Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Bela Lugosi: From Jesus Christ to Dracula

(Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ)

Before he became indelibly inked with the image of Dracula, Bela Lugosi worked as a theater actor in Hungary. He performed with various repertory companies from 1902 until 1913, when he was accepted into the National Theater in Budapest. He stayed with the company until 1919.

According to Lugosi, one of his most memorable and important roles was portraying Jesus Christ in the 1916 production of The Passion Play in Debrecen, Hungary. He was so taken with his resemblance to the traditional image of Christ that he had several photographs taken which still survive today.

In 1927, Lugosi appeared as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of Dracula. His performance and interpretation of the character were so captivating that he was hired to reprise the role in the 1931 Universal movie a few years later. The movie made him a star, and he was forever typecast as a horror icon, even though he would have preferred to move on to other roles.

Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 in Los Angeles, California and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. His iconic portrayal of Count Dracula lives on in the minds and hearts of all of his fans. Visit his official website: http://www.belalugosi.com.

Dawn Pisturino

April 11, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

The Dentist and Other Poems

Artwork by John Federis

(Warning! If you hate going to the dentist, don’t read this poem!)

The Dentist

by Dawn Pisturino

Now I’ve got you in my chair,

You’re not going anywhere.

So open wide, let me in,

And let the painful games begin!

See that molar on the right?

It’s in the socket way too tight.

Here’s my plier. Please don’t move.

I’ll pry that sucker from its groove!

Look, there’s a cavity over there.

My drill’s all ready. Please don’t stare!

My hands are shaking, can’t you see?

I need your confidence in me.

Oops! The blood is squirting out.

I didn’t mean to make you shout!

Your bloody tongue is in my hand.

Sit down! Don’t even try to stand!

Come back! I need to suture in—-

Oh well, another toothless grin.

February 6, 2012

Published in the April 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Artwork by Ken Lamug
Poem by Dawn Pisturino

CHELSEA HAD A LITTLE LAMB

Chelsea had a little lamb,

Its fleece was black as soot. 

And everywhere that Chelsea went,

That lamb was underfoot.

It followed her to school until

The cooking class went wild

And served that lamb with mint and dill,

One chop for every child!

October 6, 2011

Published in the December 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Artwork by Jason Smith

Poem by Dawn Pisturino

DIRTY DONALD

Dirty Donald!

His hair, full of lice,

Grows down to his shoulders,

A haven for mice. 

His teeth are all rotten,

Mildewed and black,

His tongue is so long,

He could pass for a yak. 

His breath stinks of corpses

Dug fresh from their graves,

A delicate morsel

He constantly craves. 

He glares at the ravens,

Surrounding his head,

With murderous eyes,

Pronouncing them dead. 

Then yanks out their feathers

And nibbles their toes,

Lining them up

In neat little rows. 

His clothes are so tattered,

The buzzards all say,

“What a fine looking fellow!

Let’s eat him today!” 

July 3, 2011 

Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree, July 17, 2011.  

Published in the August 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.  

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Illustration by Job van Gelder

Poem by Dawn Pisturino

Down in the Graveyard

Down in the graveyard by the old oak tree

Roamed an old mother zombie and her little zombies three.

“Fresh meat!” cried the mother. “Tastes sweet!” cried the three.

And they ripped out the intestines from the caretaker, Lee.

Down in the graveyard by the mausoleum door

Lived an old mother werewolf and her little wolfies four.

“Fresh fat!” howled the mother. “Tastes great!” howled the four.

And they tore into the belly of the visitor, Lenore.

Down in the graveyard by the rusty old gate

Hung an old mother vampire and her little vampies eight.

“Fresh blood!” squeaked the mother. “Tastes good!” squeaked the eight.

And they sank their greedy fangs into the gravedigger, Nate.

Published in the September 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

12 Comments »

Reprise: Halloween Treat

The Van Emmerick house was the most feared house in the neighborhood. For ten-year-old Tommy James, it was a dark reminder of things long ago and best forgotten; a relic of the past, old and mysterious, built by people who had lived and died many decades before he was born. He was curious about the past; fascinated with history; and the more he became aware of the house, the more he longed to explore its hidden secrets.

Tommy walked by the old Van Emmerick place twice a day, before and after school. Over the years, he had noticed many interesting details about the house. In the morning, when the sun shone full against the front of the house, two arched windows marking the second story seemed to smile at him with a “good morning!” kind of smile. The dark green paint didn’t seem so faded and cracked. The old stone porch, rudely assembled from local rocks, didn’t seem so forbidding and uninviting. The big plate glass window with the frilly white curtains seemed to sparkle in the morning light.

But in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, making shadows lengthen across the old frame house, the peaked roof with the two small smoke stacks and faded red shingles gave the barn-like appearance of the house a more sinister expression. The entire structure seemed foreign and out of place. The old Victorian ornamentation, placed squarely between the two arched windows, reminded him of death and wrinkled old ladies dressed in black. The tall wrought-iron fence, set in more local rock, surrounded the property with deadly grace, effectively keeping out the curious and unwanted.

Tommy shivered, made the sign of the cross as he always did, and hurried home as fast as he could.

~

“The old Van Emmerick house, you say? Why, sure, I know all about it,” his grandfather told him one crisp afternoon in October. They were raking leaves in his own backyard while his mother prepared dinner in the kitchen. His father was still at work, and his oldest sister had left for her ballet lesson.

His grandfather had lived in Blakeville his entire life and knew a lot about the history of the town.

“Peter Van Emmerick built that house in 1880,” he recalled. “Folks around here have always called it a monstrosity. The architecture isn’t right — doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town. But Peter, being Dutch, was homesick for his own country and built the house to remind him of home. He had six children in that house by two different wives. It’s never been empty, that’s for sure. Old Amy Van Emmerick lives there now. Inherited the house from her mother. As far as I know, she’s the last of ’em. They gradually died out around here, as all old families do. The cemetery is filled with their headstones. I’ll take you there sometime to see the old graves. Would you like that, Tommy? Halloween’s coming up!”

“Sure, Gramps, any time. You know how much I like history.” But privately, Tommy wasn’t so sure. The idea of visiting a cemetery for fun, especially on Halloween, gave him the creeps.

“That’s my boy. Someday, you’ll be teaching history at the high school, just like your old granddad.” His grandfather winked at him, and Tommy stopped raking.

“Say, Gramps, how come nobody ever sees Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, how do you know she’s still alive? She could’ve died and nobody would even know it!”

“Oh, they’d know it, alright. She has a woman who comes in once a week to clean the place up and run errands for her. Selma Baintree — that’s the woman’s name. I ran into her not too long ago, and she told me that the old lady’s not doing too well, getting more frail as time goes by. It’s just a matter of time before the house will be empty, she said.”

“I’m sorry. How old is Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, you must’ve known her, Gramps!”

Yep, that’s right, Tommy. She was my first love.”

Tommy blushed. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather ever being young enough to have a first love. “Why didn’t you marry her, Gramps?”

His grandfather stopped raking and looked at him with a faraway expression on his face. “Oh, I don’t know. The Great War started, and I went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Getting married wasn’t on my mind back then. And Miss Amy went off to school in Chicago. I heard later that she was engaged to a young man from an old Chicago family, but he was killed at Dunkirk. She must’ve loved him very deeply because she came home to take care of her mother after her father died and never got involved with anybody again. She hardly left the house after that and became a regular recluse. Poor Miss Amy! She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. The biggest blue eyes, and long golden hair like spun flax. She’d beat out the likes of Paris Hilton any day of the week!”

Tommy laughed, then stopped, when a sudden thought struck him. “Hey, Gramps, I just had an idea. Why don’t you go visit Miss Amy before she dies? I bet she’d like that a lot!”

His grandfather stroked his white-whiskered chin thoughtfully. “You know, Tommy, I never really thought about it. It seems like an invasion of the old lady’s privacy. She probably wouldn’t even know me after all these years!”

“Aw, I bet she would. She’s probably lonely shut up in that old place.”

“Maybe so,” his grandfather said. “You might just be right.”

~

“Hey, Tommy, watch this!”

Butch Abernathy pulled an egg out of his trick-or-treat bag and hurled it against the front of the old Van Emmerick house. “That’ll wake up the dead,” he shouted with glee.

The two boys hung onto the wrought-iron fence with sticky fingers, peering through the bars with eager eyes, their hearts racing with excitement. But no lights appeared. The house stared at them with black, lifeless eyes, its silhouette rising silent and dark against the cloudy night sky.

“Let’s go,” Tommy whispered. “It gives me the creeps.”

“What’re you whispering for?” asked Butch. “The fun has just begun.” He rummaged through his trick-or-treat bag and pulled out a large rock.

“No!” cried Tommy, grabbing at Butch’s arm. But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. His heart pounded in his chest until it hurt.

“I’m outta here!” Butch shouted; and grabbing his trick-or-treat bag, he bolted down the sidewalk.

Tommy stood alone on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. I never should have come here, he thought. My parents are going to kill me. And Gramps will be so disappointed . . . He couldn’t bear to disappoint his grandfather. But if he left now, who would know? Butch would never tell.

I’m going home, he thought; but as he turned to leave, the wrought-iron gate suddenly creaked open, and Tommy screamed. He ran as fast as he could to the corner, then stopped and looked back. The street was silent and deserted except for an old stray cat. A few jack-o-lanterns grinned brightly in the darkness, but the trick-or-treaters had left long ago, hurrying home before the rain started. A strong gust of wind hurled itself against him, kicking up dead leaves and dirt into his face. Coughing and sputtering, he wiped the dirt out of his eyes and headed down the sidewalk.

The old wrought-iron gate stood open before him, an invitation too tempting to resist. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He would apologize to the old lady and take his punishment like a man.

Bracing himself, he walked slowly up the weed-infested sidewalk toward the old stone stairs. There was nothing but blackness at the top of those stairs, blackness so deep and dark, it was like a giant mouth waiting to engulf him and swallow him whole. Trembling with fear, he wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could to the nearest, brightest light. But he knew in his heart that he could not face his grandfather as long as the broken window went unpunished.

Heart pounding, he trudged up the stone stairs, peering into the blackness. As he stepped onto the porch, the moon suddenly peeked out from behind a cloud, throwing a pale, silvery beam of light into the darkness and revealing a solid oak door. He raised his hand to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened with a slow, painful groan.

Tommy gasped, and his heart pounded in his ears. Breathing heavily, he stepped over the threshold, hanging onto the door for dear life. He stood still for a moment, listening hard, and waited for something to happen. But nothing did.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was in a large foyer. He rapped his knuckles against the door and shouted, “Miss Amy, are you here?”

Absolute silence filled his ears except for the ticking of an old clock. He pushed the door open wider and stepped cautiously into the room. He felt for a light switch on the wall but found none. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight, he berated himself angrily.

Tommy crossed the old wooden floor and opened a set of double doors to his right. The sweet scent of roses filled the air. Outside, the wind began to howl, and raindrops splattered against the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. Tommy thought he could make out the curved outline of an old Victorian sofa under the window and the globe-like shade of an old lamp next to it. Groping his way carefully in the darkness, he was about to reach out for the lamp when a loud clap of thunder split the air, making him jump, and a bright flash of lightning lit up the sofa through the gauzy white curtains.

A figure dressed in white lay on the sofa, its long white hair spread neatly over a pillow, the wrinkled old face glowing white in the lightning flash, the large, faded blue eyes open and staring at him. The mouth hung open wide, revealing a cavernous blackness, and Tommy waited for the scream that would surely come, but no sound issued forth between those dark, thin lips. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast, like a corpse, the fingernails long and blue. It was the most horrible thing that Tommy had ever seen in his life, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as he turned and raced for the double doors, tripping over an old ottoman in his path.

But when he looked up, something blocked his exit, a tall figure dressed in white, reaching out for him with long, clawed fingers . . .

When Tommy woke up the lights were on, and his grandfather was cradling him in his arms. “It’s okay, Tommy, it’s okay.”

“It was you!”

“Yes, it was me,” his grandfather said; “And old Miss Amy. I went to visit her, as you suggested, and we cooked up this little Halloween treat for you! Here, I want you to meet her!”

He helped Tommy to his feet, remarking on the wonderful acting job Miss Amy had done. And that make-up! Could anybody else have done a better job?

But when they leaned over the sofa to tell her it was all over, and she could stop playing around now, his grandfather suddenly became silent and felt for a pulse in the old lady’s wrist. Tommy stared, horrified, into those dead blue eyes and the slack, open mouth, and the scream rose up from his tightening throat . . .

Dawn Pisturino

2009

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Make it scary!

“This is Halloween,” performed by Marilyn Manson, from the Tim Burton movie, Nightmare Before Christmas.

5 Comments »

Reprise: The Ethereal World of Sir Simon Marsden

Sir Simon Marsden (1948-2012) was known as an ethereal British photographer who transported the viewer to a dark and phantasmic world with his eerie photographs. Introduced by his father at a young age to books and stories about the supernatural, Marsden developed a keen interest in the paranormal. He even grew up in two English manors that were allegedly haunted, Panton Hall and Thorpe Hall. Thorpe Hall, in particular, housed the “Green Lady,” the ghost of a woman who committed suicide in the 1600s.

Marsden became a fan of such writers as Arthur Machen, M.R. James, and Edgar Allen Poe. At the age of 21, he received his first camera and embarked on a lifelong love affair with photography. He traveled throughout Britain, France, and the United States, perfecting his signature style, and became known for his haunting images of haunted sites.

A number of books were published featuring his photographs, and his work was exhibited throughout Britain and elsewhere. He was a master in the use of infrared film and printing his own photographs, which gave him control over the quality of his work.

A staunch believer in the supernatural, Marsden described several paranormal encounters that he experienced at ancient haunted sites. At the Rollright Stones in Long Compton, Warwickshire, he was pushed by an invisible force, which knocked the camera out of his grasp. At Woodlawn House in County Gallway, he and director Jason Figgis heard the mournful wailing of a woman who could not be found anywhere on the premises.

Marsden became 4th Baronet in 1997. His collection can be viewed here:

http://www.marsdenarchive.com.

Dawn Pisturino

August 2017

Published in the Autumn 2017 issue of Psychic Magic e-zine.

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Sir Simon Marsden.
3 Comments »

The Triduum of All Hallows’ Eve

In the Celtic world, the end of October and beginning of November were set aside for a great feast every year to celebrate the end of the summer (or Samhain) and the beginning of winter. People played games and told stories about great Celtic heroes and the gods and goddesses of Celtic lore.

The festival also marked the thinning of the veil between this world and the Other World. The spirits of the dead could visit this world, and the living could visit the land of the dead.

Samhain was so special, in fact, the normal laws of the universe did not apply. Fairies left their underground homes, and ordinary humans were subjected to fantastic dreams and adventures (often involving fairies). Families called on the spirits of dead ancestors to visit them. And the spirits who responded to their calls were often granted special powers. Celtic monsters prowled the earth with such ferocity that even the gods and goddesses were no match for them. In Ireland, Aillen mac Midna re-enacted his annual ritual and burned the court of Tara to ashes.

Bonfires blazed on the hilltops, lighting up the shortening nights. These bonfires were so significant that their ashes were used in magical charms to ward off illness and disease.

Today, Samhain is celebrated as Halloween on October 31st. The word “Halloween” actually means All Hallows’ Eve, or the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated in the Christian community on November 1st. This special day is set aside to honor the souls and memories of martyrs and saints. November 2nd is known as All Souls’ Day (or Dia de Los Muertos),when Christians pray for the souls of their dearly departed. These three days are known collectively as the Triduum of All Hallows’ Eve (or Hallowtide).

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Roke, Sweden, celebrating All Saints’ Day. Photo by David Castor.

Remember: the custom of carving and lighting turnips, pumpkins, and other gourds was meant to ward off the evil spirits that might visit on Halloween. Halloween is also a time to dress up and make merry! In the United States, it marks the beginning of the holiday season that runs through New Year’s Day. So eat, drink, and be merry!

Dawn Pisturino

October 26, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

The Screaming Skull and Other Poems

THE SCREAMING SKULL

by Dawn Pisturino

The skull screams when the moon is bright,

Warning of evil a-foot in the night,

Calling to phantoms hidden from sight,

Keeping them all at bay.

Shrieking aloud when the zombies fight,

It glows in the darkness, waking with fright,

Shivering children, crying for light,

Fearful ’til break of day.

High on a shelf, when the bats take flight,

The dead skull cries with all its might,

Disrupting dreams, however slight,

Sending them all away.

September 20, 2011

THE GHOST

by Dawn Pisturino

Creeping footfalls on the stair warn me that a ghost is there.

Shivering in my bed with fright, the door creaks open . . .

I TOLD YOU HE WAS REAL!

(good night)

January 5, 2012

THE FAIRIES

by Dawn Pisturino

Deep within the forest,

Inside a magic ring,

Fairy lads pluck at their harps

While fairy maidens sing.

Queen Mab, arrayed in starlight,

Sits upon her chair,

Plotting all the dirty tricks

No other folk would dare.

Last spring they stole poor Margaret,

Sound asleep in bed.

They laid her in the Irish Sea

With stones beneath her head.

The fishes kept close vigil,

Traditional at wakes.

“Too bad,” remarked a hungry shark.

A lovely corpse she makes!”

January 19, 2012

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 All Poems Published on Danse Macabre du Jour, October 30, 2013.

All poems copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

6 Comments »

Four Twisted Limericks

By Dawn Pisturino. Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree July 16, 2011. Published in the August 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.
By Dawn Pisturino. Published in the September 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

By Dawn Pisturino. Published on Underneath the Juniper Tree July 31, 2011. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

Graphic by Rebekah Joy Plett.

The Man in Galloway Bay

A man lost in Galloway Bay,

Cried out in a very loud bray,

“Please come rescue me, hungry sharks can’t agree,

Am I breakfast or dinner entree?”

By Dawn Pisturino. Published July 11, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Reprise: Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

by Dawn Pisturino

My mother, having squandered a considerable fortune, resolved to marry a wealthy man. Several candidates appeared — mostly middle-aged men of diminished means eager to marry a wealthy widow. Since my mother wore her desperation as flamboyantly as a pair of designer blue jeans, she soon found herself without any prospects at all.

When the bank foreclosed on our estate in upstate New York, my mother’s tawny tresses, once stylish and shiny, seemed to wilt around her shoulders. Her lively blue eyes clouded over with despair. And in one final act of desperation, she contacted a distant cousin residing in Beverly Hills, California.

The news startled me. This cousin, I had heard, was so rich, his name regularly topped the lists of the world’s richest people. He refused to have his photo taken or to make public appearances, for he had been born with an unnatural blue beard that made him look so ugly and weird, most women and children ran away from him in fright.

“He wants to marry me,” my mother announced over breakfast one morning.

My older sister, Charmaine, exchanged terrified glances with me. The idea of our mother marrying this ugly, disfigured, middle-aged man repulsed us. But more importantly, dark rumors circulated the newspapers and celebrity gossip shows that Bluebeard, as he was dubbed, had been married several times before, and the authorities could find no traces of his former wives.

In spite of our objections, my mother booked three airline tickets to California. We were to meet Bluebeard at the dock in Marina Del Rey and accompany him on a cruise to Catalina Island aboard his luxury yacht. This should have thrilled my sister and I, but a deep foreboding troubled us both.

And what a strange and terrible creature greeted us at the dock! His eyes glittering with cruel amusement, Bluebeard scooped each of us up in his big, burly arms, brushing our tender checks with his coarse blue beard. His graying, shaggy brown hair contrasted sharply with his deeply-tanned face, giving him the appearance of being half-man and half-beast. Even his teeth seemed unusually long and sharp when he opened his mouth in a loud guffaw and led us up the ramp onto his huge, expensive yacht.

My sister and I cringed with fear, but my mother’s face glowed with youth and excitement. How could we tell her how frightened we were? She would never listen.

During the day, while my mother hung out with Bluebeard, my sister and I soaked up the sun in our colorful bikinis, flipping through fashion magazines and painting our nails. At night we savored fresh lobster tails, dripping with butter, and watched the stars twinkle overhead like millions of Tiffany diamonds spilled across a black velvet sky. Upstate New York seemed far away then, and since nothing sinister had happened, our fears began to fade away.

Two weeks later, relaxed and tanned, my mother married Bluebeard under a billowy white awning at Marina Del Rey. My sister and I were the only guests.

That should have told me something, but I no longer cared about idle gossip or our former life in upstate New York.

I had become entranced with Bluebeard’s house in Beverly Hills, which loomed against the sunny blue sky like a great castle, surrounded by ornamental gardens reminiscent of the great castles of Europe. I felt like a princess, my long yellow hair braided in a single braid and adorned with fresh roses from the garden. I stood for hours before the full-length mirror in my bedroom, applying mascara to my large blue eyes, and modeling dozens of dresses purchased from the fancy boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

One snap of my fingers brought servants that catered to my every need and desire. I hugged myself over and over again, not daring to believe it was true: I was sixteen, beautiful, desirable, and rich.

“Isn’t it fabulous, Jeanette,” Charmaine exclaimed one day, throwing herself across my pink-ruffled bed. “I’m in love, I’m in love!”

Her sing-song voice irritated me, and I pouted in response. “Beverly Hills is full of eligible young men. Robbie Ray offered to give me tennis lessons.”

“That creep! You know what? When Mom and Mr. Moneybags leave for France, we’ll throw a big party. You’ll find your Prince Charming, for sure.”

My face glowed in anticipation. After all, didn’t a princess need a handsome young prince?

A few days later, my mother and Bluebeard boarded an airplane for France.

“The servants will take good care of you,” my mother said at the airport. Bluebeard stepped forward, a great ring of keys dangling from his finger. He handed them to Charmaine and explained which key went to which room.

“But this one,” he told her, indicating a small gold key, “unlocks the closet door in the wine cellar. Explore any room in the house that you like, but never, ever go into the closet in the wine cellar. If you do, something terrible is bound to happen.”

My mother gasped. Charmaine’s face turned a ghostly white. I stared at Bluebeard, chilled by the taunting tone in his voice. He turned his gaze on me, and a slow, sinister smile spread across his face. “You would do well, Jeanette, to remember the story of Pandora’s box.”

I watched my mother walk away with this monster, and my heart cried out: Don’t go! Don’t go! But it was too late. My mother was gone.

Charmaine assuaged her fear by working on plans for a party. I suggested that we host a fancy dress ball, and she agreed. Invitations were sent, a caterer engaged, decorations put up, and the house cleaned from top to bottom by the housekeeping staff. All we needed were costumes.

Charmaine pulled out Bluebeard’s key ring and found the key to the attic. Inside a great leather trunk, we found long silk dresses and big fancy hats. Excitement overcame our fears. Our party would be the hit of the year!

The ballroom gleamed with color and light on the night of the ball. We threw open the French doors, letting in the moonlight and soft summer breezes. The sweet scent of roses perfumed the air.

Our masked guests danced beneath the fire of crystal chandeliers, their colorful figures reflected in numerous mirrors lining the walls. Couples slipped away to explore the house, admiring the exquisite artwork and collectibles from around the world. Charmaine and I puffed up with pride, convinced that we had pulled off a successful social coup.

“Everyone is so impressed,” Charmaine said. “If such wonderful treasures can be found openly around the house, how much more special must be the treasures locked up in the closet in the wine cellar?”

I looked at her in horror. “Don’t do it, Charmaine. Bluebeard warned us not to open that door.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We want to keep our guests impressed, don’t we?”

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we crept downstairs into the murky depths of the wine cellar, urging our guests to follow behind. With trembling hands, Charmaine unlocked the door to the forbidden room, ignoring Bluebeard’s warning. A powerful stench of rotting flesh greeted us as she pulled back the door. The floor was sticky with slime. Charmaine gasped, dropping the flashlight at her feet. I picked it up and shone its light around the room. Piled up against the wall were the dead and decaying bodies of several women. Bluebeard’s missing wives!

Charmaine fainted. The guests screamed and scrambled up the stairs. I hurried behind them to call the police.

When my mother and Bluebeard returned home several days later, Bluebeard glared at me and said, “Why so nervous, Jeanette? And you, Charmaine — your face is so white. What have you two been up to in our absence?”

Charmaine handed him the ring of keys, her hand trembling so much, she nearly dropped them.

Suspicion clouded Bluebeard’s eyes. “You’ve been in the closet!” he roared. “Now, you will join the rest of my victims! He grabbed Charmaine by the hair and dragged her across the floor to the kitchen. My mother fainted.

I ran behind, beating Bluebeard’s back with my fists. Angrily, he shoved me away. I fell to the floor, hitting my head on the hard ceramic tile. Just as Bluebeard was about to slit my sister’s throat with a long, sharp knife, Inspector Jack Barnabas and several policemen jumped out of the walk-in pantry. “Drop it, Bluebeard! You’re under arrest.”

Bluebeard made a dash for the door. Bullets rang through the kitchen, bringing him down. A pool of blood oozed across the floor. My sister screamed and threw herself into the arms of Inspector Barnabas.

The ogre of Beverly Hills was dead. Since he had no other heirs, my mother inherited his vast fortune. She shut up the house, paid off the mortgage on our estate in upstate New York, and threw herself into planning a huge wedding for my sister, Charmaine.

Six months later, I walked down the aisle in a rose-colored chiffon gown, carrying a bouquet of pink roses. Charmaine followed behind in a white designer wedding dress. Inspector Jack Barnabas, looking uncomfortable in a black tuxedo, waited impatiently for her at the altar.

Jack and Charmaine lived happily ever after, making me an aunt three times over.

Dawn Pisturino

March 6, 2013

Copyright 2013-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

6 Comments »

Pumpkins of Halloween Past

All Photos by Dawn Pisturino.

I have always loved Halloween.

When I was a small child, we lived in rural Indiana, and the Halloween season was always somehow perfect. After the hot, humid summer, the weather cooled down, and Halloween often brought rain. The leaves on the maple trees burned bright red, and I remember raking leaves and jumping into the piles, laughing, with my younger brother. I can still smell the pungent odor of burning leaves.

Halloween meant going to the farmer’s stand to buy fresh apples and pumpkins. It meant fresh apple cider, apple pie, hot chocolate, and donuts. My best friend always had a Halloween party down in her basement, where we dunked for apples and played games.

Then there were the tricks-or-treats!

One of my fondest memories of my brother, who died of melanoma when he was turning forty, is going trick-or-treating with my parents. When he was only about five years old, we tramped around the neighborhood in old sheets, carrying pillow cases for our treat bags. My brother dragged his on the ground until it got a hole in it and all the candy fell out. He cried like a baby, and I grumbled because I had to share my candy with him. Every time I watch the Peanuts special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, I think about my brother. Every time Charlie Brown complains, “I got a rock,” it makes me laugh and cry at the same time because I can still see my brother dragging that pillow case on the ground.

My husband and I still carve pumpkins every year and build a bonfire, if the weather permits. One year, I waited too long to buy pumpkins, and all I could find were blue pumpkins. But, see how pretty!

A few years ago, I spent Halloween with my daughter and her boyfriend in L.A. We had great fun watching scary movies, carving pumpkins, and eating homemade goodies.

It took a lot of work to carve these!
My husband’s Halloween bonfire.

Here’s to good times and great memories!

Dawn Pisturino

October 7, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

20 Comments »

The Seance: A Short Story

The heavy iron gates of Bellemont Cemetery stood open like silent sentries, daring her to enter. Lila hesitated, fearful that once she passed through those gates, they would close behind her, trapping her in a cold, dark, colorless place forever. Thick brick walls enclosed the historic cemetery on all sides, walls much too high to climb if she became trapped. She forced herself to close her eyes and take a deep breath, squelching the rising wave of panic inside her. Then, heart pounding, she hurried through the ominous gates and breathed a sigh of relief when they remained open behind her.

A thick line of trees leaned wearily against the walls, their branches swaying in the cold wind. All around her, the trees were alive with sound: raindrops drip, dripping off rain-soaked leaves onto the rich, mossy soil below; a merry chorus of tiny birds chattering in the treetops, flitting here, then there, delighting in their wet, dewy bower. Overhead, the sky was heavy with white and gray clouds moving rapidly with the wind. More rain threatened to fall. But suddenly, long beams of shimmering sunlight broke through the clouds, caressing the earth with wraith-like fingers, providing a glimpse of heaven, and the possibility of angels breaking into song. Raindrops glistened like silver beads of light in the trees; the last of the autumn leaves burst into fiery red and gold flame; and she was alone, blissfully alone, in a magical world.

Lila breathed in the pure, rain-washed air; inhaled the heavy odor of decaying leaves; the spicy scents of cedar and pine; and the delicate perfume of roses, pink ones and black ones, which she carried in a large bouquet in her hands. She held them to her nose, luxuriating in the sweet aroma, and felt the wetness of raindrops on their velvety petals.

A damp chill rose up from the earth, making her shiver, and she pulled her heavy, black velvet cloak closer around her. The heels of her black leather boots echoed on the pavement. The skirt of her long, black velvet dress clung to her with dampness. But she didn’t care — she was nearly there.

At a fork in the path, she stopped. Gingerly, she stuck one booted foot onto the rain-soaked autumn grass, turned stubby and brown. But the ground held firm, so she continued through the grass, feeling the cold dampness penetrate into her feet.

She walked among the ancient headstones with care, noting with sadness how they leaned and crumbled in the shadows, their weathered faces obliterated over time, their stories forever silenced, forgotten, erased from the world. But a few remained to tell their tales: Baby Emma, dead of pneumonia after two days of life in 1842; Mary Whitehead, Beloved Wife and Mother, died age 27 in childbirth, May She Rest in Peace; Harold Whitby, who died a local hero in the Civil War; and Hope Blaisdale, born 1767, Asleep in the Arms of Jesus since 1857.

So many lives, come and gone; so many hopes and dreams passed away; so many joys and sorrows extinguished forever; so many years gone by. Both the hardness and frailty of life were represented in this place, and she was overcome, once again, with the stark realization of life’s shortness and the finality of death.

She found what she wanted in the newer section of the cemetery, a gentle, grassy slope once sparsely populated. But ten years had witnessed the gradual appearance of many smooth, cleanly-engraved marble headstones, and the open, park-like feel of this section was disappearing. Many of the more recent headstones were simple oblong markers embedded in the soil, flush with the earth, to make it more convenient for the mowers. They lacked the character and history of the older stones. But here they were, and here they would stay, until decades from now they, too, would appear weathered and worn, a testament to the passage of Time.

She had insisted on a more enduring headstone to honor the memory of her dead husband. She stood before it now, examining the clean whiteness of the weeping angel’s marble arms flung mournfully over the shiny, black marble headstone where her husband’s vital statistics were deeply engraved. It was not a new idea. The Victorians had doted on the image of weeping grief. She had borrowed the idea from William Wetmore Story, an American artist who sculpted the original monument for himself and his wife in 1894. It now stood in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, where they were buried. Lila had kept most of the original design but paid the sculptor to sculpt her own image onto the angel’s face — and it was her own grief represented in the statue.

She knelt before the marble monument and placed the pink and black roses in the bronze vase embedded in the marble base. Pink for everlasting love; black for everlasting death. It was an annual ritual which had consumed her life for the last ten years. She uncovered her head, feeling the damp, misty air all around her, and traced the carved letters of her husband’s name with one gloved finger.

“Happy birthday, Jonathan,” she said softly, and tears filled her eyes. With loving hands, she brushed away a few dead leaves clinging stubbornly to the cold, wet marble. Ten years ago, she had vowed to keep his memory pristine and shining. She would not allow him to be forever silenced.

The dull ache of her everyday grief filled the empty loneliness of her life, reminding her listless spirit that she was still very much alive and obligated to remain so until either God or the devil decided otherwise; but today, on the most special day of her year, when the ritual of her grief found its most sublime expression, she needed no reminder of the separation that lay between herself and her husband. The hardness of the marble headstone felt all too real beneath her fingers; the shortness of his precious life felt all too bitter in her heart:

Jonathan Harkins

Born October 31, 1952

Died June 21, 1997

Beloved Husband, Lover, and Friend

She leaned over and kissed the cold, hard stone, unmindful of the clinging dampness or the tears streaming down her face.

“Tonight,” she said hopefully, and believed it in her heart.

* * *

At nine o’clock, when she felt certain there would be no more Halloween revelers at the front door, she stoked up the fire in the fireplace, turned down the lights, and placed a small, round mahogany table in front of the fire. She covered the table with a large square of deep purple velvet cloth and set out the wooden Ouija board and plastic planchette. She placed a small silver candelabra on the table next to the Ouija board, filled the candleholders with pink and black candles, and carefully lit each one. The effect was charmingly romantic, definitely Gothic, in keeping with her annual birthday ritual; and she said a silent prayer, hoping that this would be the year when Jonathan’s promise would come true. Then she changed into a long, black velvet gown embroidered with tiny silver stars and waited for her guests to arrive.

It wasn’t long before she heard a brisk knock on the front door, and she opened it with a large smile to admit two women of varying ages and costumes. They removed their coats, handing them to their hostess, and looked around the darkened room in expectation.

“How charming!” exclaimed a young woman with blazing red hair and large, green eyes dressed in a long-sleeved, forest green gown with red embroidery on the tight bodice. The material clung to her slender figure, emphasizing her plump breasts. “Lila, you’ve absolutely outdone yourself!” She leaned up and kissed her hostess on the cheek.

Lila crossed her fingers. “This year, Maureen; it has to be this year!”

“We’ll do our best, my dear.” She turned to her companion. “This is Madame Angeline, our guest psychic, just arrived from Boston, Massachusetts. Her reputation is impeccable!”

The older woman with platinum blonde hair and faded violet eyes was dressed in a long-sleeved, lavender-colored gown adorned with vintage cream-colored lace at the wrists and throat. An old ivory cameo was pinned to the starched, Victorian-style high collar, and Lila wondered how the woman could breathe. She stretched out her hand, and the woman took it gently, turning it over to examine her palm.

“Madame Angeline sees many things, my dear,” she said with a slight French accent. “But for you, I see a long, happy life — if you will allow it to be.”

Lila removed her hand from the old woman’s grasp. “Thank you, Madame,” she said nervously. “We will see tonight if that prophesy comes true or not.”

Madame Angeline shrugged. “A cup of hot tea with cream would be lovely. The air is quite damp outside.”

“Certainly. And you, Maureen?”

“I’ll pass. I’m nervous enough without adding caffeine.”

“Then, I’ll be right back,” Lila said. “Here, the table is all ready. Please take your preferred seat, Madame.”

Merci.” The old woman seated herself in front of the Ouija board where she could easily reach the planchette. The chair opposite was left for Lila, and Maureen took the third chair to the side.

Lila returned shortly with a serving trolley bearing a large pot of black tea and a small, white birthday cake decorated with pink and black candles.

Madame Angeline observed the cake with a strange look in her eyes, but said nothing. Maureen smiled apologetically. “Lila, dear, you really must explain to Madame what this is all about.”

Lila poured cups of hot tea for herself and Madame Angeline and sat down in the empty chair. She took a few sips of the strong hot liquid and began:

“My husband, Jonathan, was a psychologist who became interested in the paranormal when he took on a young man with schizophrenic tendencies as a patient. This young man was a gifted artist who had visions of another world after death. He painted beautiful canvasses depicting a world full of light and angels and unearthly spirits. His paintings sold well, but the young man’s visions grew in frequency to the point where he could no longer function in the real world. He began to drink and use street drugs, and he finally sought counseling for his substance abuse.

“Jonathan took the young man under his wing, so to speak, and became convinced over time that the young man’s visions were real. He became obsessed with the idea of life after death, reading every book he could find on the subject.

“When Jonathan was diagnosed with brain cancer, we were both devastated. Right from the beginning, the doctors told us it was hopeless. We tried chemo and radiation, but nothing worked. We finally turned to hospice, and Jonathan died in this very house ten years ago.

“Before he died, however, he promised to come back on his birthday and prove to me that there is life after death. We chose a special number code that only he and I knew, and if that code was revealed during a seance or Ouija session, that would be his message to me that life after death is real and everlasting.

“It sounds crazy, I know, but I have celebrated his birthday and honored his death every year for the last ten years without fail. We have hired a different psychic or medium every year, to no avail. There has been nothing but silence from the grave. We were hoping that tonight would be different.”

She reached over and squeezed Maureen’s hand. “Maureen has been my loyal friend through all of this. She has been right here with me through all the disappointment and pain for the last ten years. He has to come tonight, Madame, he has to! I don’t know how much more of this I can stand!”

Madame Angeline listened to her gravely, then closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then she placed her fingers gently on the planchette.

“Place your fingers lightly on the planchette, and do not force it to move!” The two women complied. “Now, open your minds and hearts to the celestial realm and join me in calling on the spirit of Jonathan Harkins!”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest in anticipation. Please, God, let tonight be the night, she prayed silently.

Madam Angeline continued. “Jonathan Harkins, ten years ago, before you passed on to the other side, you made a promise to your wife, Lila, that you would send a message to her from the other side on the anniversary of your birthday if — and only if — you were able to do so. Please come to us tonight, on the anniversary of your forty-fifth birthday, and deliver that message!”

The fire crackled in the background, and the candles softly flickered. Outside, the wind howled gently against the windows. Then the soft patter of rain could be heard upon the roof. The lighted jack-o-lantern sitting on the hearth grinned a snaggle-toothed grin, and the odor of burning wax and pine logs filled the room. But the planchette did not move.

Once again, Madame Angeline took a deep breath, let it out, and continued. “I call upon all the spirits of Heaven and Hell to dissolve the veil between life and death, spirit and flesh, darkness and light, and allow the spirit of our beloved Jonathan Harkins to break on through to this material world on this holiest of nights, when the barriers between life and death are at their weakest, so that he may impart the message he promised to give to his beloved wife, Lila.”

Lila’s heart pounded in her chest, and a thin film of sweat dampened her brow. Her fingers trembled, but the planchette did not move. She looked nervously at Maureen and smiled faintly. Maureen smiled back reassuringly, her eyes glowing like green emeralds in the candlelight.

Once again, Madame Angeline closed her eyes, threw back her head, and said loudly, “I call upon the spirit of Jonathan Harkins to appear in this room and deliver the message he promised to give ten years ago!”

Lila and Maureen each held their breath as they waited for the planchette to begin moving idly across the board, slowly at first, then gathering speed. But instead of searching for alphabetical letters or numbers or touching upon the oui or the ja or even good-bye, the little plastic instrument sat there silently, mocking them both.

Lila stared at the planchette in disbelief. “It’s no good, my dear,” Madame Angeline said quietly. “Jonathan is not going to appear.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lila said, gripping the planchette tightly. “You didn’t try hard enough. In fact, you hardly tried at all.”

Madame Angeline reached for her hand across the table. “Remember what I said, cherie. You will have a long and happy life — IF YOU ALLOW IT. Ten years is a long time to wait. You are still young — only 42, am I right? Young enough to remarry — have a child, if you like. This obsession with grief is unhealthy. Life was meant for the living. For some unknown reason, Jonathan is not able to reach you from beyond the grave. That does not mean he’s lost to you forever or that he’s suffering in any way. It simply means that it’s not God’s will that he contact you. It’s time to let it go.”

“I can’t let it go, especially when he promised –“

“People make a lot of promises on their deathbeds, my dear; sometimes, not very wise ones.” Madame Angeline stood up and prepared to leave. “If you will bring my coat, Lila, I will say good-night to you.”

Lila stared at the little plastic planchette held tightly in her hand. Ten years of grief and frustrated hope burned inside of her, and she wanted to scream. She squeezed the planchette until the plastic cracked in her hand, and she threw it on the floor in disgust. Then she grabbed the Ouija board and flung it into the fireplace, making the fire sizzle and pop.

Lila stood up and pointed an accusing finger at Madame Angeline. “You don’t believe me! You never believed that Jonathan would come back! You’re nothing but a fraud!”

“Lila!” Maureen cried. “Madame Angeline is just trying to help you!”

“She’s not receptive to help,” Madame Angeline said sternly. “Please get my coat so I can leave.”

When they heard the knock on the front door, they were all startled, then annoyed. It was too late for visitors. Cautiously, Lila opened the front door without releasing the safety chain. She peered through the open crack at a stranger visible under the porch light. He was standing in the rain holding his brown overcoat over his head. He smiled at her apologetically.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I seem to have run out of gas, and my cell phone battery is dead. Can I please use your phone? I know it’s late, but I have no other way to get home. I live about two blocks from here, at 12145 Maplewood Court. I could walk, I guess, but the weather isn’t too good out here. I’d really appreciate it.”

Lila stared at him, not believing her ears. “12145, you said? Did you say 12145?”

“That’s what I said.”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest. “12145!” she exclaimed, clutching her hands to her breast and laughing ecstatically. She turned around. “That’s it! That’s the code! Did you hear, Madame Angeline? He’s come back! Jonathan’s come back!”

Maureen and Madame Angeline stared at her in stunned silence.

“Did you hear me?” Lila cried. “JONATHAN’S COME BACK! That man out there just gave me the code!”

But Maureen and Madame Angeline just looked at her in disbelief.

“Here, I’ll prove it to you!” Lila fumbled with the safety chain, released it, and threw open the door. But the stranger was already down the walk, disappearing into the rainy darkness. “No!” Lila cried. “Please don’t go!” She hurried after him, arms waving wildly, and calling frantically, “Come back!” until the rain and darkness engulfed him, and she was alone.

* * *

NOTE: This story is about Lila’s fear of death, her attachment to grief, and her inability to accept her husband’s death. Sometimes, authors get attached to their own words – “their little darlings,” as Stephen King would say. I would really like feedback from you, The Reader! Is the story too long? Too boring? Too wordy? What needs to be cut out? Or is it okay as it is? Please leave your feedback in the comments below – and, thanks!

Dawn Pisturino

October 15, 2021

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

9 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: