DEXTER is stalking Showtime, the movie theatres are rife with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, and THE WALKING DEAD are lurking in the darker corners of AMC. It must be Halloween.
Every few years, the earmarks of the season change, but Halloween has never been larger. In fact, it's the second-biggest retail holiday of the year, second only to Christmas, surpassing such perennial favorites as Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve, Easter, and, in the US, Independence Day.
That's why it took me by surprise when I talked to a movie theatre owner recently, and he bemoaned the relative lack of scary movies this Halloween. With one exception.
"I'm really glad PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is out," he told me. "But that's pretty much it, this year. There's virtually no other spooky movies out for the biggest spooky day of the year."
As we talked, it became clearer that he felt there was a reason for this.
"Spooky stuff's gone mainstream," he said. "You can release a scary movie any time of the year now, and do well. It used to be we'd have a flood of scary movies timed to release on Halloween, and we'd do huge business then. Now they release according to whether they expect the movie to be a big blockbuster or a quiet film. The blockbusters get their release dates in the summer movie season, or starting around Thanksgiving for the holiday rush. As a result, there's not many scary movies left on what used to be the biggest weekend for them."
It was a fascinating conversation.
But it's also a bit new. Even last year, the Halloween "spooky movie" season was more well rounded by at least containing a SAW installment in addition to a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. But he's right, in essence. Scary stuff has gone mainstream. What else would explain decisions in recent years to release an excellent horror flick like THE STRANGERS in the spring, of all seasons?
I timed SHADA to be out in time to really promote it and build it up in time for Halloween. As a spooky tale involving ghosts, speaking to the dead, and séances, my little young adult paranormal suspense movie may not be the scariest thing on the market right now. But it is spooky. And haunting.
And that makes it perfect Halloween reading material.
By Craig Hansen
Book 1 of the Ember Cole series.
Genre: young adult paranormal suspense
Word Count: approximately 32,500 words.
SHADA Book Blurb:
"If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?"
A year ago, Ember Cole witnessed the death of her grandfather. Now, with her grandmother slipping away into dementia, she seeks answers from the only person who loved her grandmother more than her, even if he is dead: Grandpa Normie.
Joined by three of her closest friends, Ember treks deep into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, seeking the advice of a dead man on how to save the living. But sometimes, the dead have their own agenda.
Craig Hansen wrote stories from an early age, but when his SF short story, "The S.S. Nova," was published in the Minnesota Writers In the School COMPAS program's 1981 anthology of student writing, When It Grows Up, You Say Goodbye To It, he decided to dedicate himself to writing. Several unpublished novels and short stories followed.
Hansen earned two degrees at Minnesota State University at Mankato under the mentorship of young adult novelist Terry Davis. In the years that followed, Hansen worked a variety of jobs related to writing, including editorial work at a small publishing house, holding a position as a Web site editor, and five years in journalism in northwestern Wisconsin, where he earned several state awards for his writing and editing.
His work has appeared in the Meadowbrook Press anthology, Girls to the Rescue, Book 1, as well as the true crime journal, Ripper Notes, in volume 28.
His first novel, Most Likely, was released in May. Shada is the first installment of the Ember Cole series of young adult paranormal suspense books. Hansen is hard at work on the next installment in the series, the novel-length book, Ember.
Hansen recently moved to Oregon with his wife, a dog, a cat, and his 89-year-old father, a World War II veteran.
Craig's interests include the music of Johnny Cash, reading the novels of other independent authors, blogging, and the study of Messianic theology. On his Web site, you can sign up to receive a periodic email newsletter that will notify you when he releases new novels.
Connect With Craig Online At:
Blog and Web site: www.craig-hansen.com
IT HAPPENED LONG AGO, ON A DAY VERY MUCH LIKE THIS ONE. A hot, sticky summer day, back when my grandfather was my age. He was a freshman in high school and Abe Windler was a classmate of his. A very popular one.
Abe Windler, you see, stood taller than anyone else in school, even the seniors. He had a clean complexion and sharp, solid features. A gifted athlete, he played running back for the football team in the fall, point guard for the basketball team in the winter, and ran the hundred-yard dash every spring on the track team. Everything he was part of, he excelled at. He could not lose.
Yet for all his ability, all his popularity, Abe was humble. Some say it was because of his youth, because he still felt inferior to those ahead of him, even though he had accomplished so much so young, and even though he towered over even the tallest of his own classmates. He stood like a giant, but carried himself like the servant of all.
Many people in Hope held onto great dreams after his freshman year. The football coach dreamed of three more undefeated seasons. The basketball coach, of three more state tournament appearances. His track coach, a religious man, prayed for Abe to take home many more gold medals.
Yet Abe possessed a single weakness. He was in love with a girl two years ahead of him. Back then, such couplings were unheard of. No junior girl would consider dating a freshman, two years below her station. Yet this was only the beginning of Abe's challenges.
The girl he loved was named Emmaline Steele and she was the daughter of the first Baptist preacher ever to serve at Hope First Baptist Church. She was wasicun winyan—a white woman—and her whole family devoutly and conservatively Baptist, whereas Abe Windler was everything she was not; he was proudly Lakota and he did not embrace the religion of the wasichu—the white man.
Even so, Abe Windler's heart beat for Emmaline the way a husband's heart beats for his wife. He would not be dissuaded. At homecoming, he invited her to the dance, but she refused. When he asked why, she told him that as a Baptist she did not believe in dancing. Devastated, he stayed home as the girl he loved did, rather than go to the dance without her on his arm.
In the winter, he invited her to the tribal solstice dance. This would not require her to dance, only to watch, he reasoned. Again she said no. When he asked her why, she explained that as a Baptist her family did not believe in attending pagan rituals.
By this time, most young boys would have given up. Yet in the spring Abe decided he'd stumbled upon just the thing; he offered to attend her father's church upon the celebration of Easter. Once again, Emmaline said no. When he asked her why, she told him that her father felt his church was for the white people, and as Lakota, he was unwelcome.
Abe was devastated, especially for one so young. He could not imagine loving another, yet also could not understand how someone he loved so deeply could treat him with such cruelty and hate. And at this point, most sane young men would have rejected Emmaline in spite of her beauty and sought out a kinder soul.
Yet Abe Windler was young and foolish and thought he knew more of love than he did. So he continued to pine away for her. As spring rolled into summer, he took to working in the fields of Old Man Saint Croix, whose fields border the south side of the Elk Ridge River.
The reason for Abe taking the job helping out in the Saint Croix fields is that, three times a week, regular as clockwork, Pastor Steele would drive past the fields with his daughter in the car with him, escorting her to piano lessons with Old Man Saint Croix's wife. Abe worked long hours in the hot sun, just for these brief glimpses of his cruel beloved.
One day, he could take no more. As he saw the Steele car approaching, he rushed from the field and flagged the car down. Pastor Steele stopped for him, but demanded to know why the young Lakota boy would not leave his daughter alone.
"I cannot change that I dance," Abe told the pastor, "I cannot change that I am Lakota, and while I could pretend, I cannot change that I do not believe in your God. Even so, I cannot believe that it is impossible for things to change. Even your God must believe that with love, all things are possible. So tell me what I must do. Tell me to accomplish some impossible thing, and I will do it. If you ask that I help win three more state championships in football, I will do it. If you ask that I help win three more basketball titles, I will do it. And if you ask that I win three more gold medals in the hundred meter dash, I will do it. All these trophies, all these prizes, I will lay at your feet for a dowry, if only you allow me to court your daughter."
Pastor Steele was astonished at the young Lakota's dedication. He had thought the lad a vain and shallow youth and had ordered his daughter to ignore Abraham's advances. Now that he saw the Lakota's sincerity for himself, he needed to put it to one final test.
So he told Abraham, "If you are dedicated so deeply to my daughter, I will offer you a chance to win her attentions. I do not care if you dance with her, so long as you wait until your wedding day for the first waltz. I do not care that you are Lakota, so long as you raise your children in the white man's ways. And I do not care that you don't believe in our God, because I can convince you of His truth once I am your father-in-law."
"So what task would you ask of me?" Abe Windler asked.
Pastor Steele considered this for a moment. While Abe's athletic skills had impressed the town, the pastor held little interest in the fame such achievements in sports would bring to Hope.
Turning in place, he spotted the Elk Ridge River bridge nearby, and bid Abe to follow him as Emmaline followed along after. They walked silently to the bridge. He began to form a plan to test both Abe's resolve and his bravery one final time.
"You walk taller than men far older than you, Abe, and I do not doubt your physical abilities. What I doubt is your wisdom. You trust in yourself more than any other, more than fate itself. Behold, the Elk Ridge River," Pastor Steele said. "I know this river well. It runs deep in some places and shallow in others, much like the heart of a young man."
"I will swim it from mouth to headwaters," Abe said, "if it means I gain your blessing."
"That will not be necessary," Pastor Steele said. "All I ask is that you dive in, from any point on the bridge you wish. If you land in a deep area, and emerge unscathed, you may court my Emmaline. If you land in a shallow area, you may very well never emerge and breathe the fresh air again."
Abe looked at the bridge, fully thirty-feet above the surface of the water. If the river ran deep, it would be easy; if he broke the surface of a shallower area, that height was enough to end his life. This, Abe Windler knew in his heart.
At this point, if Emmaline had cared for Abe at all, she would have begged her father for mercy, to make a demand that would not put the young boy's very life at risk. But Emmaline, however devout she appeared, hid a cold and icy heart. Instead of begging for mercy, she urged young Abe on.
"Do this," she told him, "and we shall be together, as you wish."
With those words, she stood on the tips of her toes and sealed her promise with a single, lingering kiss upon his lips.
For all his skill, for all his achievements, for all that Abe Windler had going in his favor, he was still a boy of only fifteen years. Receiving a kiss from a girl two years older than him, with peach-scented skin and generous curves barely concealed by her modest dress, was enough to drive all sense from him.
In haste to win the continued affection of his love and the blessing of her father, Abe scrambled to action. He clambered hastily over the railing, paced quickly to the end of a beam, and executed a perfect forward swan dive.
Now, depending on who you talk to, some say Pastor Steele cried out in warning. Others say he closed his eyes in prayer for the boy's safety. Still others insist that when he saw the rashness of the boy, he turned his eyes from the sight and looked away. Yet no matter who you talk to, no matter who tells the story, they all agree on one thing: Emmaline said not a word. She watched as Abe foolishly rushed to his task of diving in the river, and a smile passed on her lips for more than a moment when she saw him leap. Everyone agrees she knew the bridge and the river and Abe's position well enough to know what would follow.
Abe Windler leaped carelessly from the bridge, too near the shallow edge of the river, well short of the drop-off that would have allowed him to dive deep and emerge safely. He dove to his death, landing, they say, head first.
The Steeles did not remain in Hope long after that. The church dismissed the pastor from his post, and he moved his family on to an area where his connection to the death of Abe Windler was not known.
Yet they say, on hot days like this, the ghost of Abe Windler roams these lands. Up and down the Elk Ridge River, throughout the woods, and along the old dirt road leading out to the Saint Croix farms, where the bridge he leaped from can be found to this day. They say he's searching still for the hand of Emmaline Steele, to be joined to her as he was promised. To have her join him in death.