GUEST POST: Patrick Lacey

Avoiding Halloween Burnout

A recent study by science showed that one in five autumn enthusiasts will experience Halloween burnout at some point in their lifetime. Halloween burnout is a newly discovered condition that affects those who place unrealistic expectations on themselves during the spooky season, which for many begins on July 5th and ends on November 1st. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, questioning how Michael Myers can drive, watching the Garfield Halloween Special until it loses all meaning, and more fatigue.

In all (relative) seriousness, Halloween burnout is real and it’s running rampant. The season starts earlier each year. This past June, I found a rubber bat in Michael’s. June, people. And with an ever-expanding season, come infinite ways to celebrate, whether it’s binge watching your favorite horror movies until your eyes bleed or binge eating pumpkin spice everything until…your eyes bleed. Social media’s no help. Sure, it’s a way to feel connected to your Halloween-loving peers but it also creates undue stress. You scroll through your timeline/feed/whatever and it’s all Halloween all the time. It makes you want to keep up, to never waste one precious moment on something like sleeping or brushing your teeth.

So the question remains: how can you ensure your Halloween season is as Halloweenish as possible?

The answer is simple: you don’t have to.

That’s where the Halloween Randomizer 5000.1 (patent pending) comes into play. Stay with me here. The idea is you jot down whatever Halloween activities that come to mind onto tiny slips of paper. Make sure you write legibly because you’ll need to read these later. If that’s a challenge for you, here’s hoping you can draw at a stick-figure level. Next, fold said slips and place them into a receptacle of some sort. The Randomizer can be made from whatever you’ve got handy. Mine’s a snot-green pumpkin pail mummified in orange lights. I like to add a Pumpkinhead action figure or two because that’s what I do.

After you’ve assembled your Randomizer, now it’s time to let chance step up to the podium. Shake it. Do it again, just to be sure. Maybe a third time because it kind of sounds like a maraca. Now close your eyes, reach into the Randomizer, and pull out a single strip of paper. Whatever’s written on it, that’s what you’re doing today. Could be movie marathon or maybe you’re baking an apple pie or if you’re not talented in the kitchen, go out and buy one. A pie, not a kitchen, unless you’re looking to remodel. No activity is too outlandish or low key. Heck, once the leaves turn, you could go for a walk through a cemetery and call it a day. That’s the magic of the season. Halloween’s in the very air we breathe. It smells like candy corn and candy applies and candy everything else. It smells like possibilities. Sure, the season flies by. And yeah, come November 1st, you’ll be staring into the void, but you can greatly decrease your chances of FOMO if you drop the pressure and unrealistic expectations and just have fun.

So this year, give yourself a break. It’s time to construct your very own Halloween Randomizer 5000.1 with whatever’s within reaching distance. A shoebox? Sure thing. A coffee mug? Why not? A real pumpkin? You bet, though I hope you enjoy mold. As long as you’re doing something—anything—to get into the Halloween spirit, that’s all that matters. No more pressure. No more stress. Save that for your costume. Will you wear a cape? A mask? If so, what kind of material? There’s latex and plastic and—I’ve just had the greatest idea for an invention. It’s called the Halloween Costume Randomizer 5000.1. Stay with me here.

Patrick Lacey was born and raised in a haunted house. He currently spends his time writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable. He lives in Massachusetts, in a hopefully un-haunted house, with his wife, his daughter, and his ginormous cat. Follow him on Twitter.

Sleep Paralysis: A Collection
Sleep paralysis: A transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, accompanied by powerful hallucinations and muscle weakness, preventing one from moving.

A website that specializes in suffering. A basement filled with secrets and bones. An apartment housing much more than just ghosts. These are the places between reality and the unknown. These are the stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them. These are the things that visit your dreams. And nightmares.


Meghan: Hey, Patrick!! Welcome back. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Patrick: Pumpkin beer. And pumpkin coffee. And also pumpkin English muffins. My favorite part of Halloween is all of it. It’s that you can walk into any grocery store or pharmacy and find at least one discount skeleton mask that’s probably painted with poisonous chemicals or one plastic rubber bat that’s probably…painted with poisonous chemicals. It’s that the entire world seems to be on my wavelength, which, lemme tell you, is quite often not the case.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Patrick: May I make this a two-for-the-price-of-one answer? If so, super! If not, this is awkward. I grew up in a horror household. My parents dug the genre and, lucky for me, they didn’t much care what I watched, R ratings be damned. So what we’d do is we’d go trick-or-treating but once the eggs started cracking and the tee-pee started rolling, we came back home and watched horror movies like they were going out of style. The real stars of the show were the snacks. I’m talking junk food like you’ve never seen. My mom persuaded me to eat relatively (insert air quotes here) healthy but on Halloween night, all dietary bets were off. We’re talking nachos, pizza rolls, and deviled eggs (emphasis on the devil). We’d shove snack after snack into our mouths until our bellies inflated and what’s better than that? What’s better than spending quality family time watching Kevin Bacon get his throat pierced with the sharp end of an arrow or Johnny Depp get swallowed by a bloody bed, all while eating things with more artificial ingredients than a can of paint thinner? Answer: nothing. It was during one of those marathons that I leaned over a lit pumpkin-scented candle and managed to catch my bangs on fire. I snuffed the flames out quick enough but have you ever smelled burnt hair? It’s a lot stronger than anything Yankee Candle carries. I surveyed myself in the mirror and yeah, there would need to be an emergency hair cut before returning to school, but you know what? Who cared? Burning bangs or no burning bangs, that night there were no problems. There were only slashers and junk food and is there anything else? To this day, if by some strange circumstance, I catch a whiff of charred hair, it zaps me back to that living room, to those snacks, to that wonderful night.

Which brings us to part two of this question, the newer tradition of carving a jack-o-lanterns with my wife and daughter. With my wife, we’ve been doing this since day one of us, but with my daughter, we’re coming up on Halloween II (the holiday, not the movie), so it’s about as new as new gets. Last year, I don’t think she was cognizant enough to understand why her parents were wielding chef’s knives and gouging large orange apples but this year—this year, all bets are off. She’s got about five non-mom and non-dad words in her vocabulary, one of which happens to be “pumpkin.” Really, it’s more like “pum pum” but she’ll get there. Any flash of orange, she lights up like a Halloween blow mold, so I’m thinking the carving will be one for the books this year. The best part is I’ve tried not to push the seasonal addiction on her, but the moment she saw her first Beistle cut-out, she smirked ear to ear. I think it’s been passed down to her, this addiction that comes from who knows where. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Patrick: Two words: spooky walks. There is nothing—I repeat—nothing better than taking a stroll around your neighborhood, town, city—whatever—once the leaves start to turn. What other time of year can you see gravestones and animatronic gargoyles in someone’s front yard? And that’s just one house, if you’re lucky. I adore pulling on a sweatshirt and grabbing a pumpkin beer and then hiding that pumpkin beer in a non-descript thermos so as to avoid being arrested, then going for a seasonal stroll. I always end up in a neck of the woods I never even knew existed. This one time, a few years back, I traversed a side street wherein every single front porch was decked out in Halloween bliss, but here’s the kicker: I could never find that street again, no matter how many times I searched, which begs the question: did I accidentally cross over into a parallel dimension or did I have a few too many of those non-descript pumpkin beers? Probably it’s the latter but a man can dream.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Patrick: Everything. But there’s this one thing in particular. It’s maybe more innocuous than walking under a latter or spotting a black cat (which doesn’t bother me, seeing as how I’ve owned two or five). What it is, is the number thirteen, specifically how that number appears on my Kindle. I mostly read ebooks on account of my glasses are trifocals and the font’s easily adjustable. If I’m reading and arrive at the 13% mark, I’ve gotta keep going, if only to reach 14%, because if I stay at that cursed number, something insane will happen. Dead birds will fall from the sky. Every tree within a five-mile radius of my house will shrivel and rot. And the sun itself will burn out, dowsing the world in a never-ending cycle of darkness.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Patrick: Freddy Krueger, full stop. Here’s the thing. Freddy’s the reason I’m a horror fan. Like I mentioned before: my parents didn’t give a darn what I watched, for better and worse (mostly better). Because of this lack of parental advisory, one of the first movies I remember watching is A Nightmare on Elm Street. And let me tell you: it did a number on me. I had actual nightmares for days, maybe weeks, on end. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that glove and that fedora. So I watched it again. And again. Then I watched the sequels. And my revulsion turned to fascination. I loved the sense of nightmare logic. Because we’re dealing in dreams, the rules are less rigid and more fluid. Doors don’t lead where they ought too. Steps are made from oatmeal for some reason. And is that a goat over there? Yes, that’s definitely a goat.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Patrick: The Zodiac Killer has long been a morbid fascination of mine and I think it has to do with reading too many Batman comics, specifically those with the Riddler and how he always left clues and if you could just decipher them, you could stop him from performing whatever villainy was on his mind. But the difference is that Batman always solved said puzzles and real life isn’t so squeaky clean. I’m not exactly writing my thesis on the Zodiac but from what I’ve read, part of me wonders if the puzzles were intentionally unsolvable. He promised answers in there somewhere, all jumbled up, but maybe there never were answers.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Patrick: I’m from a small fishing town named Gloucester. It’s on the north shore of Massachusetts. And in my small fishing town, there was this tale making the rounds when I was a freshman, sophomore, somewhere around there. People swore there was a group of kids that called themselves the Gloucester Vampires. They congregated in abandoned buildings and under bridges late at night, when the town slept, and they did unspeakable things, performed rituals from texts so evil, reading a single page could make your mind burst like an over-ripe cantaloupe. Or so they said. Probably, it was a bunch of kids who wore black and were in the thick of their Hot Topic phase. But to my over-active mind, there was a cult in my small fishing town, a cult searching for new members. Once they chose you, there was no canceling your membership. I was so perturbed by this (probably) imaginary cult, I wrote a novel about it. It’s called We Came Back. It’s about to go out of print as of this writing but it’ll rise from the depths in a new edition soon enough.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Patrick: Care for a deep cut, so to speak? My wife’s family has a vacation home in Cape Cod. We got there twice, maybe thrice times a year, and in the neighboring town of Truro, there was once a serial killer who went by the name Tony Chop Chop, which, as far as serial killer names go, has got to be up there. The killings had a slight ritualistic bend, insofar that the hearts were removed from the victims. The case never gained the popularity that other killers of the time did, but Kurt Vonnegut wrote an article about Mr. Chop Chop in Life Magazine of all places, so the situation didn’t exactly go unnoticed. I’ve traveled to one of the supposed murder locations—a crypt long since busted open and cleared out—and you can’t deny the dread. It sticks to you like Laffy Taffy. In reality, serial killer culture deeply disturbs me, so much so that I wrote a novel (Where Stars Won’t Shine) to get it out of my system. And while I’m not exactly going to start a Tony Chop Chop blog, I do find the case fascinating.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Patrick: I’ll echo my earlier answer here. It was A Nightmare Elm Street, which I saw at the ripe age of way too young. But I’m not complaining. Thanks again, Mom and Dad. For horror books, it’s got to be Stephen King‘s Skeleton Crew but that only counts on a technicality. See, my mother had an dog-eared, spine-creased copy on her bookshelf. The one with that wide-eyed monkey and the cymbals. I’d pull it down, half-cover my eyes so said monkey couldn’t stare into my soul, and flip to a page at random. I loved what I read but I couldn’t read for long because I knew the book was alive, that it had teeth in some secret compartment, so it was better to place it back on the shelf where I found it. Years later, I’d give it a proper read and it would become a favorite. I still have my mom’s copy. Thus far, I haven’t seen those teeth. Maybe they just haven’t come in yet.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Patrick: It’s gotta be The Grip of It by Jac Jemc. I don’t see this one getting as much love as it rightfully deserves. It’s a haunted house novel, which is probably my favorite sub-genre, seeing as how I grew up in one (a story for another time). The horror that makes me all shivery is when bad stuff isn’t easily definable. Masked killers are fun but you can see a masked killer. What you can’t see are invisible forces working to unravel our minds one cold spot at a time. That’s what The Grip of It is. It’s a series of inexplicable scenes with no clear-cut answers. We, as readers, aren’t even sure if the house is haunted. And if it is, we can’t begin to theorize what’s haunting it. I don’t like it when authors tie things up in bow. I much prefer when horror is kept vague and it doesn’t get vaguer than The Grip of It.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Patrick: Stick with me here. There’s this one scene in The Mothman Prophecies that’s always on repeat in my brain. It’s when Richard Gere is washing his face in the bathroom sink, huddled over the faucet. We see the mirror and in that mirror is a shape standing just behind Richard. The problem with that shape is you can’t see its face. It’s like a smear on the lens that became sentient. And I have this thing with smooth faces. The concept of person with no eyes, ears, mouth, just smooth flesh—heck no. So while The Mothman Prophecies isn’t exactly known a walk-don’t-run flick, that scene is burrowed beneath my skin. Even today, when I’m washing my face, I know he’s there in the mirror. Mothman’s there and this time my eyes are the camera.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Patrick: My favorite Halloween was when I dressed up as a zombie this one time in eighth grade, which in and of itself doesn’t demand bragging rights, but I wasn’t just any rotting corpse. I was fourteen and it was the early 2000’s. Nu metal was having a moment. The most infamous practitioners? Limp Bizkit. And since I was a super fan, I dressed as the lead singer. Let me say that again: one time, two decades ago, I walked around dressed as a dead Fred Durst and asked strangers for candy.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Patrick: Gonna cheat here and choose the original Halloween theme, composed by Mr. ball-of-sunshine himself, John Carpenter. Sure it’s not a Halloween-themed song but it’s a song in a film called Halloween. Take that, semantics. The thing with this theme is it makes anything sinister and brooding. Break it out at a party, and it’ll set the mood with those dueling notes and that odd time signature (I wanna say it’s 5/4 but my math could be wrong). But why limit yourself? Crank it while you’re washing the dishes. You’ll be surprised by the results. On their own, dishes are boring. But with John Carpenter in tow, suddenly that chef’s knife takes on a whole new meaning. It’s great for long drives, too, especially on a cool fall night when the trees are bare and the fallen leaves scuttle in the wind. And make sure you keep those high beams on because you know Michael’s out there. He’s always out there.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Patrick: My favorite Halloween candy is candy corn and the most disappointing is also candy corn. Hear me out. I love the OG kind. And yes, I understand it tastes like melted candle wax mixed with high fructose corn syrup but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. And if you have tried it, and you still hate it, then it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. Which brings us to the disappointment. It’s like I said: I love the original candy corn, but these weird new flavors? These fruity-flavored knock-offs? These caramel-flavored monstrosities? Not on my watch. There’s something so pure about candy corn and to mess with perfection only ruins the allure. So give me some CC all day long but make sure it’s the kind that’s been on sale since the seventies and is probably from the same batch.

Meghan: I just can’t imagine Halloween without you, Patrick, and some of these answers made me laugh out loud. Thanks for stopping by!! We’ll have to make plans for next year as well. But before you go, what are your top three Halloween movies?

If you haven’t seen Hack-O-Lantern, stop reading this and go see Hack-O-Lantern. This thing is dripping with vintage Halloween goodness. You could make a drinking game wherein you pause and take a shot every time a retro seasonal decoration pops up in the background. Though, on second thought, don’t do that because I refuse to be held accountable. Also, it’s got heavy metal and satanic panic vibes, the chocolate and peanut butter of horror. If robed cultists, devil-masked killers, and incessant music video dream sequences are your thing (and they really should be), look no further.

Night of the Demons
Just the perfect movie to throw on for the big night. It’s got a spooky mansion, excellent demonic make-up effects from legend Steve Johnson, and a fantastic wraparound story in which a grumpy old man gets what’s coming to him. Director Kevin Tenney is on record saying he wasn’t even a horror fan when he came aboard the film. Could’ve fooled me. I watch it every October. And also every November and December.

Trick or Treat
Note the “or” as in not Trick ‘r Treat. This is another heavy metal horror flick and if you’re sensing a pattern, it’s because I’m a life-long metal head and horror head (which I’ve never seen in print and will most certainly not Google). In a nutshell, a high schooler’s favorite metal musician dies and inhabits our protagonist to then help him exact revenge against his bullies. Bad things ensue. Like the other two films, this thing is just begging to be watched on a cool autumn night in the presence of a pumpkin-scented candle. Unfortunately, because of legal issues with the heavy-metal-tinged soundtrack, this one can be difficult to track down. The DVD’s out of print and there’s no American Blu-ray, though there is a Spanish one with an English version of the film. What I’m saying is, it might take some effort to track down, but the pay-off’s worth it a thousand-fold.

Patrick Lacey was born and raised in a haunted house. He currently spends his time writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable. He lives in Massachusetts, in a hopefully un-haunted house, with his wife, his daughter, and his ginormous cat. Follow him on Twitter.

Sleep Paralysis: A Collection
Sleep paralysis: A transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, accompanied by powerful hallucinations and muscle weakness, preventing one from moving.

A website that specializes in suffering. A basement filled with secrets and bones. An apartment housing much more than just ghosts. These are the places between reality and the unknown. These are the stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them. These are the things that visit your dreams. And nightmares.

Halloween Extravaganza: Charles Gramlich: Nightmare Season

Charles Gramlich has stopped by to talk to us about nightmares. Very interesting. Enjoy.

I’ve been blessed with nightmares for most of my life. In one, I watched a sorceress rip another woman’s eyes out with magic. Then she turned on me. I began to come apart. My lower jaw tore off; it hit the ground and burst into dust. As my head exploded I realized I was dead.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve died in dreams. I once fought my doppelganger, switching from head to head throughout the bout, and when I stood over my own body with a knife in its chest I wasn’t sure which survived—the good me or the bad one. I’m still not sure. Are you?

Where do such dreams come from? As a kid, Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me watch scary shows like Twilight Zone or Outer Limits but they didn’t monitor my reading. I read bible stories, history, animal tales, football and racing stories, science fiction and fantasy. That’s probably where the imagery in my dreams first originated. I’ve since added scary shows to my experience. Recently, I published a collection called Out of Dreams: Nightmares, which contains retellings of dreams I’ve had in story form.

In dreams, I’ve been villains and victims. I’ve been children, and adults, and monsters. I’ve been the devil. Once I was a serial killer writing a novel on the walls of my house in the blood of the murdered. I wouldn’t want to be most of these things in real life, but dreams let you live many lives. They also provide fodder for creative work, either in writing or other arts. Below, I touch on some dream related phenomena that can also feed one’s creativity.

In Lucid Dreaming you become aware of the dream. Sometimes you’re just along for the ride and sometimes you can manipulate the dream. When I can, I fly. Talk about “a dream come true.” The other night I chased dragonflies through the pines. A little before that I was “watching TV” when I realized I was dreaming. Since I couldn’t fly inside the house, I pushed myself off the couch into the air and floated around the room.

Being well rested and avoiding caffeine and medications are important to the production of lucid dreams. You also need to recognize a dream. Most people experience clues that indicate dreaming. For me, light switches failing to work is often a clue. This also triggers a feeling that something bad is about to happen. But only while dreaming. When I’m awake, I just know the electricity is off.

I have a test to tell if I’m dreaming. Pinching myself doesn’t work for me but jumping does. In real life, I can’t jump very high. So, if I jump and touch the ceiling, or a low hanging branch, or if I seem to hang in the air, I know it’s a dream. And the fun begins.

Sleep Paralysis can be extremely disconcerting. Here, you wake up from the dream state but remain paralyzed. You’re normally paralyzed from the neck down during dreams to keep you from acting out and hurting yourself, but it’s supposed to end as dreaming ends. When it doesn’t, you lie there wide awake but unable to move or call out. Fortunately, my sleep paralysis lasts only a few seconds. Some attacks can last for half an hour or more.

A variant type of sleep paralysis can be much more terrifying, though. You wake up and believe yourself to be “fully” awake, but you remain paralyzed and certain dream-like phenomena continue occurring. There’s often an intense feeling of a malevolent presence in the room. It may be invisible or appear only as a shadow.

My most terrifying event of this nature occurred when I awoke and saw my wife lying next to me completely covered with the sheet. I knew something was wrong. The sheet clung to the body beneath it, which was far more skeletal than my wife. As I was about to speak, the figure turned its head toward me beneath the sheet. The linen cloth clung tightly across deep-socketed eyes. The mouth was open and the sheet fluttered as the being breathed. I thought I screamed, but otherwise I couldn’t move. The figure under the sheet shifted toward me in a slow scootch. I felt clearly that it was a ghost or a demon.

I tried to throw up my arm to block the thing and a cold hand underneath the sheet grabbed my wrist in a violent grasp. Again, I screamed, but then awareness came. This had to be sleep paralysis, which I’d had before, although never so frightfully. Struggling against sleep paralysis is counterproductive. The more you try to break free, the tighter it grips. The best solution is to relax. I did, and the hand let go and the figure deflated and disappeared. I didn’t need to write a story to remember this experience.

Sleep paralysis is a possible explanation for a variety of ghost and demonic experiences, as well as some out-of-body and alien abduction scenarios. I believe it. If I’d had that encounter a century ago, or with no knowledge of sleep paralysis, I almost certainly would have blamed the supernatural.

The term “narcolepsy” means sleep attack. The individual occasionally falls asleep without warning during normal daytime activities such as eating or talking with friends. This uncontrollable sleep is usually REM related and the person has a dream, though it lasts only a few moments.

Two symptoms of narcolepsy are hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. These are brief, vivid, dream-like experiences that occur while one is falling asleep (gogic) or waking up (pompic). My sheet/ghost experience might be described as a hypnopompic experience. Another memorable one that I had was of a train blasting its whistle while it rolled through one window of my bedroom and out the other.

Many people enjoy a good scare during Halloween season. For me, it can be as simple as going to sleep. Have a great Halloween, and… pleasant dreams!

Charles Gramlich writes from the piney woods of south Louisiana. He has authored the Talera fantasy series and the SF novel Under the Ember Star. His stories have been collected in Bitter Steel, Midnight in Rosary, and In the Language of Scorpions. He also writes westerns as Tyler Boone. His most recent releases, under his own name, are Farhaven & Other Stories, a collection of kid’s tales, and Out of Dreams: Nightmares, which are retellings of some of his most memorable nightmares in story form. Charles’s books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or through the author.

I’ve been blessed my entire life with nightmares. I love them. My wife has strict instructions ‘not’ to wake me up if she thinks I’m having a bad dream, no matter how terrified I might seem. From the first, many of my dreams had strong “story telling” elements to them. Some made for complete tales with beginnings, middles, and ends. All I had to do to make them into stories was write them down the way they’d occurred. This collection features retellings of some of my more darkly fantastic dreams. Most are nightmarish, but not all. Some are just strange. Many of these tales have been published elsewhere but have never appeared together before. Each has brought me joy, even if they brought me terror first! I hope you’ll like them.