Welcome Dr. Randy Overbeck for this week’s Tell Tale Tuesday with “Ghosts, the Essence of Halloween.”
If you do the research, you’ll find that the day we call Halloween has a complicated origin story. Probably the earliest source for this unique holiday actually dates back over two thousand years to an ancient Celtic celebration called Samhain. These ancient Celts celebrated November 1 as their new year—the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of a long, cold winter. The night before, October 31, they believed the ghosts of the dead returned and roamed the earth.
Then, when the Romans conquered the Celts, around 43 A.D., they combined the Samhain with their own festival known as Feralia, a day to honor the dead—which of course included the recognition of the spirits of our passed loved ones, some still present among us.
Move forward a few hundred years and Pope Gregory designated November 1 as All Saints Day, a holiday to honor all Christian martyrs and saints. A few centuries later, as Christianity spread over Celtic lands, the festivals of Samhain and Feralia were subsumed into what was called All Hallowed Eve—October 31—since it was the night before All Saints Day. All Hallowed Eve became a night to honor those we had lost…and perhaps recognize their ghosts among us.
European settlers then brought this tradition across the ocean. In America, the beliefs of different ethnic groups about the dead and ghosts meshed with the beliefs of Native Americans about the spirit world to yield our very American idea of Halloween. For example, in Colonial America, Halloween festivals included the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making in the spirits’ honor.
You might see a theme emerging here.
For centuries, this time of year has been a time for remembering the dead and acknowledging that some of those who have passed are still among us. While you are far more likely to encounter chainsaw murderers or howling werewolves at haunted houses or pass an eerie alien or blood-sucking vampire trick-or-treating, they are not really what Halloween is about.
Across the years, the celebration we call All Hallowed Eve or Halloween has always been about the ghosts of those we have lost…and wondering if, perhaps, these spirits might still be among us. I’d argue the mystery of Halloween is best captured by pondering if those who have gone before us might, on this special night, have something to tell us…if we are willing to listen.
The persistence of these beliefs, even until today, is just one of the reasons I chose to wrap a ghost story of those who have passed into the cold-case murder mystery in each of my Haunted Shores Mysteries. And what could be a better way to celebrate All Hallowed Eve than to curl up with an award-winning ghost story/mystery like Blood on the Chesapeake, Crimson at Cape May or the new release, Scarlet at Crystal River?
All Darrell Henshaw wanted was to enjoy his honeymoon with his beautiful wife, Erin, in the charming town of Crystal River on the sunny Gulf Coast of Florida. Only a pair of ghosts decide to intrude on their celebration. And not just any ghosts, the spirits of two young Latino children. Unwilling at first to derail the honeymoon for yet another ghost hunt, Darrell finally concedes when a painting of the kids comes alive, weeping and pleading for his help.
When he and Erin track down the artist, they discover the children’s family were migrant workers the next county over. But when they travel there, their questions about the kids gets their car shot up and Erin hospitalized. Torn between fear and rage, Darrell must decide how far he will go to get justice for two young children he never even knew.
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Darrell ran harder, finishing the loop and circling back to Erin. She was so engrossed in her paperback he managed to sneak up behind her. He leaned and in and grabbed another long kiss.
She kissed him back, smiling. “Now that’s better than a little fictional romance.” She got up and stretched her long legs.
“You ready for some waves?” he asked.
“If you’re up to it, let’s do a mile or so on the sand first.”
“You’re on.” Darrell gave a gentlemanly wave of his hand.
“I’ll race you.”
Erin took off like a shot, and Darrell hurried after her. Since the beach was small, they covered the same ground Darrell had a few minutes earlier, passing the family sandcastle builders, another jogger, and the same strolling couples. As usual, she was quick, and he had to hustle to keep up, using some fancy footwork to sidestep sunbathers as they ran. When they got to the north end of the beach where Darrell had turned to double back, Erin headed for a little spit of land that strutted out into the water. He looked beyond and saw what she was headed for. Accelerating, he passed her.
Ahead, at the far end of the beach, a pair of young kids, he’d guess about six, sat in the sand as the waves rolled over their legs. Their small hands busied with a primitive sandcastle. One had long, brown hair tied into pigtails, and the other had a full head of brown hair, unkempt and in need of a trim. He came up to them and stopped, Erin a few seconds behind.
The kids wore street clothes, not swimsuits, but he didn’t think much about it. Then he noticed something about the young boy. His right leg was stuck out at a grotesque angle, as if it had been broken and never set. Both kids giggled at the gurgling water that rolled up around their bare feet and pooled in the makeshift moat they’d dug around their sand creation. The castle was crude, a nearly round construction with seashells sticking up like turrets. The two kids glanced up, caramel eyes wide and pleading with half smiles of white teeth.
In unison, they said, “Ayudaños?”
“Huh?” Darrell said.
“Cute castle, huh?” Erin stared at the sand and looked up at Darrell. “I wonder who made it?” Her eyes roamed around the area. “Out here on this spit of land it isn’t going to last very long.”
“Those kids—” he started, pointing to the pair. When he looked down, the sandcastle sat alone, the gulf water flowing around the construction and into the crude moat.
His glance darted out to the waves, thinking they’d abandoned their work and ran into the water, even in their street clothes, though he wondered how the boy could have run.
No girl or boy.
Oh, God! The same two kids? “You vill have two visitors.”
“What’d you say?” Erin asked, her gaze meeting his.
The ghosts. Erin hadn’t seen them!
Shit, he couldn’t tell her. Not now. Not here.
“Nothing,” he managed around the lump in his throat and glanced back down at the sand.
There at his feet, the crude sand construction they’d been working on, complete with the three blue seashells sticking out of the top, sat alone on the sand. He reached down and grabbed one of the small seashells as the prickle on his neck returned and sizzled. Then he sensed something else, something ominous. No, not ominous, malevolent. More of Natalia’s warning came back to him.
“I see a malevolence, a great danger lurking nearby.”
A big wave rushed in, rolling over their ankles and leveling the mound of sand, leaving the beach empty. As if nothing had ever been there.
Dr. Randy Overbeck is an award-winning educator, author and speaker. As an educator, he served children for four decades in a range of roles captured in his novels, from teacher and coach to principal and superintendent. His thriller, Leave No Child Behind (2012) and his recent mysteries, the Amazon No. 1 Best Seller, Blood on the Chesapeake, Crimson at Cape May and Scarlet at Crystal River have earned five star reviews and garnered national awards including “Thriller of the Year–ReadersFavorite.com, “Gold Award”—Literary Titan, “Mystery of the Year”—ReadersView.com and “Crowned Heart of Excellence”—InD’Tale Magazine. As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dr. Overbeck is an active member of the literary community, contributing to a writers’ critique group, serving as a mentor to emerging writers and participating in writing conferences such as Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville and the Midwest Writers Workshop. When he’s not writing or researching his next exciting novel or sharing his presentation, “Things Still Go Bump in the Night,” he’s spending time with his incredible family of wife, three children (and their spouses) and seven wonderful grandchildren.