AUNT JOHN SEZ: Kids, gather around and give a big Kindertrauma welcome to Carole Lanham, author of the forthcoming must-read “The Whisper Jar.” More on her new book in a minute, as Carole has kindly agreed to share with us her very own traumafession!
Take it away Carole:
It was going to be the greatest night ever. My friend Tammy and I had decided to camp in a tent in her backyard. We hammered down the stakes and shoved our pillows in through the zipper, and then we made a dangerous mistake. Instead of climbing into our sleeping bags while things were all rosy, we sat down to watch an episode of NIGHT GALLERY with Tammy’s mom. The Doll, it was called. It goes without saying that dark tents and dolls with scary teeth make for terrible bedfellows. Alas, we were only about ten years old at the time (ever notice how many traumafessions feature kids who are about ten years old?) and so we had yet to learn that rather important life lesson.
“Don’t worry,” Tammy’s mom said, after ROD SERLING and a levitating oil painting of a rag doll with a skull melting out of its head had bid us a decidedly troubling goodnight. “Dolls almost never bite.” With an encouraging shove, she sent us out the backdoor, turned off the light, and left us to face the forbidding black triangle of our tent alone.
We couldn’t stop thinking about it, of course. Couldn’t get the mascara-smeared eyes of The Doll out of our heads to save our souls! We turned on a radio, hoping for some relief, but the DJ, swear to God, was talking about a possible Big Foot sighting. Big foot! This was distracting at least, but not in a good way. There was nothing to do but click on our flashlights and take a trip around the block. Someone had to ensure that there were no creatures with big feet and/or crazy-haired dolls prowling about the neighborhood.
When we got back in the tent, we felt safer and started saying things to each other like, “This is the life, eh?” and “That Eric Brown sure is cute!” but it’s hard to enjoy a cozy sleeping bag and a good crush when you’re under the spell of a creepy doll. Next thing we know, strange shadows are circling our tent and there is a weird sound not unlike the sound of the clacking teeth of The Doll. We huddled together, our brains swimming with the NIGHT GALLERY theme music and vivid images of fez hats, fireplace pokers, and doll-bitten skin dancing before our eyes in the wonderful world of color. The clacking clacked closer. After much panicked deliberation over how we might transform our supply of Doritos and tampons into a proper weapon, the clacking dissolved into the stupid girlie giggles of the stupid neighbor boys.
That was one long night.
Sad to say, I had not learned my lesson about dolls yet. Many years later, writer Richard Matheson tried to teach me once and for all, by way of KAREN BLACK.
The film was called TRILOGY OF TERROR and the first two stories were mysterious and fun, but for my money they might just as well have dropped the trilogy and the of and called it straight up singular terror since the last segment is the one that makes grown men wet their pants. It’s definitely the one that sticks.
I had never seen this film until recently so you’d think I’d be wiser this time around. Well, I wasn’t dumb enough to plan a camp-out for that same night, that’s for sure, but I did sit down to watch the movie with my kids just as a storm was moving in.
Come bedtime, my daughter (about ten at the time) had no better luck forgetting the doll in this movie than I did forgetting the one on NIGHT GALLERY. Throw in the fact that she’s scared stiff of thunderstorms even on a Pixar night and it’s probably clear why I should keep away from bad dolls at all cost. Not a wink of sleep was had by either of us, and if you’ve ever seen the Zuni fetish doll in this movie, you know why. Without meaning to do it, I had given my daughter her own dolly traumafession.
Don’t let the cover of this movie fool you. It looks like the font is the scariest thing about it so that’s probably why I ignored the thunder and turned it on. Matheson changed the name of his doll story from Prey to Amelia when he wrote the script, to go along with the fact that KAREN BLACK was playing a different woman in each of the three segments. Prey says it better. Even as an adult, I huddled up with my family, wincing and jumping as Amelia and the doll had showdowns in the bathtub and the oven and the living room. There’s a missing carving knife that provides for a lot of suspense, and a horrifying bit involving a suitcase that for some reason made me squirm more than all the rest. There are no real special effects to speak of but the film holds up because the story is truly terrifying.
After all this time, you would think I’d know better than to play with dolls, but I’m afraid I still have a thing for them. I’m planning a scary doll give-away when my book comes out and this is purely due to the fact that I was damaged all those years ago by people like Algernon Blackwood, who wrote the short story that The Doll was based on, and Richard Matheson’s Prey. Scary stuff!
AUNT JOHN SEZ: Thanks for sharing that Carole. I feel your trauma as my own kid sister suffers from extreme pediophobia, a condition I might have used to my advantage on numerous occasions when we were kids. But I digress… I really want to talk about Carole’s new book “The Whisper Jar” (available Monday, October 31st in print or pre-order now, in electronic format via Morrigan Books).
Just in time for Halloween, “The Whisper Jar” is an anthology of seven short stories and two poems which all feature, in Kindertrauma parlance, traumatots grappling with the supernatural and the mundane. As Unkle Lancifer will be the first to attest, I have a very limited attention span and the idea of reading for pleasure is a luxury I rarely enjoy since I can’t sit still long enough. I am the fidgety type who can barely make it through a movie without having to check email, smoke a cigarette, or, well, fall asleep.
Such was not the case when I embarked on “The Whisper Jar.” As evidenced by her traumafession above, Carole knows how to turn a phrase, if you will, and I was sucked right into her fantastic world of slightly-off child protagonists. Some are dealing with sibling vampires; some are vying for the undivided attention of a pixie; and one has to come to the heart-breaking realization that nuns at her orphanage were less than truthful about her lineage. Honestly, Flannery O’Conner came to mind when I read the orphanage story “The Blue Word.” There is a definite moment of grace, and the final path to salvation is nothing short of heart breaking.
One last thing about Carole’s collection; “Maxwell Treat’s Museum of Torture for Young Girls and Boys” seriously begs for a small or silver screen adaptation. There is a powerful overarching theme of parental loss and Carole places her tragically displaced protagonist with one of the quirkiest families ever, one that includes three brothers who have the gumption to erect a museum devoted to archaic torture devices and two parents who fully support them in this endeavor. I want to live there!