In my second book, Until My Soul Gets It Right, members of the bibliophiles book club take a field trip to All Hallow's Eve at Naper Settlement, an outdoor living history museum. I thought it might be fun to share their experience here. Happy Halloween!
Excerpt from Until My Soul Gets It Right
Copyright © 2012 by Karen Wojcik Berner
Maple trees blazed brilliant reds and oranges, while elms burst golden yellows. Leaves of all sizes rode through the sky on gentle breezes, while the sun presided over this glorious sixty-three-degree day. Pumpkins rested on doorsteps and house stairs, waiting to be carved. Ghouls hung from trees. Graveyards sprouted up on front lawns. Catherine had forgotten how much she enjoyed Halloween in the Midwest. The purples, rusts, and golds of the mums. The front bushes covered in fake spider webs. There was mischief in the air. “Sure you don’t want to come?” she asked Will while fluffing her hair.
“No, you go ahead. I’m exhausted.” Golfing eighteen holes, plus cutting and edging the lawn was plenty for one Saturday. “Besides, Michigan is playing Nebraska tonight.”
Never a big football fan, Catherine was grateful to be spared. “Dave and John from As You Like It are going to be doing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Should be great.”
Edwina Hipplewhite had decided on another bibliophile field trip. This time, it was All Hallow’s Eve at Naper Settlement, a nineteenth-century scare fest the highlight of which would be the Headless Horseman’s ride through the grounds.
Catherine bent over and kissed a spent, lounging-on-the-sofa Will.
“Have a great time, honey.” Will waved her off, grateful for some time alone. Work had been crazy lately. Not wanting to be accused of giving his son any special privileges, Benjamin was pushing Will twice as hard as any other employee.
He turned on the television and took a sip of his beer.
Usually, Naper Settlement was a tranquil place, an outdoor living history museum, featuring some thirty buildings, each with costumed villagers telling nineteenth-century tales of how the area had grown from a frontier outpost to a bustling, turn-of-the century community. But tonight, all was different.
The settlement was cloaked in the darkness of night, lit only by kerosene lamps and the orange glow of campfires. They were to meet at the firehouse entrance at seven o’clock. Miss Hipplewhite flounced in, encircled by a large red cape. “Glad to see you, my darlings. Is everyone dressed warmly enough? There is a bit of chill in the air tonight.” Looking directly at Spring, she continued, “especially you, my sweet little waif of a thing. Would you like to borrow my gloves?”
“Got ’em.” Spring tapped her right side. “In my pocket.” She made sure to wear her thickest jeans and winter coat this evening, knowing the temperatures would dip into the forties by the end of the night. Although born in the Chicago area, Spring still was not accustomed to the coolness of fall nor winter’s vile clutches. Come to think of it, she was cold during every season.
“All right then, let us commence with a quick tour of the torture dungeon in the Blacksmith’s Shop, then it is off to Dracula’s Lair.”
The bibliophiles walked past the ghost pirate ship. “Look! There is a séance in the chapel,” said Sarah.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” Larry worked his way in between Sarah and Annie.
“Anyone want to get their fortune told?” Rosemary pointed to three white tents.
“What a pile of crap! They’ll always say something like ‘You are in love with someone, but she doesn’t know it.’ What bullshit!”
“Scared, Larry?” Rosemary chided.
“Then, let’s do it.”
Edwina clapped her hands. “What fun this will be! Maybe she will predict what next month’s book will be. Come on, there is no line.”
Rosemary, Larry, and Edwina all entered the tents.
“Are you going to do this?” Annie asked Sarah.
“Why bother? I already know my future. Laundry, car pools, and nagging about homework.”
Larry emerged from the tent. “See, I told you. I’m in love with someone, and she doesn’t know it. I should be a fortune teller.”
“Is it true?” asked Thaddeus.
“Please,” Larry grumbled. “I’ll go get in line for the Dracula thing while the rest of you suckers finish up here.”
“Go ahead, Spring. You’re next.”
“No, thank you, Thaddeus. This stuff messes with my aura and personal vibe. I don’t want to know my future.”
“I’ll go,” Annie Jacobs piped up. “I’ve got nothing to lose.”
“I’ll wait for you out here,” Sarah called after her.
Rosemary came out of her tent, a small smirk decorating her mouth.
“What did she say?”
“Nothing I don’t already know, Sarah. Where are the rest?”
“Off to join Larry in line for Dracula’s Lair.”
Edwina Hipplewhite had not come out yet. Sarah wondered what that meant.
Inside one of the tents, Annie sat across from a woman dressed like the stereotypical gypsy everyone has seen in movies, complete with scarves and gold bangles. The woman moved the crystal ball aside. “Give me your hand. You have a powerful aura.” The pretend-gypsy studied Annie’s hand for several minutes.
“Okay, really, I need to get back to my friends. Can you speed this up a bit?”
“I see you with a little girl. A little girl with Winnie-the-Pooh sneakers and pigtails.”
“You can’t possibly,” she said, trying to free her hand.
The woman held Annie’s hand tightly. “No wait. This is very strong. You are playing at the park. Pushing her on a swing.”
“Okay, I’m done!” Annie pulled her hand away and ran out of the tent, trying to compose herself before Sarah walked over.
“Are you okay? You look a bit…”
“I’m fine. Same old crap about love and prosperous future. What a crock!”
Sarah and Annie walked to join the others, reaching them right before it was their time to enter the Lair. Edwina was right behind them.
How could some fake fortune teller have known about that dream? Annie had not had it for a while, probably since that time she had fallen asleep on the train last year. It was too weird. She shivered and pulled her coat up around her.
In line awaiting “Edgar Allan Poe,” Spring felt heavy breathing on her neck. She turned around right into the face of a demon in a black shroud, torrents of blood oozing from his mouth. She let out a high-pitched, eardrum-splitting scream. The demon went away satisfied, as the crowd around her laughed.
Thaddeus put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Spring. He was quite hideous.”
Spring was not the only one. Throughout the night, screams broke out all around the settlement as a werewolf roamed the park, a ghostly bride wandered aimlessly in search of a husband, and zombies meandered through the lines, searching for brains.
The bibliophiles were shepherded into the dark schoolhouse. A man entered, agitated. “Silence! True!—Nervous—Very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed them—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?”
Edwina smiled, whispering “‘The Tell Tale Heart,’ right, darlings?”
After the gentleman’s wonderful performance, she gathered the book club members near the Civil War surgeon’s area within the log walls of Fort Payne. “Okay, my dears, may I just say how much I love this? The best part is they are staying true to the nineteenth-century feel and the real stories these books told.”
All of a sudden, horse hooves clapped over the loudspeakers, first mildly, then becoming more deafening with each clomp.
“Move away! Move away! The horseman comes!” Dutch settlers yelled, clearing a path. The black horse grunted, blowing smoke from its nostrils. It reared up on its hind legs, then shot through the settlement. The horseman threw a lit jack o’lantern across the grassy knoll, then sped off to the cheers of the crowd.
“Oh, my soul, that was frightening.” Edwina fanned herself with her scarf. “Wonderful, really.”
“That was frickin’ awesome!”
“Language, Larry dear. This is the nineteenth century, and one does not speak that way around ladies.”
“Yes, ma’am. My apologies.”
By now, the bibliophiles were used to Edwina admonishing them like children and accepted it as part of her charm. “Let us head over to the Naper-Haight House. I think you will find what lies inside quite interesting.”
A man dressed in black with a white wig stuck his head out the side door. “Come, come now. We have much business which to attend.”
Three Puritan teenaged girls sat, wringing their hands, moaning. “It hurts. It hurts. They did this to us!” Their fingers pointed in the direction of a housewife and her slave. This was their trial.
“Innocent or guilty? You be the judge, but let me remind you, your very soul depends upon the answer.” The reverend paced before the audience.
Sarah, Annie, and Rosemary yelled “Innocent!” when asked whether the women should be burned at the stake. But many shouts of “Guilty!” were heard from the other side of the room, and that was all the reverend needed for his verdict.
One of the hysterical teenagers confronted Rosemary. “You are marked with the sign of the devil. I can see it on you. Burn her! Burn her!”
The housewife screamed “Save yourself! Get out now before it is too late!”
The audience was herded out before the reverend could take action on Rosemary.
“My God, Larry. I have never seen you laugh so hard in…well, ever,” said Sarah.
Larry wiped away the tears streaming down his face. “Oh, that was rich.” He turned to Rosemary. “A witch? Ha! That does not surprise me at all.”
“Very funny. You’d better watch it, or I’ll cast a spell on you. Oh wait, you already look like a toad.”
“Darlings, over here.” Edwina gathered the group next to a building where it was more quiet. “That, my dears, was the most frightening of all this evening because it really happened. Which puts me in the mood for next month’s selection, The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Won’t that be fun? Well, it might put a bit of a damper on your Thanksgivings, come to think of it, once you read about those awful Puritans, but, oh well, you shall rise above it, I am sure. Besides, I guess it will give you something to be grateful for, that you are not Puritans and that alone will allow for a happy Thanksgiving, won’t it? Well, okay then. I will see you on the first Tuesday in December, after you have read The Crucible. Ta-ta, dear ones.”