October Country

Kathie Gibboney

From Ghoulies and Ghosties and long-leggety Beasties

And things that Go Bump in the Night

Good Lord Deliver Us!—Scottish Prayer   

Walking into our Topanga Library, in early October, I am drawn to a display table off in a corner. I think perhaps the whimsical statue of the library’s Blue Horse may have nudged his head in the table’s direction as if to guide me there, saying, “Gibboney, check these out.”

There in front of me, fanned out, as if waiting just for me, was a considerable collection of tales of ghostly hauntings. “Yes!” I thought. “This is the season. This will be fun!”

Oh, the mystery and romance of those phantoms of our yesterdays: “The Highway Man,” “The Woman in White,” “The Spectral Train.” I started picking up books, grabbing, Ghosts of the Haunted Coast, Haunted Southern California, Haunted Northern California, and one titled, Relax, It’s Only a Ghost. There were more but I didn’t want to selfishly horde them all.

For the past few days I have been living amongst the spirits. I have met the ghosts of presidents, sheepherders, mad monks, weeping women, drunkards, Lucille Ball, the spirit of a friendly cat, an angry rabbit, a phantom steamboat, someone known as, Seldom Seen Slim, (a prospector who seldom saw gold), and a herd of thundering ghost buffalo. I soon realized that according to the many recorded encounters, almost every place is haunted. You can’t throw a cell phone without hitting a headless horseman, a wailing banshee, or the ghost of comic Sam Kinison. There are reported hauntings from Disneyland to Bakersfield, from the Queen Mary to Silverlake, from Scotty’s Desert, to Nob Hill.

Behind every man now alive, stand 30 ghosts,

for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.—Arthur C. Clark

In that I believe in fairies, elves, sprites, Santa, and flying pigs, I must also give credence to the shadow creatures, the phantasmas, those that wander by night when the moon is full, across the far October boarder, to haunt. I read the stories with an open mind and respect to all those who pass between worlds, slipping through realms, especially at this time of year when the veil is thin.  Besides, without ghosts we wouldn’t have some of our best literary pieces; Hamlet and Macbeth, A Christmas Carol, the works of Bradbury, King, Irving, and of course, Casper.

The lawn is pressed by unseen feet and ghosts return, gently at twilight, gently go down.

The sad intangible who grieve and yarn.—T. S. Eliot

One of the haunted tales is of Alfred, a spirit reported to have been seen and felt at the Conejo Playhouse in Thousand Oaks. Evidently he is especially fond of musicals and highly disapproves of shoddy work and bad acting. He makes his critical displeasure known by making loud noises, guffaws, moans, and coughing, during the offending performance. And, I say, more power to him, for bad acting on a small stage is truly an unfortunate and far too frequent blight on the human condition. (Even I must confess and apologize for an unfortunate Ophelia). Such stumbling, floundering, theatrical antics are well in need of correction, if not from a good, living director, then, by all means, from a supernatural source. So…to those who trod the stage, beware Alfred.

There was also a sad and beautiful Chumash legend of the fair maiden, Hueneme, and her brave and loving husband. Evidently, the man was bewitched by an envious woman who used black arts to blind the husband to his wife’s goodness and beauty, turning him from her. In her sorrow Hueneme threw herself into the sea and her sad ghost is said to haunt Point Mugu, wandering, brokenhearted. Leave a flower for her.

On a lighter note there are many stories of jolly ghosts, such as the Phantoms of the Old Speakeasy.  Now, of course, a good martini and merry company is reason enough to transcend the pale, but if there be music, too, well, the party’s on. So many bars, hotels, and old restaurants up and down the California Coast host a ghost or two or more. What could be more enchanting than the sound of happy song, laughter, and carousing from shades who celebrate still, one of the great gifts they had in life, comradery. Cheers, to their song and haunted revels. I will join you anon; just save a seat for me.

Be hole, be dust, be dream, be wind, be night, be dark, be wish, be mind

Now slip, now slide, now move unseen, above, beneath, betwixt, between.—Neil Gaiman                                                                                                                    

I wander about our own Haunted Topanga, although what could be more scary than endless road construction, tree trimming, and the sulfuric smell of septic wafting through the air.  I know the Canyon has its share of dark deeds and murder, but I am not brave enough to dive into that history for fear of attracting a sad or disturbed spirit. I have not the knowledge or purity to assist such a soul on its journey to the light. 

No, I can only invite a kinder, gentler ghost, one just passing by, maybe on its way to haunt Red Rock, or hang out in its naked phantom form at the old Elysium Field nudist site. I know there must already be something here in our own home. The cat can see it. I have witnessed many times, Muldoon standing in front of the fireplace on the marble hearth, with eyes wide and glowing, stepping back and forth, as if dancing, but hesitant to step off the marble as if just beyond its edge monsters be. What he is seeing is invisible to me. Maybe it is only some harmless sprites gamboling about and I like to think they’re benevolent, dancing a jig, or riding about on sunbeams. I hope they don’t notice my lack of housekeeping as such Brownie-like spirits appreciate a tidy home. Perhaps I’d best vacuum.

I think I’d like to interview a ghost or, at least, just sit quietly with it, maybe sipping tea or something stronger. Now and then I’d just sigh and say, “Oh, Ghost, oh, Ghost.”  And the ghost would know exactly what I meant.

Who could I really get at this late notice to sit a spell with me under the moon?

Certainly, our own Al Martinez is busy elsewhere, exploring the far country and sipping far better libations then I can offer. My close dearly departed are, as they know, much too dear to me for me to remain balanced if they were to actually appear. Our friend, Topanga Bob, who shuffled off recently, is no doubt occupied tooling around in some phantom jalopy. I would be honored to keep company with the shade of Topanga’s treasured Pearl Sloan, who lived down the street with the magical, big tree growing up through the living room and out the roof. We used to stop there every Halloween and have such a nice visit, so it certainly would be appropriate to invite her to trick or treat.

I fear, however, I’m going to end up with the ghost of irascible John Barrymore, Jr., who’s known to haunt the old Rodeo Grounds and say rude things. Then I met something even more frightening than the specter of Barrymore, Jr. In a random turning of the channel on a late Sunday afternoon, I encountered an episode of the Brady Bunch. The episode in which I appear. And there I see the ghost of my young self, still fresh in this weary world, with her gleaming smile and eyes full of hope and belief in a bright and brilliant future. I must not disappoint her.

My Dear Ghost, yes, I still believe anything is possible.

I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers.—Anne of Green Gables


Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

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