Happy Halloween! Of Ghosts and . . . Cats!

Tonight I will celebrate Halloween by revisiting that most classic of ghost stories, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.  Since The Philosopher teaches an evening class and I have the remote to myself, I will settle for a cinematic version of the gothic novel.  While there have been many film adaptations since the novel was first published in 1938, I like the one released by Mobil Masterpiece Theatre in 1997, starring Charles Dance, Diana Rigg, Emilia Fox, and Faye Dunaway.  Rebecca’s murderer literally “gets away with murder” in this version, which is an accurate acting out of the original story.  (In earlier performances, such as the one starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, Hollywood directors altered the plot so that no crime goes unpunished.  Evidently a keen sense of morality ruled on screen in the 1930s and 40s.)

 In Rebecca, the fabulously wealthy and handsome Maxim DeWinter brings his new bride home to the family estate of Manderley (situated on the romantic, wind-swept English coast, of course).  We never learn the new Mrs. DeWinter’s name, as her character is overshadowed by the lingering spirit of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife.  Rebecca is not a “ghost,” but rather an unseen presence, a memory that haunts Manderley and overlays the house with a foreboding sense of evil.  The new Mrs. DeWinter learns that Rebecca wasn’t who she seemed, and that her death was not an accident.  Only by discovering the truth of Rebecca’s life and death can Maxim and Mrs. DeWinter find happiness together.     

I find intriguing the idea of a person or event whose memory leaves such a strong imprint on those left behind that they must wrestle with a lingering darkness.  In my first novel, Shadows at Moose’s Run, thirty-year-old Maddie returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother, a Rebecca-like character whose shadow still lingers in the house, asking for a redemption that Maddie cannot give. 

But while Maddie’s mother remains an ominous presence, I do have a more humorous, ghostly cat in the novel!  In the following excerpt (which may or may not remain in the final draft), Maddie has moved back to Moose’s Run to take care of her widowed father.  She thinks she has seen the ghost of the family cat, although she wants to assume the specter is merely a trick of light and shadows.  Her new friend Jackson has set up his ghost-hunting equipment in hopes of finding something. 

My friends and family will recognize the four-legged friends that appear in this scene.  We really did have cat named Jackie (after Jackie Onassis Kennedy—you’ll have to ask The Toothfairy about that), and we did give the local wildlife the most peculiar names.  The Unabomber also makes an appearance—at least his cabin does.          

From Shadows at Moose’s Run, Chapter 17

             . . . Since Jackson installed the camera, I had checked it every morning, except for the previous two days.  Any appearance by the Ghost of Jackie, or other wayward spirits who happened to pass through, must have occurred sometime since Wednesday.

             I shuddered at the thought.  I had assumed that I would know if any ghostly visitors lingered at Moose’s Run, that I would feel something—a presence, a gentle breeze, or a movement of some kind.  Instead, I hadn’t sensed anything.  

            Jackson suggested we take the camera downstairs and hook it up to the large television.  “We might as well view it on the big screen,” he said. 

            I brought two mugs of tea and a plate of cookies, and we settled into the couch as if gearing up for the latest blockbuster. 

            Jackson groaned in disappointment at the beginning of the recording.  After several seconds of static, we watched a panorama of the living room, as seen from the corner where he had installed the camera.  A few uneventful minutes later, the image dissolved into more static.  

             We had almost given up hope of seeing anything more, when the panorama popped up again, and with it, a brief movement—a mere blip—in the lower left corner of the screen.  The picture dissolved into blurry black and white lines once again before the camera focused on another movement of something small and dark in front of the large glass door that slid open to the deck. 

             “There’s something there!”  Jackson leaned forward to peer at the screen. 

              Despite my reluctant participation in our ghost-hunting experiment, I now felt compelled to stick around, as if watching a bad movie, if only to find out what would happen next. 

             After another few seconds of static, the living room came into focus, and this time the image remained fixed on the screen.  The strange movement began again as the small, dark object grew larger and more regular in its movements.  It resembled a branch of one of the small ponderosas, waved up and down in front of the glass by an invisible hand. 

            As we continued to watch, the branch transformed into a network of branches, and then, the profile of a pointed face came into view—black button nose with deep-set nostrils, a white furry chin, large dark eyes, and finally, pointed ears surrounded by tufts of fur.

            “It’s Boy!”  I exclaimed. 

             The deer walked into full view of the camera, his antlers bobbing as he ambled towards the branches of one of the pines hanging over the deck and nuzzled them with his nose and mouth. 

             “It’s a buck!”  Jackson’s eyes widened as he scratched his head in bewilderment. 

              “His name is Boy,” I explained.  “At least that’s what we call him.  He hangs out in the forest around the house—he has for years.  I didn’t realize he ever managed to get onto the top deck.” 

             “He’s probably looking for something to eat.” 

              “You could be right.  One of the vents from the kitchen lets out at the edge of the deck.”

            “It’s a buck,” he repeated in disbelief—and disappointment.  He hadn’t expected the camera to capture a living animal, instead of a dead one.

            We watched Boy as he sauntered across the deck and disappeared from view.  With his exist from the scene, the image on screen disintegrated into static. 

            I grabbed my cup of tea from the coffee table and sat back smugly into the cushions of the sofa.  “I guess the camera does work.  It just picked up the wrong visitor.”

            “Wait!”  Jackson had scooted to the edge of his seat and was staring at the television.  “What the hell?”

            I followed his eyes back to the screen, which showed the figure of a man, jumping up and down in front of the large glass doors.  With his striped pajamas and the hair sticking straight up from his head, he resembled an escapee from the padded room of a mental institution.  It was Dad. 

            I covered my mouth in embarrassment and glanced at Jackson out of the corner of one eye.  He was looking at me, eyebrows raised.

            “That’s Dad,” I said dryly. 

            Jackson’s mouth curved into a cheeky grin.

            Another figure came into view, a fat, cocky raccoon that trotted back and forth in front of the glass.  Dad was attempting to capture the black and white, whiskered face on his digital camera, and, in return, the animal seemed to be taunting Dad.

            “And that is O’Henry,” I sighed.  “O’Henrietta is probably somewhere in the background, watching from the woods—or else she’s nesting in Kaczynski’s cabin at the bottom of the hill.” 

             Jackson had leaned back into the sofa and crossed his arms over his chest as he studied me, a bemused smirk still lingering on his lips.  I had some explaining to do—about my eccentric family, both human and animal, that skulked around Moose’s Run in the middle of the night.

            “O’Henry?  O’Henrietta?” 

            “Those are the names my sister Cherise chose.  I think she named the male raccoon Henry because she thought it sounded funny, and then one day she was out in the forest and started calling, ‘O—Henry!’, and it just kind of stuck.  And what else would you call the wife of O’Henry, but O’Henrietta?” 

             Jackson was nodding his head slowly, taking in both the action on the screen and my strange explanations.  “And Kaczynski—the Unabomber?  Where does he figure into all of this?”

            “There’s an old abandoned shed at the bottom of the driveway.  A neighbor up the canyon uses it to store gardening equipment.  We think it might have been an outhouse a long time ago.  When Cherise would misbehave, my mother would threaten to send her down there to live.  My mother always called it Kaczynski’s cabin.  I don’t know why.  I think she and Cherise saw an article about the Unabomber in the newspaper and thought the cabin would be the kind of place where he would hide out.” 

            Jackson was still shaking his head when the final image of Dad, on hands and knees with his nose pressed to the glass as he baited the raccoon, disappeared from the screen and the recording stopped.  Both Dad and raccoon had moved outside of the camera’s range of detection.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard any commotion during the night.  Either I had slept soundly, or Dad had been unusually quiet.

            “I suppose you can’t make the camera more selective in the images it records,” I asked.

            “Fortunately, no.”

            “Fortunately?”

            “You have to admit, this stuff is much more entertaining that a recording of a mere ghost.”  Jackson looked far more elated than if we had seen the Ghost of Jackie as clear as day on the recording. 

            “Okay, so you probably think my entire family is certifiable.” 

            He chuckled.  “Just about.” 

            I sighed in exasperation.  “But have you at least had enough ghost hunting now?” 

             “Absolutely not.  I think we should keep trying.  We know that the camera works, and that there’s a significant amount of activity around here in the middle of the night.” 

            “Then I should at least warn Dad.  Tell him that any midnight antics will be recorded for all to see.” 

            “Not on your life.”  Jackson’s eyes flickered with amusement.  He was enjoying this way too much. 

              “I suppose things like this offer good opportunities for blackmail,” I said, “—if I ever needed to resort to such a thing in the future.”

               “Now you’re talking.”                                                         

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb Bender
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 21:52:49

    Laughing.Out.Loud & Rolling.On.Floor. This is priceless. I want to meet these people and see this house. Oh, wait…..been there, done that! Thanks for ending my Halloween with giggles. Truth is always (truly) stranger than fiction.

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  2. Andy W.
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 05:44:21

    Nice handling of dialogue. Spelling error – “A neighbor up the canon uses it

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    • adriannenoel
      Nov 01, 2011 @ 11:23:09

      Thanks, Andy! I had changed a few things for the purposes of this post–so that readers wouldn’t be confused by the lack of context. A few errors slipped in. But this is an interesting lesson: what are the things that take a reader “out of the text”? We writers ask that question all of the time. Sometimes those things are as simple as grammatical or spelling errors. More difficult to correct are aspects of character voice, setting, and tone.

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  3. Robert Ramsey
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:07:15

    Wow, I’m Blown Away!!!!!

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