When I was a kid, I was obsessed with all things Goosebump-y; the books and shows, Are You Afraid of the Dark, all those horrendous teenage slasher flicks you’re ashamed to admit you loved ten years later, stuff like that. Somehow, I was never afraid. Even when I moved on to Stephen King and his ilk, probably way too young (but that’s not the point here), I loved every inch of it, but barely got the thrills and chills over those ghoulies, ghosties, and long leggedy beasties that those who truly believe those things can exist get.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them, don’t get me wrong. I loved them, and still do, even though I’ve moved on to being a bigger fan of thrillers, and the kind of stories that exemplify the monsters in all of us. (Although there’s a wealth of those to be found in horror too, even those shamefully silly slashers.) I just get my fun not from the fear of the monster coming out of the closet, but from watching those fangs, claws, fur, and scales fly.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. But being what I assume to be desensitized, or maybe too involved in the creation of stories to just live them, it means I don’t think I’m truly appreciating being faced with the real thing.
Take yesterday, for example. I spent my birthday in Salem, Massachusetts, Land of the Witchiest Witches. Given the time of year, the place was absolutely rife with the theatrically freaky. You couldn’t round a corner without running into a witch hat, cloaks, living skeletons, demons, and your occasional pirate wench. And that’s just to name a few. Tourists milled in and out of shops and museums, town cryers dressed era appropriately lead a mix of zombified, over interested, and somewhere in between tourists through the streets and cemeteries pre armed with scripted stories of the Salem of yore.
And I couldn’t stop laughing.
It was probably rude. I could appreciate the place, rife with history and that spooky feeling (partially because of just how many scammers there afoot in all their various forms), but there was some of it that was simply too hysterical for words. Like how you had to duck and cover at any given moment to get away from the millions of signs for psychics offering readings for twenty bucks or more. Honestly, half that, maybe even quarter that, and I’ll give you a try. At that price, however, I’ll be expecting something back. Like maybe a cookie.
Then there was the free Psychic and Witchcraft Expo at the Salem Visitors Center that took itself far too seriously. I snapped a picture of the front entrance, and was automatically admonished by the girl at the front desk booking readings to “please, don’t take pictures of the psychics.” You can see her, and an equally gothic blonde woman, glaring at me on the right. I wasn’t even aware they were in the photo, to be perfectly honest with you. I was just concerned with getting as much as I could in the frame. The price you pay for art, apparently.
Either way, I made sure to steer clear of the psychics table altogether. Most of them actually looked relatively normal, which in my opinion made them all the more believable. It was the guy rolling his top hatted head and staring off blankly into space that had me fighting off the giggles. I veered off with friends to the side, to check out various stones (which are everywhere in those shops; varying in size, shape, texture, color, and ability to induce varying forms of ultimate power for everywhere from two to three hundred plus dollars), skulls, charms, and even a shrunken head. What did look interesting was undercut by people like the woman selling magnetic bracelets that was shouting to anyone in a ten mile radius about how they’d essentially make cancer bounce off you.
After that, and turning away from items I was examining to find a tall skinny guy in a vest looming and staring bug eyed at me to make sure I didn’t steal anything… I waited outside for my friends.
Confession: When I was thirteen, having long since been struck by a complete and utter disinterest in Catholicism, I considered Wicca. Of course, I considered in with the absolute disregard for realism that anyone my age would. I had a ‘secret Wicca box’ where I squirreled away information from the internet, a spellbook, and various herbs I’d filched from the cabinet for spell based purposes. I was following suit behind my friends (all of us having covered the pre requisite of seeing The Craft), and lost interest around the time they did, but I still believe it’s a perfectly good religion if it speaks to you, the same way any other is. There is a small part of me that wonders if I’d done it right, or better, if I could’ve pulled off something. But shhh.
In between my arrival and this expo, I had a great time. We bobbed and weaved in and out of all sorts of shops. Apparently Salem is a Steampunk haven (go figure), and one of my friends and I have vowed to come back and and start building outfits for events in increments, because that stuff costs. We also had lunch at Flying Saucer Pizza Company, where I had Loki pizza (let that sink in for a moment. Loki. Pizza.), read a comic on my placemat, and viewed all kinds of SciFi memorabilia all over the walls.
One of the best parts of the whole thing was walking into what was, I swear, the American answer to Ollivander’s. Any Harry Potter fan anywhere has dreamed of that moment; walking in to find racks of handmade wands at the ready, any of which might call to you and prove that yes, you are a wizard, Har– er, whatever your name is.
Unfortunately, Wynott’s Wands (the actual name of the place), didn’t hold anything that called out to me. Better luck next time, maybe? They did, however, have bottles of Butter(scotch) Beer at the ready, and that stuff was out of this world good. There was nothing about that stuff that wasn’t worth the three dollars. I still have the bottle.
While I was in that dimly lit place, I got more caught up in the experience than I really did anywhere else I hit that day. That could’ve just been geeky fandom talking, but that’s besides the point. Part of me did want one of those wands to fly off the shelf and smack me in the nose. After all, it’d kick off a whole new adventure, and what better place for something like that to happen than Salem?
While killing our last hour, we walked through a cemetery. I don’t know which, but since there are certainly plenty to choose from, it probably doesn’t matter. Reading the tombstones, you’re struck again by that sense of history, that power the whole area exudes. But here’s where you find the people that built it. You have to wonder, if any of them are still floating around, how they feel about the tourists strolling over their graves, schmucks like me snapping pictures of their tombstones, and all of them eyeballing the inscriptions that’re supposed to sum up their lives. Honestly, I can’t say I’d be too psyched (hee) about it. But that’s just me. And that’s only if there’s life after death. Who’s to say?
Confession Two: When I was younger, and still in Girl Scouts (yes, really), we stayed at what I’m fairly sure was some kind of lodge up in New Hampshire for the night. For some reason, this lodge had a chapel, where most of us were supposed to stay. Except some of us couldn’t. As soon as I entered, I felt a force pushing down on my head. A dull ache spawned in the back of my skull, and a sense that I needed to get out of there. Now. I wasn’t the only one, there was a small group of us (though I think some just wanted to go along because it was freaky and super cool), and we had to sleep in a separate room for the night. I’ve had some small experiences like it, but nothing that’s matched that feeling since. If there was something in there, it was not pleased with the intrusion.
So what’s the point of all this rambling? My time in Salem, laughable as some of it was, reminded me how much I want to believe in the strange and unexplained. It’s what keeps me watching those plethora of paranormal shows (though some I flat out can’t stand), has me willing to be a guinea pig for my friend’s newfound love of tarot, and makes me able to love all those stories I did when I was a kid. Even if the realistic skeptic within scoffs, I’ll probably always still get drawn back in. I’ll always be the Scully of the situation who’s thisclose to crossing the line, but wobbles and leans back to pull her Mulder(s), in this case my friends, back from the brink. I’m comfortable there, even if it means I can’t always get as far into these things as I like. I’ll go home and write something strange to make up for it after.
But at the same time, maybe I’ll try leaning a bit further forward in the future, see what new experiences I can get out of it. You can’t be too skeptical all the time, that’s just boring. Especially on days like today.
Happy Halloween, folks.