Trick or Treat!
The kids coming around door-to-door all call out Trick or Treat, but I only have treats, and no tricks at all.
Treat Number One: A Short Story
Halloween has a long and spooky history. I won’t go into details, but it is a bit of an amalgam of the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian feast of All Saints Day.
Samhain (pronounced SAH-wn) was celebrated on the last day of October, and marked the end of the harvest and the start of winter. It was also the night when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinnest, and ghosts and ghouls could cross over into the world of the living. People protected themselves by lighting bonfires and dressing in costumes to confuse the otherworldy visitors.
All Saints Day is November 1, a feast for all the saints and martyrs, as designated by Pope Gregory III in the 9th century. In many places it was also commemorated with bonfires. As Christianity moved into the Celtic areas of Europe, All Saints Day became associated with some of the practices of Samhain. The Middle English word for All Saints Day was Alholowmesse, or All Hallows (holy ones) celebration. The night before, therefore, was All Hallows Eve (similar to Christmas Eve), which was often shortened to Hallowe’en.
There is, of course, much more to the history than this. But the association of Halloween with ghosties and ghoulies goes back a long, long way.
Now, where better to observe Halloween than in a creepy and ancient ruined abbey? Picture it: The moon is scarcely seen behind the shifting clouds, just tracing the outlines of the ruined building. The surrounding trees are bare, skeletal fingerlike branches scratching at the windows, and there’s a mysterious howling noise that might be the wind… or might not!
Catherine Morland certain got more than she was expecting at Northanger Abbey when she visited her friend Eleanor Tilney in my little Halloween diversion, Northanger Angst. Here’s the start. The rest is available free at Smashwords.
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
How embarrassed she was, how ashamed! Catherine Morland threw herself upon her bed and buried her face in the soft pillow, letting the tears flow. Were they tears of mortification, for the horror of what she had done, of the insult she had given? Or were they tears of regret, for having most assuredly lost the esteem of the gentleman she had so come to admire?
For alas, she had allowed her fantasies to overcome her rational mind. She had read too many Gothick stories of ghouls and monsters and witchery, and she had allowed her imagination to run wild, untamed by common sense.
The entirety of the abbey was fuel for her fantastical wonderings, after all. Her room, so dark and eerie by night, when the wind blew through the panes of glass in the windows and ruffled the heavy velvet draperies, forebode nefarious goings-on. Did ghosts moan in tentative harmony with the howling wind? Did the unquiet souls of the dead cry out their agonies and lure living men to their horrid ends? The massive, looming wardrobe, with its locked doors, that heavy chest at the foot of her bed… she had found only a laundry list, but what other mysterious documents lay awaiting only her curious eyes before their dread secrets were revealed?
Perhaps one such scrap of ancient and crumbling yellow paper might contain an incantation, the recital of which at the proper time of night would cause a secret doorway to open in her bedchamber’s walls, revealing a long-forgotten tunnel into the dungeons where strange and unnatural creatures still dwelt, longing for the blood of mortals. Perhaps The Monk—that unholy creature of Mr.Lewis’s horrid novel—lay waiting for her, biding his time until he could have his evil way with her innocent flesh!
And when dear Eleanor had related the story of her late mother, who had died so suddenly whilst her daughter was away from home, well, what was she to think? These macabre imaginings were only amplified when General Tilney had forbidden his daughter from showing Catherine the late Mrs. Tilney’s chambers. There must, most certainly, be some evil-doing, must there not?
Consequently, Catherine did what any curious and intelligent young lady would do: she decided to investigate those very chambers, to see whatever it was the unpleasant general so desired her not to see. She had crept up the stairs when she thought no one about, only to be discovered by Henry, whom she had come to like very much. How he had scorned her fevered fantasies! How he had chastised her! His words rang through her mind as if he were speaking them only now: “Consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”
And she had fled to her room, where she had let loose tears of shame.
And now, this very evening, General Tilney had returned home unexpectedly from his trip to London, and without warning or explanation, had ordered her out of the house! Oh, how she had sought to clear her brain of her Gothic musing and regain Henry’s approbation, how she had made herself look with clear eyes at the modern buildings that housed the family and confront the truth of Henry’s words. This was England, a civilized and modern country, where evils doings could no more be carried out without every newspaper printing the story than the graveyard could give up its residents. And now, cast out!
Whatever had she done?
When Eleanor disappears, Catherine must conquer her fears. Read on for free at Smashwords:
Treat Number 2: A New Series
I’ve mentioned my upcoming series before, but it’s getting close! The official series release of Austen Echoes will be on Thursday, and the first book will be available on November 16.
The first book is a contemporary Pride and Prejudice reimagining. Like the rest of the series, it’s set in Toronto, and revolves around the members of a choir. Elise (my Elizabeth) is a singer and arts-lover. Will is a grumpy businessman who definitely does NOT have a way with the ladies. But there might be more to both of them than first impressions suggest.
Here’s the blurb for All the Wrong Notes.
Elise Benzion has everything she wants. The arts centre that she’s built from the ground up is thriving. She has a circle of great friends. Her concert choir, the Eglinton Echoes, is in top form and gives her an artistic outlet to satisfy her musical side. What she does not want is an annoying, rude, and far too handsome man hovering around. But Will is her best friend’s new beau’s good friend, and she’ll play nice, for Janet’s sake.
Eventually she begins to discover the man beneath the unpleasant veneer, and tolerance warms into a tentative friendship, and possibly something more.
Then disaster strikes, and everything she loves, everything she’s worked so hard for, crumbles in an instant. With all her dreams dashed and her beloved arts centre destroyed, her biggest regret might just be losing Will.
Is there any hope? Or will a terrible memory from his own past keep them apart forever?
This musical reimagining of Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice will have you cheering the characters on, pulling you into their world and into their hearts.
And here’s a short excerpt from All the Wrong Notes. Carlos and Janet are dating, and Carlos is hosting a party. He is introducing Elise to his friends. Elise has had one run-in with Will before, and it didn’t go well.
At last they arrived at the wall that EFF William was holding up. Janet gave the tall man her usual bright smile, to which he responded with a twitch to his lips and a microscopic dip of his head.
Carlos made the introductions. “Elise, this is Will. Sometimes he talks. Will, Janet’s best friend, Elise. I—” He was interrupted by a crash. “Uh oh… someone dropped a bottle of something. Excuse me!” He dashed off in the direction of the crash, with Janet on his heels, leaving Elise and EFF William alone.
Elise took a deep breath. This was Carlos’ friend. She could be polite. “Nice to meet you again,” she started.
“Again?” The deep and cultured voice reverberated through her. Handsome, beautiful voice, and still a jerk. Then came a glimmer of awareness. “Oh. Yes, that dreadful event Carlos made me attend. I don’t know what possessed me to agree. You were there. In the yellow shirt.”
He remembered? Well, that was something. Elise almost felt a moment of warming towards him, until he continued.
“I see you’ve decided to dress more appropriately tonight.”
She glanced down at the elegant ankle-length chocolate skirt that swirled above the tops of the cute blingy sandals Janet had made her buy, and caught a glimpse of her ivory silk shirt in a mirror. With her dark wavy hair loose about her shoulders, and a bit of makeup accentuating her brown eyes, she did look presentable.
“Uh, thank you? It is rather strange, though, to give a compliment that is really a veiled insult. Tonight, I dressed for a party. For the speed-dating evening, I had come straight from work.”
One perfectly arched eyebrow rose. “You dress like that at the office? It was… rather a casual ensemble. I thought Jennings promised a curated crowd. Not just anybody was invited.”
Prickles danced up Elise’s spine, and they were not pleasant ones. “Are you implying I should not have attended? That I’m not good enough, somehow?” How was she ever supposed to be nice to this miserable person? Rude, arrogant… She swallowed the words, and a few more that she wouldn’t utter at Carlos’ party.
He cleared his throat. “I… that is… I didn’t mean to imply that. I don’t know you, and can’t speak to your character. But all the others were professionals. Lawyers, consultants, doctors, upper-level management, that sort. You didn’t exactly look the part. What do you do, anyway? Did she know you? Is that why she let you attend?”
Her laugh was not a cheerful one. “What I do is enjoy life. I sing, I walk through nature, I lose myself at art galleries. I read a lot, and I travel when I can. That’s what I do. A person’s employment shouldn’t define them.” The eyebrow rose again. “But if you must know, I love my job. I run an arts centre. We provide programs and classes for underprivileged kids, and offer space for community organisations as well. We have rehearsal rooms and performance space, and a couple of studios for visual art, too. So, yes, I was dressed for work. I’m the boss, after all, so I choose the dress code.”
She matched his gaze. Dare to oppose me.
His storm-grey eyes locked onto hers for a moment before he narrowed them. “Interesting.” Like Mr. Spock, cold and dispassionate. Unlike Mr. Spock, he was not, in fact, interested.
Elise should have asked him something about himself now. Did he like music? Where did he grow up? How sour was the pickle up his backside? But that cold-fish demeanour was irritating her, and all she wanted to do was get away before she really said something she shouldn’t.
“I should see if Janet needs help with whatever spilled.”
She turned away, only to hear, “Nice to meet you, Elise,” from the cold fish’s lips.
All the Wrong Notes will be published on November 16, 2023, and is available now for pre-order. It’s not steamy, but it does reflect modern sensibilities.