids like toilet paper mummies during a contest at another friend’s Halloween party at Pine Log.

... Walking the sidewalks of North Shore neighborhoods to gather massive hauls of candy.

... Playing “pin the fangs on the monster” at one of Jessi’s earliest birthday parties in Century.

... Dressing in costumes to grab supper at Golden Corral on yet another Halloween.

So many autumn evenings, pumpkins carved, yards decorated, homemade costumes, movie nights with the house full of her friends, and outfits I can’t even begin to recall.

In that moment, picturing the boy in the Flash uniform holding a newborn little girl in a hospital room, I wondered if ghosts of the past truly haunt houses, or if they only haunt old men whose children have grown up.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Free Zombie Stories!

TALES OF THE AWAKENING DEAD is free for Kindle devices and apps for Halloween weekend, Oct. 31-Nov.2.

That's ten solid short stories that explore all kinds of zombies, including the first chapter of my upcoming novel, This Mortal Flesh.

Don't have a Kindle? No problem.

If you're using a computer, just download the FREE app for your operating system.

There are also free apps for smartphones.

And if you like the book, leave a review. Check out my other stuff. And share the disease.

Meanwhile, here's the book trailer:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Life among the living dead

Chris Oneisom and Jennifer Creamer pose in zombie makeup before taking the stage for “Night of the Living Dead.”

LYNN HAVEN — They may have been coming to get Barbara, if you recall the old movie line, but the living dead I hung out with last Friday were mostly just ... walking.

Oh, they hissed and moaned. They growled from time to time, and pounded on the walls. And if a couple fought off smiles as they shuffled and limped behind the windows of the set, that might be expected.

I was invited to perform among the legion of the living dead as a “celebrity guest zombie” at the opening night of Kaleidoscope Theatre’s presentation of “Night of the Living Dead.” Before the double feature started, I signed some of my books for unsuspecting readers in the lobby, but as soon as “Hecate Hill” began — the first play of  the night’s show — I headed for the makeup room.

(The plays continue each weekend through Oct. 26, and I will be signing books before each Friday show.)

I was excited to participate. I’ve done one other community play in my adult life — Shakespeare By The Bay’s “Othello” in 2006 — and for the first time had a role that might not exceed my acting ability, which is best described as lifeless and monotone.

Daniel and his clown.
Daniel Gehrken, who also designed the promotional posters for the plays, spent about an hour finger-painting my face in shades of gray, blue and purple, before dripping blood from my eyes and smearing bloody handprints on my T-shirt. He said there was no extra charge for the face massage.

Some of the other zombies in the mob had neat prosthetic appliances that gave them the look of terrible injuries. Others had specific costumes — a cheerleader, a Girl Scout, a prom queen — and some, like Jennifer Creamer’s “bride” character, had both.

Daniel pronounced me an evil clown zombie, which made fellow zombie Madison Leighann Googe order me not to look at her. She had no difficulty stalking about with a zombie baby tearing its way through her abdomen, but she drew the line at evil clowns.

Zombie Master Chris Oneisom (or as I like to think of him, “He Who Walks Behind The Sets”) paired me with a zombie buddy, Juliet, who showed me how to shamble and indicated that there would be various times during the play when we would be expected to be louder, or quieter, depending on what else was happening on stage.

Juliet, at right.
When she sat and hid, I sat and hid. When she pounded on the walls, I pounded on the walls. When she got out of the way of starring performers running through, I got confused and almost run over.

Twice, while lurking in the background, zombies whispered to me that I could take a break by dragging myself off-stage for some water and air if I needed it. I took that to mean my makeup was impressive enough to fool the other zombies into thinking I was in a state of advanced decomposition — or at least, I looked like death warmed over.

None of this could help me in the closing dance routine, however. The best I could manage was to look befuddled, which is how I tend to look whenever anyone suggests dancing.

(Rest in) Peace

Ramona Hagan, left, won the grab-bag giveaway at Kaleidoscope Theatre in Lynn Haven last Friday. A season-ticket patron, she was sitting in the seat number randomly chosen by the author, shown in his zombie makeup. She received a graphic novel, DVD, comic book, paperback, and a copy of my collection of zombie short stories, “Tales of the Awakening Dead.”