Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Haunted Prisons

I am working on a fascinating series of newsletter articles for work that I’m going to expand into some longer articles about haunted prisons and jails.  You might be surprised to know how many jails and prisons, all over the country, are rumored to be haunted.  I’m no ghost hunter, but I am fascinated by legend and lore, and this is some of the best.
The first prison I am writing about is the Huntsville Unit Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. The ‘Walls,’ as it is called, is the oldest prison in Texas and it still processes and houses inmates. Stories of ghostly apparitions and strange noises abound, and it’s no wonder; history has been made here. All Texas inmate executions are carried out here, so it’s no wonder there are tales of hauntings.

A few years back, a co-worker and I were down and Sam Houston University in Huntsville, and we had the opportunity to tour the Walls unit.  We saw the yard and the education building that were the scene of a hostage siege in 1974 in which four people died.  We also saw the death chamber and the abandon sections of the prison which is where most of the hauntings appear to take place.

The Huntsville Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the oldest prison in Texas.  It was built in 1948 and 1849, and has been the scene of executions ever since, first through hangings, and then since 1924, through the use of the electric chair, “Old Sparky.” Following that, and up through current day, it is the site for lethal injections.  

Unexplained phenomena often originate from the original death row site located on the first floor of the East Building. The original death row and death chamber of the Walls Unit has not been in use since the 1950s. The South Building, as well as the catwalk connecting the two buildings are also said to be haunted by former inmates, who seek revenge.
One story tells of a Kiowa War Chief, Santanta, who was incarcerated for life, and in 1878, rather than live locked up, he chose to take his life by jumping from an interior third floor walkway.  He’s said to still be there, so it’s especially sad to think he managed to bind himself to the prison even in death, and never achieved the freedom he sought.

In addition, in July of 1974, three inmates took hostages in the educational wing of Huntsville’s Walls Unit.  The siege lasted eleven days, and four people died, including two inmates and two civilians.  Those ghosts remain as well.  Stories tell of officers confronting prisoners who disappear through walls. Others have reported hearing disturbing cries, and even words like “Hey Captain, hey Captain” which is suspected to refer the original warden at the walls, who was called Captain, although, he is by no mean the only Captain it could refer to.  

Excerpt:  Reaching for Beyond
I took a few deep breaths to center myself while we slipped on gloves and paper booties to avoid contaminating the crime scene, but the smell of blood was so strong to my shape shifter senses that when it combined with the darkness, trying to center almost made it worse. The rest of the house looked almost undisturbed. The plant, in the corner of the living room, lay on its side, dirt spilling onto the carpet, but that was the only sign anything had happened, until you got to the bedroom. The lack of footprints leading from the blood should have told an observer that the killer was preternatural if nothing else did, but overall, the rest of the house didn’t look nearly bad enough for the quantity of blood I could smell. 

Death creates a kind of a void of energy in the area of the death, and here, it seemed to have sucked all the air out of the house.  To my empathy, it’s like it’s trying to drain me of all my energy. With every step, the knot of anxiety in my stomach got a little larger and a little colder. The void echoed against my shields. Blood spatter on the outside of the bedroom door told me I wasn’t going to like what I saw, but I’d known that going in.

So much blood.  When I first stepped into the room, all my mind could process was blood.  It occurred to me that I was glad we had the paper booties on, but there was no way they could stand up to that much blood, and it would be a crapshoot as to whether or not I’d ever get the blood out of my shoes.  My feet squished in it when we walked into the room.  I couldn’t see the body at first.  Emotions screamed through the room, and my shields.  Rage. Pain. Terror.  When my mind finally began to process the scene, my stomach revolted, and I swallowed rapidly to keep from bolting for the door.  My anger increased, and I grabbed Jason’s arm again to use his energy for balance.

I hadn’t realized how unprepared I was for what I was seeing and feeling. The scene was beyond anything I could have imagined, and I have a very dark, twisty imagination. I’ve seen some things in this job I would have preferred not to see, but this was in a whole new category.

“Holy shit, what’s that?” Jason breathed the words more than spoke them. The shocked look on his face told me he could feel the energy that was now swirling through me.

“Energy, dark, dark energy.”

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Life, the Universe, and Everything

The title started out as just an homage to Douglas Adams, as I talked about life, the universe, and everything, but then I couldn’t help but start thinking about the books, the series, and the movie, and how much influence they had on the culture of, at the very least, a subset of people, okay, geeks, of which I and a number of my friends are members, but beyond that, it has gained cult status worldwide.  If you ask Google for the answer to life, the universe, and everything, the answer is 42. 

Originally a series of radio scripts for BBC, the series was later adapted to “stage shows, novels, comic book adaptations, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, and 2005 feature film. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has become an international multi-media phenomenon. The novels are the most widely distributed, having been translated into more than 30 languages by 2005,” which gives those who may not be familiar an idea of just how influential the series was, and is.

To this day, among many of my friends, 42 is likely to be the answer to any question of an esoteric nature, and will solicit nods, grins, and chuckles, generally followed by a discussion of whatever the original question was.  My people know where their towels are!  You never know when you will run in to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall. 

When I graduated from college, the first time, I had a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy party.  We had pan galactic gargleblasters, and since we couldn’t find Algolian Suntiger teeth, we used crawfish claws, and yes, as a couple of people at the party would attest, that yes, it “is like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick"  It was a good party.

Naturally, much of the appeal comes from the reader’s ability to identify with the characters, and to recognize aspects of people they know in the same diverse group of characters.  If you have somehow missed this series, I wholeheartedly recommend it. This series hits all the right notes for me, and while I write a very different type of book, Adams is one of the authors I consider an example of the type of author I would like to be.  His quirky look at the world continues to entertain long after it was written.

Excerpt from Reaching for Beyond:
Recently I’ve begun absorbing whatever energy is around me just as though I had tapped a ley line, and one time I even did this channeling kind of thing with a dead friend’s journal, but that’s another story, and the only time that’s happened. The one giving me the most trouble at the moment was that the dark energy that had oozed past my shield at the crime scene. It made me feel decidedly bitchy.
As we got in the car, Jason looked at me for a long moment. “You haven’t told him you’re here yet have you?”
“So what if I haven’t?  I didn’t know how long we’d be here, and we’ve been busy.”
“Too busy to make a phone call?”
“Shut up.”
Jason laughed as he walked into his own room to go through the photos he’d taken again, and the ones he’d gotten from Giles, looking for, well, anything that might help us make sense of the murder and the crime scene.
I took a few minutes to catch my breath and think before I called.  I still couldn’t’ understand the affect he had on me.  I’ve been around a lot of men, and even loved one, once, but even he didn’t have the effect on me that Cam did.
Cam answered on the second ring. “Delany.”
“Hey there,” I said, knowing he’d recognize my voice.
“Riley. Hi. How’s it going?” His voice, as smooth as silk, even over the phone could speed up my heart rate. He’d had that effect on me since the first moment I’d laid eyes on him, and while he “was” gorgeous, I’d come up with nothing to account for the fact that he was the only man I’d ever met that could speed up my heart rate just by proximity.
“Good, I suppose. Jase and I just caught a new case that I need to talk to you about.”
“Sure. How can I help?’
“Meet me for lunch?”
“You’re in town?” I could hear the smile in his voice, although there was also the possibility it was a leer. We always seemed to somehow end up naked when we got together, but between the demands of my job, and his, we’re keeping things casual. Between my commitment issues, and the fact that my family would never accept him, I have to admit that the lack of forward movement in our relationship is my fault.