Archive for October, 2012

Scary Story Week #3: The Mice of Andersonville

One of the comforts of scary stories is that they’re not true. Or at least, as the saying has it, “every story is true — and then every teller makes it a little truer along the way.”

This is a story that is true. You can go to the place it happened and see the evidence for yourself. We’ve even got pictures for you.

The Mice of Andersonville

There are a lot of cemeteries in Chicago, and for every one of them there’s some old local who will cheerfully tell you that it’s haunted.

But on the near northeast side, just off of Clark St. at Lawrence, the local cemetery is among the sleepiest and plainest of the lot. There are no particularly famous tombs, nor any grand monuments, apart from a rather tasteful obelisk dedicated originally to Civil War veterans, and now to Chicago veterans of all wars.

It is hard to imagine a haunting among the simple rows of tombstones, many of them carved with faded Swedish, Polish, and Armenian names, however misty and dim the grounds can sometimes be when the fog rolls off the lake.

But the cemetery lies on the south end of Andersonville, a neighborhood that has seen quite a revival in the last few decades. Housing prices have gone up (and, not coincidentally, the cemetery has fallen into private ownership, with quite a few more frills available for your burial than those Swedes and Armenians ever had).

Among the houses to enter the upswinging market was the old caretaker’s house, made obsolete by a trim new office building on Clark St. put in by the cemetery’s owners.

And with that house comes an odd pair of statues, and an odd story.

It was first sold in the spring of 1987, to a middle-class family with three children. The house itself is a pleasant two-story with big windows and aluminum siding — comfortable, suburban; forgettable. In front is a wrought-iron fence made, presumably by the old groundskeeper, with sawed-down leftovers from the iron spikes that line the top of the cemetery walls.

At the time of the house’s sale, there was no gate to the fence. One had been made, but it still leaned against a side wall of the house, never used. Instead, a pair of Mickey and Minnie Mouse statues stood on either side of the walkway to greet guests.

The new owners left the mice in place. They had belonged to the caretaker’s wife, according to the real estate agent, and were something in the way of collectibles — a rarely-seen style from the mid-1950s or early 1960s; not valuable, but unique.

On Halloween 1987, they went missing.

The owner of the house filed a vandalism report, which promptly vanished into the bowels of the Chicago Police Department, never to be seen again. The mice stayed missing for a day, and then on Monday (Halloween had been a Saturday that year, so no one had come in to clean the cemetery the day after) one of the grounds workers from the cemetery knocked on the door to say they’d found the mouse statues in the graveyard.

Chalking it up as a prank by kids breaking into the graveyard, the owners put the statues back where they were and forgot all about it. But the next year, the mice went missing on Halloween again, and the next year they were found by the cleaning staff in the cemetery just like before.

Had the family stayed another year they might have taken precautions to prevent a third pranking — we’ll never know. They moved out in the winter of 1988, and the house was sold to a single elderly gentleman who did not trouble himself to keep the yard in much shape. For five years, the mouse statues turned more and more ragged around the edges, and every Halloween the maintenance staff at the cemetery would find them stuck in the grass by one of the old graves when they came in the next morning.

Finally, in 1994, a new couple moved into the house, and someone at the cemetery had the forethought to warn them about a week before Halloween that the mouse statues were a practical joke target. They did the sensible thing and threw a bike chain around the statues, locking them loosely to the wrought-iron fence.

Imagine, then, the irritation when the statues were gone in the morning! The chain was where it has been put, still looped in careless knots, but someone had troubled themselves to painstakingly wriggle the statues free. It was doable, of course — there were no actual rings or bolts on the statues to thread the chain through, so they had only been bound down, and not very tightly at that — but someone had still taken real time and effort for what seemed like a very silly prank.

That year the new owners put the fence gate up for the first time. They used the old one that had always leaned against the house (there is still a rust stain on the siding to this day from where it sat so long), and on Halloween of 1995 they locked the gate, chained the mice to the fence, and left the porch light on to scare away any would-be vandals.

The next morning, the mice were gone.

This was probably when people started to pay real attention. Oh, the cemetery staff had known about the prank for years, but cleaning cemeteries is a short-term employment for most people. There was no fixed institutional memory to say that this problem was constant, old, and just a little bit eerie.

But young suburban couples get competitive about strange things, and this particular couple was determined to thwart the pranksters on their own terms. They sank rebar through the statues that year, and anchored them beneath the sod with concrete blocks, so that the mice looked free-standing, but were in fact pinned where they stood. Then, for show, they draped them with loose, ineffective chains the day before Halloween, and turned the porch light off to let the vandals try their best.

The next day, the mice were gone. The rebar was still there, sticking up from the bare grass, but the statues had been painstakingly pried off it and moved to the cemetery. The owners went and retrieved them themselves, and found them standing on the grass facing one of the old, flat tombstones that lay face-up in the grass.

Exasperated, the owners simply moved the mice inside the next year. The game was over. And, as is the way of these things, both of them forgot to put the mice back out the next day, leaving them in the closet where we can safely assume they would have gathered dust for a good long while before returning to their proper place.

But Halloween of 1997 fell on a Friday night. It would be two full days before any caretaker staff looked at the cemetery. And on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 2, the young couple left their house in the morning to find the two mice standing on their rebar posts, as if someone had carefully replaced them.

Now, it’s hard to guess what perverse instinct made the husband of this young couple think, at once, of the gravestone where they had found the mice the year before. But he went then and there to look, before he left for work, and sure enough there were two sets of rounded, clean-edged footprints in the dirt at the gravestone, as if a pair of hefty statues had stood there all night long.

These are the kinds of story that it’s fun to tell about your house, right up until it stops being fun. They had reached that point. The house was sold, the mice put away in the basement, and the story, by some unspoken agreement between the husband and wife, never mentioned to the new owner.

But here is the strange thing. The new owner — who has not been seen much in the nearly twenty years he’s lived there — put the mice back out on the lawn. And a few years later they moved to concrete pillars, neatly installed framing the old wrought-iron gate. You can still see the mice there today, with their feet sunk deeply in the poured concrete.



No one knows if they still wander the cemetery on Halloween night. If they do, no one is telling — not the owner of the house, nor the groundskeepers that work for the cemetery’s private owners.

But the eerie story of the mice that moved lives on in Andersonville, and there are a few points of provable historical record that bear it out:

  • First, of course, that the mice and the house and the graveyard are all still there, along with the pleasant one-story office suite that replaced the need for a caretaker’s house. You can see them all just off Clark St. at the southern end of Andersonville.
  • Second, the fence gate itself is still original. Its material matches that used in places on the cemetery walls, though the metal frame around it and the concrete pillars are both obviously newer. And the side of the house still has a stain from the top of the iron gate where it leaned for years, unused as the mouse statues greeted visitors and passers-by.
  • Third, the old vandalism report from 1987 is still on file with the Chicago Police Department — never investigated, never acted upon. No one even bothered to follow up with a note that the statues had been found. And the calenders all match up with the dates in the story — Halloween did in fact fall  on a Saturday in 1987, and a Friday in 1997, the year they seemed to return themselves.

And lastly, and perhaps most oddly of all, the grave where the statues were always found is said to have read “Sorrell.” Some people hold that this must be an ancestor of the animator Herbert Sorrell, who quarreled fiercely during his life with Walt Disney and was branded a Communist during the Red Scare. Others say there was an “Old Man Sorrell” of the neighborhood whose relationship with young girls was not entirely wholesome, and who lived nearby when the caretaker’s wife was still young and unmarried. Still others maintain that the gravestone itself is a fake, and that the statues were only ever found standing about random patches of grass.

Are the mice a relic of some Disney storeroom, haunting the blood family of one of Walt Disney’s enemies? Are they a punishment wrought on some forgotten old man for his sins with an innocent girl? Or are they nothing more than an elaborate prank, two parts urban legend to one part youthful shenanigans?

Tonight is Halloween. The statues still stand there, stuck in concrete at the border of the cemetery in Andersonville. Go see them and decide for yourself — if you dare.

Scary Story Week #2: Something There to Remind Me

Scary story week rolls on! Today we present a story made especially for MA101 by our northern Wisconsin correspondent, a gentleman and a scholar of the comments section. Do him the favor of leaving a comment of your own if you liked the story!

Something There to Remind Me

The Craigslist as seemed straightforward:  Vintage Harvest Gold PRESTO Pressure Cooker Canner – 12 quart – Model CAA12, New in Box. $20.00.  It did seem odd that the phone number given was in the Klondike 7 exchange, but I figured that this was in keeping with the seller’s retro theme. I was in the market for a cheap pressure cooker for some culinary experiments, and not wishing to buy Chinese goods whenever possible, thought it best to purchase on the second hand market.  So I placed the call to the listed number and a chipper sounding woman answered.

“ Why yes it is still available” she replied.  “Come on over. Do you know where Rustic Manors is located?”

Ugh.  Rusty Manors, the nasty trailer park on the outskirts of town by the highway interchange. Not a place I would ever take a large sum of cash to meet strangers, but 20 bucks for a pressure cooker from a sweet sounding old lady seemed fairly low risk.

“It’s out by the highway” I replied

“Do you have a pen? Let me give you some directions” said the woman on the phone.  “If you’re heading North, turn left onto the frontage road just before you get to the highway”

I silently chuckled. How many tales of woe begin with the term ‘turn onto the frontage road?’

“Follow the frontage road until you come to the entrance to Rustic Manors. After you enter the park, keep to the right, Pine Manor Ct. will be your second left.  I’m the third home on the right; you will see my little deer in the front yard. When may I expect you?”

“Within an hour” I said “There’s a storm forecast for later”

“I look forward to seeing you” the sweet lady said, “Bye bye,” and the line went dead.

This should be and interesting experience, I thought, buying a vintage pressure cooker form a woman who lived in a lawn ornament adorned trailer. Driving north, I saw the first flashes of lightning to the west. I figured I should be home by the time the storm hit, as the warning for our area wasn’t supposed to start until 9 pm.

After several miles I turned onto the frontage road, and soon came upon the entrance to the Rustic Manors trailer park. All of the trailers were older, some quite decrepit, but the age of the park had at least allowed the trees planted when the place was new to reach maturity and give it a nicely wooded look. As I kept to the right, looking for her street, I noticed a trailer that someone had painted in large stenciled letters “Our Tornado Magnet” in addition to a cartoon drawing of a large horseshoe magnet attracting a twister with a menacing grin   Bet the neighbors must have loved that.  The storm seemed to be closer now, as I heard faint thunder off in the distance.  Turning on to Pine Manor Ct., I immediately saw a trailer much better kept than the rest, and indeed there was a cement fawn adoring its tiny front yard.

Although of the same style and vintage as the other trailers, this one looked almost new. No rust streaks or broken screens. The aluminum trim actually shined.  No sooner than I had rung the doorbell, a melodic three chime affair, than the door opened. I suppose the exterior of the trailer should have prepared me for what awaited inside, but it was startling to be greeted by a woman who looked as if she looked as if she walked off the pages of “Good Housekeeping” magazine, circa 1973.  The hair, the clothes – a housedress for God’s sake! Who the fuck still wears a housedress?  The décor and furnishings matched her Nixon era mien. As befitting the scene, there was the smell of cigarettes and air freshener, and an odd cooking odor.

“Do come in”

I entered and she introduced herself as Doreen Whiting.

“I’m Jim. Nice to meet you,” I replied. “I called about the pressure cooker on Craigslist.”

“Yes, I was expecting you; I only have a few left. Please have a seat.”

I had hoped to hand her a twenty and grab my goods and go, as by now the storm was fast approaching, and as is well known, a trailer park is no place to be in a storm.  And yet, oddly charmed by and now quite curious about this time warp lady, I took a seat on her museum quality 1970’s style sofa. It was then that I noticed a large white cat perched on the top shelf of a bookcase. It was staring at me and did not have a friendly look about it.

“That’s Walter” she said.

Walter hissed, and instantly reminded me of Ernst Blofeld’s cat in the old James Bond Movies.

“Walter, be nice! He’s really a sweetie once he gets to know you.”

I had my doubts on about this.

“Do you do much canning?” Doreen asked.

Glad that the conversation turned to the topic at hand, my purchase of the pressure cooker, I explained my reasons for wanting it and indicated my desire to purchase it and try and beat the storm home.

“I was just about to make some Tang, you will stay for a glass, won’t you?”

Tang?!  This lady offers total strangers who come into her trailer to sit and have a glass of Tang?  She reached for her pack of Bel Airs, I hadn’t realized they still made that brand of smoke. She  lit one with an ornate porcelain table lighter that sat next to a huge ashtray in the center of the coffee table. I was feeling the need to flee, yet felt oddly compelled to stay for at least one glass of Tang, the weirdness being irresistible. Doreen walked into the kitchen, which, as in most trailers, was open to the living/dining room.  She opened the cold water tap and let the water run.  A faint whiff of sulfur filled the room.  Wonderful. I had just committed to drinking her Tang, and she was making it with nasty well water. She pulled a glass jar of out of the cupboard. How old can the shit be?  I wondered, they haven’t packed it in glass in years.  Old Tang made with bad well water being a breakfast staple on the Scout campouts of my youth, I was further drawn back into the 1970s.

She mixed the Tang in a large glass pitcher and filled two tumblers with ice. What she did next gave me pause: Reaching into the cupboard above the refrigerator, she pulled out a large bottle of Seagram’s VO whiskey.  It of course had the old-school federal tax stamp across the neck of the bottle. I felt by now as if I were truly being transported back in time as one of my first experiences with alcohol was on a Scout trip: egg water Tang, mixed with booze from the back of someone’s parents’ liquor cabinet.

She poured a generous slug of VO into the pitcher, gave it another quick mix, filled the highball glasses, placed them on a tray, and brought them into the living room. Setting them down on the coffee table she reached for another Bel Air and lit it with the butt of her current smoke. I wondered how this woman can be stuck in the ‘70s and yet look so well preserved given her smoking and drinking. Turning to her Magnavox stereo console, she lifted its lid and set the turntable in motion. Dionne Warwick performing the hits Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote for her so many years ago.

“Pardon me while I freshen up” she said as she walked to the bathroom at the other end of the trailer.  It seemed as if she had not fully closed the door as the sounds and soon the stench of her bowel movement filled the air. The stench was beyond description, except to say that if it were used on a field of battle, all civilized nations, and even the North Koreans, would consider it a war crime.  Was she giving Satan an enema in there? I wondered.  Then came the hiss of a can of air freshener. No doubt a vintage scent of Glade. The combined odors must be what it were to smell like if a diseased polar bear were to spray diarrhea all over one of those fancy soap stores at the mall, the ones where the fat chick or gay guy tries selling you an eight dollar bar of soap.

Seemingly oblivious to the evil miasma she had created Doreen walked into the living room and picked one of the tumblers of Tang off the coffee table.  I took the other, and by now needing a strong drink no matter how vile the flavor, took several deep gulps of the ersatz whiskey sour. It did not taste as horrid as I expected, yet definitely had an odd flavor to it.  The next song came on. “There is Always Something There to Remind Me.” My mind was swimming with long forgotten memories of the 1970s.

The drink was definitely calming my nerves, but the storm was at hand and I felt the need to leave ASAP. I took another long swig of my drink and said “Mrs. Whiting, it’s been a pleasure, but I really must be on my way.”

“I’ve noticed you have been admiring my living room set.  It’s from Broyhill,” she noted.

“The game show prize furniture?” I unexpectedly heard my self exclaim.

“Why yes, as a matter of fact I won it on ‘The Price is Right,’” she replied.

How that memory stayed buried in my mind all these many years I can never know, but it dawned on me I had seen that episode when I was nine and we were visiting my Grandparents. Grandma never missed “Price is Right” and I had watched it with her that day. I then responded “Yes, I know. It was April 4th of 1974. The day that tornado killed all those people in Ohio.”

A stunned look came across her face as I continued without thinking. Must be the booze. “You lost the Showcase Showdown by overbidding by 7 dollars on the station wagon and pop-up camper. The black lady won the sailboat even though she way underbid.”

With that she let out a piercing scream, the cat hissed and jumped from its perch onto my head.

“HOW! HOW could you know?” she shrieked. “WHO? WHO are you? WHO sent you?” she wailed.

The cat was raking the back of my neck with its hind claws. The pain was excruciating, and yet an odd calm was coming over me. The Tang!  She had drugged the Tang. My years as a benzodiazepine aficionado made me recognize the feeling.  An old-school benzo, Valium or Librium most likely. What was her motive?

“Faster Pussy, Kill! Kill!  she snarled. Despite the searing pain and the distant wail of a tornado siren, I burst out laughing; her use of the name of Russ Myers’ tawdry movie classic form to the 60s to implore her cat to savage me was just too funny.  My laughing seemed to further enrage both my tormenters. The cat was now biting my ear. The crazy lady was at the door locking the deadbolt.

It was then that I saw the only weapon at hand: a vintage aerosol can of Scott’s Liquid Gold furniture polish was on the bookcase. Another memory from way back when — that shit is almost as flammable as WD-40.

I grabbed the can and lunged for the lighter on the coffee table. Closing my eyes and holding my breath I held the lighter a few inches from my forehead and sprayed the polish at the cat.  I think the flame went mostly over its head, merely singing its ears, but it instantly howled and jumped off my head and into the arms of his wildly shrieking mistress. Her appearance seemed to have undergone a dramatic change, she looked much older now and quite disheveled. Dorian Gray, meet you crazy sister Doreen, I thought.  I lit my lemon scented torch again, this time aiming at Doreen, causing her to let out another horrendous shriek and flee into the kitchen.

Were the drugs messing with my mind, or was this trailer no longer the tidy well kept museum piece, but now a filthy hovel like the rest of the trailer park? I managed to open the door and make my way to the car through the fierce wind and rain. No sooner had I entered my car than the crazy lady ran out the door wielding a large knife. It occurred to me that this is the point in every horror movie where the car fails to start, but mine sprang to life. I fled into the night, wondering where to seek shelter from the storm.  I drove past the “Tornado Magnet” and as I passed a large branch cam crashing down onto my car and everything went black.


I awoke to the feeling of a catheter being inserted. The nurse chimed in with “glad to see you awake, Mr. Korsten” and then tapped a button on her collar and merely said, “Patient awake.”

I was immobilized on my left side by several large casts and my left arm was in traction.  It seemed as if I had tubes in every orifice.  Some time later, it could have been minutes or hours, several doctors walked into the room and conversed with the nurse.  She said I had been semi-conscious most of the morning, but had seemed more lucid within the last half hour. I was now wide awake and aware that I had received some major injuries. I had vague memories of a trailer park and tornado, but could not quite figure out why I might be in traction in the hospital. My feeble attempt to speak was stifled by what I assumed was a feeding tube. The nurse motioned for me to be quiet and not try to speak.

“We’ll have those out later in the day if the doctors give us the OK,” she said.

I gave her a thumbs up with my functioning right hand and tried to focus my eyes on her. Everything was blurry, then I remembered that I wore glasses, and the fuzziness had little to do with my current medical condition.  The nurse swabbed my lips and mouth with a large cotton swab and a liquid that tasted like Scope.  She then applied some blue gel to my forehead and I fell asleep.  When I awoke again the tubes were gone from my mouth and nose, yet I still had the IV and catheter in me.  My left side was somewhere between a state of intense pain and completely numb.

“Where am I?” I croaked, painfully.

“Patient awake” was her reply into her collar. “Your medical team will be here in a minute”

Whatever hospital I was in it seemed as if I were the only patient.  Where was my family? Why did I have no cards or flowers?  Why was it so quiet?  Presently three people walked into the room. The first was a tall nlack woman, with salt and pepper straightened hair. She wore a mid-length skirt.  I had always felt middle aged black women in skirts to be a sure sign of a no-nonsense professional.  Second was a South Asian man, middle aged, in surgical scrubs.  Last to enter the room was a balding man in tortoise shell glasses. He introduced himself.

“I’m Dr. Goldblatt. These are my colleagues, Colonel, er Dr. Haggerty” he said nodding toward the Black woman.

“Dr. Khan. Dr. Haggerty is your orthopedic surgeon, she comes to us from Walter Reed Army Hospital. Dr. Khan is an infectious disease expert from Stroger Hospital in Chicago. As for myself, I’m you psychiatrist.”

Wondering why a shrink seemed to be in charge of my medical care, and what hospital would bring in top specialists for what seemed to be a broken shoulder. And why an infectious disease specialist? I started to vocalize these questions, but Dr. Goldblatt said it was best for me to get more rest.  The nurse then applied more blue gel to my forehead and I again fell fast asleep.


When I awoke, a different nurse was by my bedside. She commented on how rested I looked and said Dr. Goldblatt would be in shortly.  A minute or two later he walked in.

“As you have so many questions, I thought it best to bring in the briefing team sooner than we had planned. I will sit in with them”

Briefing team? He was right I had questions. Innumerable at this point.  Presently two people entered the room. A non-descript middle age man in a suit that looked to be part of a package deal at one of those cheap suit stores, for those who still wore suits, but didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on them. A government employee, obviously. The other was one of the ugliest women I have ever seen. Morbidly obese and wearing a spandex bottom, she had a face best summed in two words: Moles and unibrow. Cheap suit guy introduced himself as “Special Agent Chenowith” and the woman who had gained 400 pounds since winning an ugly baby contest as “Special Agent Gomez.”

“We’re with the Agency” he said, not indicating which agency that might be.

“We have prepared a report. Please hold your questions until the end” he then nodded to the nurse who applied a green gel to my forehead. I felt much calmer all of a sudden. He began “On behalf of the Agency, I would like to thank you for all Americans, indeed all of humanity for what you will be doing to help save us. As you may have noticed you are being treated at our institute. We have arranged for the top specialists in their fields to treat you injuries and to prepare you for what will be a difficult task ahead.  As you aware you have seen no visitors. This is for your own security, and officially you are dead.”

Dead? How could I be dead? The nurse noticed my distress, looked at Dr. Goldblatt who nodded, and applied more green gel.

He continued “Several weeks ago, you encountered a woman by the name of Doreen Whiting. Had it not been for the tornado which demolished that trailer park and killed all of those people, you would have surely been killed by her. You see, Mr. Korsten, she is a zombie. Doreen Whiting killed herself shortly after the episode of “The Price is Right” on which she was runner up aired on the CBS television network in April of 1974. Agent Gomez’ work has determined that she is leader of  a zombie nation, comprised of game show runners up from the 1970s who aim to bring about the apocalypse. They will kill us all by emitting an evil gas.  She knew you had somehow discovered who she was that night in the trailer, and would have hunted you down by now and killed you and your entire family, so it’s for the best that you were listed as among the 84 killed in that trailer park.  We have lost track of her, she was last seen impaled on a tree stump by a hipster couple, the ones who owned the “Tornado Magnet” trailer. Agent Gomez please continue”

Gomez turned on a PowerPoint presentation on a screen on the wall opposite my bed.

“Your friends threw quite a memorial party for you, they sure can drink.  The Agency made a large anonymous donation in your name to the charity your parents chose. There’s to be a picnic shelter with your name on it.”  She then began the PowerPoint.

The first slide was the front page of the local paper. “TRAILER PARK TRAGEDY was the headline. 84 killed as Rustic Manors demolished”. Silently she posted the next page. “TRAILER PARK HORROR” was the next headline. “Decapitated corpses buried beneath demolished trailer”.

Agent Gomez began to speak “You were to be her next victim. The heads of her 2 most recent victims were found in pressure cookers strewn amongst the wreckage. She meant to eat the brains.  She has been selling pressure cookers on eBay and Craigslist for several weeks now. They have all been tampered with and several have exploded. We believe this is the signal to the game show loser zombie nation to arise and begin the slaughter of the innocents. Just yesterday a Somali family in the Twin Cities was killed by one of these devices. They were cooking goat.”

This was all too much to handle. The nurse, sensing my agitation, began to rub more of the gel on my forehead. It didn’t seem to calm me, she was rubbing it in as if she were polishing a brass bell and yet I was becoming more agitated.

“Blue Gel” Dr. Goldblatt said, and with that I once again fell into a deep sleep.

When I awoke, Chenowith was in the room. Gomez was nowhere to be seen.

“Where the hell am I” I demanded. “What the fuck is going on here, who are you people?”

“We’re from the Government and we’re here to help” Chenowith said “You’re being treated at a secure undisclosed location”

“That doesn’t answer my question. What agency? What hospital?

“You are in Chicago,” he began. “At the former Prentice Women’s Hospital. Northwestern lost its battle to demolish it and so they sold it to the Agency.  Our director has a wicked sense of humor. He said nobody would ever find us in a building so hideous. He likes to hide things in plain sight. I have to agree with the director, this place looks like a fucking Commie insane asylum. It’s perfect for our purposes”

I wasn’t sure what was the most disquieting thing that had been revealed. I was officially dead. There was to be a zombie attack that I was expected to help prevent. And I was being treated in a building that looked like a Soviet mental health facility, making it perfect for whatever purpose this mysterious agency had in store for me.  Where was the nurse with the soothing gels I wondered? It was than that Agent Gomez and Dr. Goldblatt entered the room.

“In order to prepare you for the mission we need to know everything you can tell us about Mrs. Whiting. You need to write a report.” She said.

“Nooooooo” I screamed as the nurse prepared more gel. “I won’t write about zombies! Anything but that.” “The only thing worse than writing about zombies is writing about vampires!”

“Vampires are handled by K unit, on the eighth floor.” Gomez responded. “We need to prepare you do to battle and in order to do so we need all the information you can provide. It’s vital! The fate of humanity depends on you destroying her. The stench will overpower us all!”

“I can’t write about zombies” I screamed “I don’t know jack shit about zombies. I don’t want to be one of those people who write about zombies. The guys who do are total derps, the sort of guys who call their ballsack ‘Mr Scrotey.’

Chenowith chimed it “Sir, it’s the only way out of this mess. Besides it’s the only way you can rejoin the living. You know, if there’s one thing history has taught us, saving humanity and coming back from the dead is the mother of all good career moves”

“Blasphemy!” cried Dr. Haggerty, who had walked into the room to check on my arm.  “How’s your arm feeling today, sir” she asked.  “Still numb and paralyzed” I told her.

It was then that I awoke, with my left arm fast asleep. Damn, that was the weirdest dream I had had since I was playing Canasta with the Reagans and that squirrel that spoke Portuguese.

“Honey” my wife called out “where did this funky old pressure cooker come form?”

Scary Story Week #1: Calloway Manor

Scary Story Week is here, and I’m very pleased with the responses we’ve received! Our first comes to us from the titular Brian of Beards, Bears, and Brian, which is well worth a visit. We’ll have a new scary story each day this week, so add us to your feed if you haven’t already!

Many of our Scary Story Week contributors are writers and bloggers of much nobler aspiration than the slackers here at MA101. Please share your thoughts with them! You all know I never read the comments, but I’m sure our guest authors do, and they’d love to hear from their readers, even if it’s just a quick “good job.”

Calloway Manor

“They say the place is haunted, Danny.” The young girl paused for effect, then re-emphasized her point. “Haunted.” Erin placed her gloved hands on her wide hips, her stance a mix between petulance and defiance.

“Well,” Dan responded, running a finger through his knotted black beard, “I guess if you’re too scared…” He let his voice trail off, tempting Erin to argue or prove herself.  A hint of his teasing grin split his lips before he looked away to hide his toothy smile.

It was a cliché of course, and Erin knew it.  It was overused reverse psychology, and she was completely aware of that fact. That didn’t stop her from striding forward towards the large stone and mortar building and its heavy oak door.  At just over five feet tall, her wavy blond hair barely made it past chest height on Dan, who was just over six feet, already standing at the building’s entrance. Both of them were dwarfed by the enormous ornately carved doors.

The stone structure they were standing in front of was called “Calloway Manor” by most of the town, though as far as anyone knew no one named Calloway had ever lived there.  It was also known as the “Old Murder House” or to the young kids in town, the “Murder Manor.” In any case the building was a popular site for adventurous teens seeking a mystery, and  one that had not been clearly solved.  Despite its many appellations, though, the building had never been cited as the site of any major crime,  violent or otherwise.  The only police records even mentioning the home were the dozens of citations for vandalism or trespassing issued to teenage kids who’d broken in to feel a sense of risk and daring.

Still, the house held a certain urban-legend status that scared Erin, so despite her bravado she was hesitant as she raised her hand to the old-fashioned brass knocker on the door and let it drop, a dull clack echoing in the late autumn air.

To her surprise, the door immediately swung open from within.  Erin let out a frightened screech and stumbled backwards so quickly that she fell over herself.  Inside, Dan’s older brothers Mike and Shane were both wearing Halloween masks and held flashlights in their hands as they stood, laughing, at the door. They were built like Dan, tall and thin, though they both had goatees instead of the scruffy full face beard Dan always wore.  Shane, the older brother, reached forward for Erin and pulled her to a standing position only to lift her into the air in squeezing a bear hug.  “We got you,” he crowed, while swinging her back and forth.

Erin swatted at his arm and demanded, “Put me down dammit! You scared the crap out of me!”

Dan, from behind, kept laughing and nearly fell over, unable to breathe. He quickly subdued himself as Erin spun on him, far less amused. He held up his hands in mock defeat and the young couple and older brothers all headed inside.

* * *

The two older brothers led Dan and Erin around the whole of the house, walking them into various old rooms and closets and constantly making bad ghost sounds and pretending to hear strange, eerie voices off in the distance.  In each room they paused at the door, and pretended to hear some sort of sound from within.  After the third room, it became apparent that they were ready to believe that dozens if not hundreds of angry spirits wandered the old estate. Erin was not amused by their antics.

She spoke up to show off her faux-bravery.“It’s not what I expected.  Less murderous, and more…pretty.  Almost ornate, like an old mansion, or something.  If it wasn’t dark and old it might be, like, homey.” She cocked her head to the side and stared up at the cobwebs hanging down in ropes from the ceiling. “If you fixed the lights I wouldn’t even be scared.”

“So you are scared,” laughed Dan accusingly, “because if I recall correctly you told me this was stupid and lame.  I believe the word you used was ‘childish’?  I’m pretty sure you said it wasn’t even a little bit scary?”

Erin quieted her voice so Mike and Shane wouldn’t overhear her, and pulled Dan back from the other two who were continuing around the corner into the last main-floor room, the kitchen. “I don’t like the dark in here, but it’s not scary.  It’s just…I don’t know, creepy.  It’s old, and people say someone died here.  Like, killed or something.” Dan tried to wave the idea away with a swat of his hand but Erin persisted, “No, really.  They say a bum got stabbed when he was squatting here or something, and then the police disappeared when they came to pick up the body.”

Dan had heard the same stories, but was far less convinced. “No!  Never!  Seriously, I mean, I bet that’s just dumb urban legend crap. No one has died in here, unless it was from from the mold, or something.  Nothing scary. Otherwise they’d just tear the building down.” Dan tried to persuade Erin, but she seemed legitimately frightened.  He put his arm over her shoulder and guided her into the kitchen where his brothers had just gone moments before. The kitchen was empty.

The only door that led out of the kitchen was slightly ajar, and looked like it ran downstairs into the old house’s basement.  Erin walked towards it, pulling herself out of the crook of Dan’s arm when he suddenly grabbed at his pocket, his phone buzzing.

“It’s Mike,” he said to Erin, holding the phone up so she could see the name.  “he’s probably going to jump out and grab us or something. You saw the masks at the door, just expect something stupid and shocking and you’ll be fine.” Dan then answered the phone and put it on speaker, for Erin’s sake.

Before Dan could speak the phone echoed loudly in the kitchen with a man’s scream.  Eerily, it could also be heard from the basement where the brothers had seemed to go.  As quickly as the scream began, the phone hung up, though the scream from the basement persisted several seconds longer. Dan stared at the phone for a second, then looked to Erin, then back at the phone. “Wow.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment, but quickly slid the phone back in his pocket. “They really went all out to scare us.”

Erin nodded, and pushed the basement door closed, as she looked around the kitchen for a way out, or a hiding space where Mike and Shane would likely be waiting to pounce. After a few seconds, she’d finished her walk around the room without seeing anything suspicious as a place to hide and jump out, so she asked Dan for help.  For the next several minutes the two looked around for a way out of the kitchen were Shane and Mike could’ve hidden, but they saw none. Aside from one rusted old pot filled with dust and dirt and a handful of cigarette butts on the side counter, the room was empty.

Erin and Dan made eye contact just as he began to say, “I think we need to go down-”

Erin cut him off with a crisp, “Fuck no.” She crossed her arms in front of her, and repeated herself. “Fuck. No. I said I’d come and do the house thing with you, I didn’t agree to get tricked into a stupid prank by your brothers. Fuck no. I’m not going downstairs.”

Dan pleaded with her, “They’ll just be downstairs with food or something.  They probably have booze or they’re just trying to scare us before we start partying.  We’ll just look downstairs, for a second.”  When Erin continued to shake her head, he wrapped his arms around her and set his head on top of hers.  Then he repeated, “For a second, just to make sure they’re really alright, at least.”

Erin still refused. “I’ll wait in the car.  You do what you want. I’m going to the car.”

When Dan looked down and saw her slightly trembling and the pale look on her face he realized she was trying to hide the intensity of her fright.  He took a deep breath and calmly responded, “Fine.  Head out, I’ll be in the car in just a moment.”

Erin seemed unconvinced. “No, walk me out. Come out to the car with me.”

Dan sighed, but agreed.  He walked Erin outside and all the way to the car where he grabbed a flashlight from his trunk. “It’s getting dark, and the lights don’t seem to work inside.” he explained. When he closed the trunk, he saw Erin eying him plaintively through the back window of the car.  With the doors closed her voice was muffled but it sounded like she said ‘Five minutes or I leave.’  Dan gave a thumbs up, flipped on the bright red flashlight,  walked back up the walkway to the oak doors, and slipped back inside.

Erin, from her seat in the car, kept a close eye on the front door.  After a moment, she clicked the lock button on the car’s front door, and settled back into her chair, murmuring to herself about how immature and stupid boys can be.

* * *

Inside the house, Dan headed back into the kitchen and opened the door to the basement.  He shined his light down the steps, and was unsurprised to find broken and torn cobwebs hanging across the stairs.  It looked like Shane and Mike had indeed come this way, and made sure to leave a trail.  It was a trap, but Dan knew that already so he began down the creaking wooden steps.  He kept his eyes forward, darting from side to side. He was ready for someone to jump out and scare him, but nothing moved or made a sound as he walked down the stairs. At the basement landing, there was another closed door, leading into the main basement on one side and what appeared to be a room full of empty wine racks on the other.  Taking a guess, Dan stepped into the side of the basement with the wine cellar and shined his light in a circle around the room, and called “Mike? Shane?  Guys, it’s over, Erin left.  Let’s just call it.”  No one responded, so Dan yelled louder. “Erin left!  She got scared!  Let’s go home!” The cellar stayed silent. Dan stepped forward out of the basement landing’s doorway only to miss a last step and fall flat on his face.

Momentarily stunned, he let out a girlish yelp before rolling onto his back and then standing up.  He turned back to the doorway to see a plastic toy skeleton hanging from the rafters above the door he’d just entered, with a sign that said the cliched ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!’ stapled to the white plastic toy’s ribs.  Dan brushed past the hanging skeleton and stepped back onto the main basement landing, now positive his brothers had been this way and set up some surprisingly elaborate type of trap.

Dan pushed the remaining door leading into the rest of the basement open and walked forward into the dark, his flashlight now dimmer after his fall. In this other basement room there was a fold-out table and chairs set out, with several bottles of cheap alcohol set on its surface, and two pizzas in boxes stacked alongside the drinks.  There was a flashlight lantern of some sort set up on the table, though it wasn’t on, and there were the same goofy Halloween masks Mike and Shane had been wearing at the door earlier, stacked on top of each other.  The only things missing from the room were Shane and Mike themselves. But, realizing this was probably part of the continued prank, Dan stepped into the basement and walked over to the table where a note was taped onto the pizza boxes.

The note read ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!’ in a thick red paste, which looked suspiciously like the pizza sauce from the pizzas underneath. Dan almost laughed at the poor quality of the prank. He called out , “I have to admit, this seemed like a good prank.  Thorough.  But it’s falling apart. Now let’s go, Erin’s not going to come back in.  You guys really freaked her out with that phone call.”  Dan shined the flashlight around the basement, and was disappointed until he saw a line of footprints in the dust leading towards the back wall.  He approached the wall and saw that what he’d taken for a solid gray and red brick wall was actually covered with a drapery.  Though the drapery looked solid from afar, it was actually covering a small back room. Clearly, this is where Shane and Mike were hiding. Dan pushed under the thin cloth, and ducked into the small space, where he found what appeared to be his brothers’ bodies with fake  blood and guts spilled all over the floor.  The gore was so over the top as to be comical, but Dan was still disturbed. Dan was approaching when another plastic skeleton dropped from the ceiling, with a new sign that said “Get Out Of Our House” attached to its thin plastic chest.

The tense situation and adding number of tricks and turns in this prank were getting to Dan worse and worse. He decided it was time to go. After a few moments of feeling around the outside wall of room, Dan gave up and pushed back under the curtain into the main room of the basement.  Dan yelled into the darkness, “I’M DONE!  I’M LEAVING!” He ran to the stairs, ran up the steps, past the kitchen and out of the house only to be greeted by a cackling duo wearing masks sitting on the hood of his car. It seemed that apparently Mike and Shane were enjoying a laugh at his expense with Erin, who was laughing along just as happily.

Dan approached the car and punched his brothers in the arms, and was ready to yell at Erin when she offered a quick, “I promise, I had no idea, I just saw them crawling out the side window right when you went back in!”

Dan laughed, embarrassed but impressed. “Yeah, it freaked me out.”
Erin asked, “So what did they do?  They’ve been laughing too hard to tell me anything.”
Dan grinned sheepishly, “I found the party set up in the basement, and there was this back room…” When Dan mentioned the back room, the laughing duo doubled their volume and slapped each other on the back. Dan explained to Erin, “They set up a fake murder scene, and holy crap I could have sworn the bodies were real.”

Shane and Mike looked at each other from under their masks and stopped laughing.  They stood up, and in unison took a bow.  There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment until Dan’s phone began to buzz. Looking confused he held up the caller ID display for Erin to see.  It was Shane’s phone calling. Nervously, Dan pressed to answer the call and put the phone to his ear.  He turned completely white, and passed out backwards, his phone dropping to the ground.  The masked duo suddenly tore off, running across the old building’s lawn. Holding the dropped phone up to her ear, Erin heard Shane’s voice weakly moaning, “911, call 911…oh…God…9…” The voice trailed off.

Like Dan, Erin then passed out.  She woke surrounded by concerned looking police officers, and there was a piece of paper taped to her shirt that read, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!”  She turned to look at where Dan had sat on the ground, and saw him rocking back and forth muttering to himself with two blood-stained Halloween masks clutched in his hands.

On Bachelorhood, and the Limits Thereof

For someone who likes to use the word, I really am a terrible bachelor.

I tend to always be involved with someone, or even several someones, regardless of any turmoils or calms in my life. Some of those attachments are even fairly committed and long-term ones. (Unfortunately, they’re also long distance ones, but that doesn’t change the emotional investment.)

Still and all, I like to think of myself as a bachelor.

I look at it this way:

  • I share my apartment with a couple of friends from undergrad.
  • I have my own room, in which I usually sleep alone, apart from occasional romantic visitors (and, of course, the cats).
  • On that subject, I own a pair of cats that run my life.
  • I cook for myself, generally things that involve too much cheese and meat.
  • If I do laundry or wash the sheets, it’s usually because I’m expecting company and want to impress.

To my mind, that says “bachelor.” It’s less about the romantic status and more about the domestic one.

I’m living as a guy on his own; having wonderful ladies of whom I am exceptionally fond in my life doesn’t change the daily routine all that much. (When they’re not around. When they are around, it changes the daily routine considerably for the better.)

I suppose the oddest part of this is my stubborn defensiveness on the subject. I’m very anti-label in most of my life. I don’t really “identify” as any of the things you’re supposed to identify. I get squirmy and resentful if people call me gay, straight, bi, boyfriend, poly, serially monogamous, whatever. (“Queer” is okay, but only because it’s become such a broad term that it might as well mean “just as strange as everyone else, but not uptight about it.”)

But “bachelor,” I’ll fight for. Not very hard, mind you — I’m lazy — but I’ll argue a bit for my right to continue using it.

You do need something to talk about with the ladies.


UNRELATED NOTE: Remember, MA101 and friends (the above-mentioned roommates, in fact) are hosting a Halloween party in Madison tomorrow night. If you’re in the city, you should stop on by.

We also have a scary story contest on the blog, with the entries running next week. You’ve got all weekend to get one in still, and if you slipped one in on Monday I’d probably still run it, so check the details out in the original post and send us your writing!

Haunted Victorian Party in Madison, WI – Hosted by MA101!

Friends and readers of the Madison area, this is for you! Everyone else, my apologies. We would love to have you too some day. If you’re determined enough to drive in from out of town we can almost certainly make a bed for you. But in the meantime, would you like to write a scary story for our contest instead? That can be done from anywhere!

As for the Madison-and-southern-Wisconsin people, you’re invited…



Saturday, Oct. 27 9:00 PM

Madison, WI


Just this fall, your humble narrator and a pair of his friends moved into a third-floor apartment in an old, redone Victorian mansion. Little did they know that the ghosts of the original inhabitants still stalked the halls, turning the locks on doors unseen and clawing eerily within the walls!

Will the ghosts lock the party-goers in? Will spirits trapped behind the wainscoting come bursting free? (or are they just mice, and we should lay some damn traps?) No one can say! But there’ll be a keg, so, y’know, come take your chances anyway.

If you’re in the Madison area and you read the blog, you’re welcome to stop on by. We’d love to have you. It’s a big place and we’ll have it done up proper and haunted. Costumes aren’t required, but they’re always more fun, and come on — it’s Halloween! You don’t want to be that one dude that didn’t wear a costume (unless you’re “that one lame dude who didn’t wear a costume” and then in the middle of the party an alien chestburster comes erupting out of your street clothes, or something like that — surprise costumes are awesome).

I haven’t posted the address for fairly obvious reasons, but you can drop me an e-mail and let me know that yes, you’re actually a MA101-reader who would like to attend, and not just a creepy robot stalker program bent on harvesting my personal data and/or organs (that would be kind of cool and creepy, but definitely not in the “Victorian” theme we’re going for). Drop me a line and I will give you the address and phone number:

You can also send your scary stories to that address if you’re taking part in our contest! Why not do both? Get the full Halloween treatment this weekend.

And again, if you don’t live within striking distance of Madison, my apologies. Maybe send me your name and I can try to get one of the ghosts curse your family, ye unto a thousand thousand generations, long-distance.

Best I can do.

MA101 Wants YOUR “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”

Man, remember those books? There were like a dozen of them at the local library, but Mom was pretty firmly against letting me take them home. Not a bad position, given that she had to deal with my sleepless nights after an early run-in with Dracula, but it did make me pretty uncool. All the cool kids had the scary story books with those drippy, tattered-looking, black and white Stephen Gammel illustrations.

They also had Goosebumps, now that I think about it. What was with my generation and lousy scary stories?

Anyway — a final reminder and then I’ll go back to using this space for the things you want, like cat pictures and poop jokes:

Once upon a time MA101 was theoretically a blog about writing. So we are going to write!

Nothing major. Just a quick scary story. The kind that’s easy to rattle off around a campfire or with the lights turned down at a Halloween party. 5,000 words at the outside.

It’s easier than you think. Set a couple hours aside and start scribbling, whether you have an idea or not. Just write down things you think are scary, and then see which ones flesh out well. You could use the prompt/practice anyway, right?

Oh, and the winner gets booze. Did I mention that the winner gets booze? (Fancy coffees or teas can be substituted if boozing’s not your thing.) And everyone that submits gets a MA101 guest post if they ever want a day off their own blog.

So send ’em on in. You’ve got through this weekend — the first stories will go up on Monday’s blog post. If one sneaks in after Sunday I’ll probably still run it later in the week, but I’ll be very disappointed about your attitude toward deadlines.

We’ve got one so far, and I’ve been promised a few others, but I’ll look pretty silly if I don’t get at least a couple that aren’t my own. Don’t leave me hanging!

Submissions can go here:

And again, if you need them, the full rules are in this post.

Tomorrow we’ll return to your regularly-scheduled poop jokes and cat pictures. Maybe even jokes about cat poop.

Little brats.

Fuzzy Pony Filler, “Horses and Bayonets” Edition

Well, I won’t lie to you. I was going to do a thing about President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” line, and how it’s dangerously close to not promising us all our own individual ponies this time around. I mean,  he says “horses and bayonets” like it’s a bad thing, right? Come on, Bammerz. I’m not that into bayonets, but I still want my pony you promised me in the 2008 election.

But the funny’s just not coming today. I think I am all political-commentaried out. Instead, let’s just look at a bunch of fuzzy ponies.

Everyone likes fuzzy ponies, right? Also My Little Pony, hence our little sidebar pony here. Or maybe that will just turn the comments section into a perfect storm of internet hatred for both Obama and bronies, but I never read ’em anyway! So carry on!

Now, ponies:



Everyone feel better? I feel better.

Now: Obama and bronies. Discuss.


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