Halloween Hilarity with Jane Austen
With October in full force, and autumn thrills and chills in the air, all of us here at Austen Authors are pulling out our comfy blankets, pouring large mugs of hot tea, coffee, or cocoa, and beginning to move our laptops and other writing implements closer to the fire… (in California, of course, we might use electric flame logs, and close the windows to keep out the burning Santa Anas, but we can still dream of fall colors and falling leaves).
Here in Vermont, I am fortunate to be experiencing a ruddy true autumn, with the world turned to gold, yellow, orange, flame red and deep crimson, with maple leaves whirling down, geese flying south, crisp winds, and a promise of even colder weather to come—the full array of New England fall colors similar to what Jane Austen herself probably saw in her own native England at this time of the year.
It can mean only one thing… Halloween is around the corner!
Yes indeed! I can hear it now, approaching with a howl and a moan and a creeping, dark shadow-chill, and an orange pumpkin with big, grinning jaws of fire!
What could be more perfect now than to give you a little taste of supernatural Jane Austen?
Here are three very short excerpts to put you in the Halloween mood, to raise delicious chills along your spine, and then to make you howl… with laughter!
In the first excerpt, from Mansfield Park and Mummies, you are treated to Lady Bertram, under the influence of an unfortunate Curse, and secreted away in the attic, as she tries to raise an Ancient Egyptian Mummy from the dead…
* * *
Within the room, was darkness. The windows were shaded by thick curtains against the bright morning, and Lady Bertram went to it and drew one of the curtains aside in a narrow slit, to give herself some illumination.
What the light of day revealed was no less than the innards of a burial chamber in the grandest pyramid of Egypt. In the center, upon a slab, lay a long sarcophagus, decorated with lapis and precious gold. All around stood various statuary of gods bearing the heads of crocodile, falcon, cat, ibis, and other unnamed creature-beasts; there were precious jars, vases, pots, chests and boxes, containing all the household goods of an unnamed pharaoh who had walked the earth three thousand years ago. Leaning in the corners were great gilded spears, bows and arrows, swords and axes of the guardians of the pharaoh, life-sized wooden figures who sat in stooped positions all around the perimeter, interspersed with occasional mummified baboons, cats and canines. Oh, and a crocodile—the long crocodile mummy lay in the deepest corner on top of a golden chest.
Lady Bertram took in the splendid and terrifying sight without batting an eyelash, and then took steps that drew her just at the foot of the sarcophagus. She slowly picked up a nearby small casket that spanned two arms at most, and removed a number of sacred amulets, including a forked dagger, a serpent-headed dagger and something that might have been a stunted crooked poker, but was instead a censer bearing the remote resemblance of a human hand and arm. In a momentary daze she stood, holding the items without comprehension. Then she laid them out on a small side table that appeared to be just for such a purpose, and already contained an unopened book scroll.
And only then did Lady Bertram use both hands to lift the heavy golden lid of the sarcophagus and drag it aside with a horrendous scrape.
Within, lay a human figure wrapped from head to foot in flimsy decaying fine linen the color of yellow and rust, and obscured with a layer of dust.
It was still, unmoving, dead to the world, as only a thing of three thousand years could be.
“The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony is started!” exclaimed Lady Bertram. She took up the hand-shaped crooked amulet and raised it before her, waving it through the air and then resting it gently on the area where would be the mummy’s lips. Then with the other hand she took up the book scroll—none other than the Book of the Dead—and began to read the words of awakening:
My lips are parted by bright Ptah,
My mouth is opened by the god who rules my birth.
Thoth defeats Seth to control my movement of lips.
Aten gives strength and motion to my—Achoo!
Lady Bertram sneezed, coughed delicately to clear her throat, then continued:
My mouth is bestowed by the ones who guard me.
With the metal of his making Ptah fills my mouth,
The same metal that opened all mouths.
Sekhmet-Wadjet from the west, Sahyt rules all souls.
I am ruled by them, my mouth is mine.
My Dream is broken and I Rise and Speak and Live.
Rise! Speak! Live!
And as the last words slithered from Lady Bertram’s somewhat mumbling lips, she then said a sentence or two in a completely foreign tongue, and waved the various amulets about like cutlery at suppertime.
The attic room began to rumble and shake.
The Mummy’s sunken chest rose and fell. And then it sat up, slowly, until it was upright. Linen bits went flapping all around, and dust arose, as the Mummy then slowly lifted one desiccated wrapped leg over the side of the sarcophagus, then the other. And then it stood up, teetering, and raised one arm, and underneath the linen its mouth moved and rounded into a concave circular orifice.
It seemed the Mummy strove to speak, but yet could not.
“Oh dear, well then,” said the brave lady, trying to make the Mummy feel more comfortable, all things considered. Then she continued in a much firmer tone. “Well, I do bid you welcome to the world and to our splendid isle of Majesty’s Great Britain, My Lord, O Great Pharaoh. ’Tis truly a veritable delight, a rare pleasure to have you here under my roof, you must be—ahem—parched and famished. The world has certainly changed since oh-so-many years ago, and naturally you might have questions. May I offer you a gooseberry tart? Fanny does harbor a liking of them and so does Julia—”
The Mummy apparently found its voice at last.
Out came the most horrid bellow that Lady Bertram had ever had the misfortune of hearing.
But the lady was rather nonplussed. “Oh dear,” she said. “I don’t suppose I ought to have some tea brought up instead?”
“RWAH! RWAHARRR!” said the Mummy, now raising both hands.
“A rack of lamb? Beg pardon?”
“ARRWAW WAY WARRRTH!”
“Oh dear!” Lady Bertram wrung her hands. “Does your Mummyship perchance mean to request—”
“AWRAW WOWW WAUTH!”
“Oh dear! Oh dear! Whatever does that signify? Perchance—a rat gone south? No? Goodness, I do not think we have rats. That is, I am certain we do not allow them on the premises. Verily, I must insist, that no matter the customs of your own dear bygone Egypt, here we do not consume vermin, particularly not in this household—my dear sister Norris, being the one exception, of course. Or, is it arcane pharaonic code for some other particular royal need—”
“UMWAWP MAH WOUTH!”
“A whap of vermouth? Whatever could that be? I am sorry—”
“AAAAAAAAAARGH!” The Mummy shook its upraised hands, howling mightily. It appeared to be in frustrated distress.
“UNWAWP MY WOUTH!”
“Oh! Oh! Yes! Indeed, now I understand, unwrap my mouth! Why, by all means I shall.” And Lady Bertram hurried to oblige.
The Mummy lowered both arms in sudden relief and nodded its head slowly, while the good lady worked on its facial area with a sharpened tool, ripping ancient cotton to make a proper hole as though it were nothing more than embroidery, all the while making soothing cooing noises, as though talking to pug.
“There you are!” she added, when the gruesome task was done. “All nice and comfortable, so your Lordly Mummyship might speak properly.”
And the Mummy spoke indeed. Its chest made a motion to bellow its lungs, with the sound of a hiss in old sails.
“I am free,” it finally said, speaking the English tongue with odd peculiarity, in a voice hollow and gravelly and sounding like a faraway wind from an ancient desert.
“I am free and I hunger.”
* * *
And now, in a second excerpt, from Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons, enter a gothic Regency world where everyone has guardian angels and, in some cases, guardians of a not so pleasant nature… Our innocent heroine, Catherine Morland is the only one who can see all of them. Here, for the first time, she meets the metaphysical guardian of Isabella Thrope—a guardian demon!
* * *
The rest of the evening she found very dull, despite the many sympathetic whispers of angels in both her ears. Mr. Tilney was drawn away from their party at tea, to attend that of his partner. Miss Tilney, though belonging to it, did not sit near her. And James and Isabella were so much engaged in conversing together that the latter had no leisure to bestow more on her friend than one smile, one icy squeeze, and one “dearest Catherine.”
And yet—before the end of the evening, dullness was promptly dispelled, to be replaced by something truly horrific. For, soon enough, it was midnight, and Catherine was suddenly reminded of the angelic warning . . .
At the striking of the clock, Isabella momentarily paused and oddly flexed her shoulders, as though a strange invisible weight had settled on her. And, as Catherine continued to observe, she began to see that there was indeed a shadow, a shape forming near Isabella—verily, out of Isabella.
The air itself seemed to fill with despair.
The shape—at first only a grotesque distortion of Isabella’s own shadow cast by candlelight—in a matter of seconds took on a life of its own, a dark unnatural animation and existence. It wavered, it moved; it stretched and reformed and thickened into an ugly thing, remotely human, with blunt limbs, glowing slits of coal-red eyes, scaly and elephantine hide, a darting forked tongue, and a pair of prominent horns.
Isabella’s demon was here.
And while Isabella chattered on about trifles, and James watched her with oblivious impossible fascination (meanwhile turning blue from the cold), Isabella’s demon stretched and looked around, and hissed like a serpent at the cloud of angels.
And then it looked directly at Catherine.
And it belched, in the filthiest manner possible.
* * *
In the third excerpt, from Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret, you are treated to Mr. Collins explaining to his cousins his latest venture, as advised by his noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh:
* * *
“Lady Catherine, in her supreme graciousness, informs me at every opportunity that diversity in the natural flora and fauna is a highly desirable trait for a garden landscape,” Mr. Collins was saying, “and therefore she recommends I introduce wild game from other continents into the nearby woods. Firstly, I have ordered from the Australian Continent, and am promised a pair of kangaroo to be delivered here by fall. As her ladyship insists, I will introduce them into the shrubbery, and allow them to, pardon the indelicacy, breed, and—as is likely, her ladyship goes on to say—to interbreed with the local game, primarily the deer and household livestock such as goats. In addition, I am supremely fortunate to have discovered and written to a supplier of a rare and extraordinary animal called the platypus, which is the natural offspring of a duck, otter, beaver, snake, crocodile, gazelle, porcupine, and, I am told, a watercress-fed water buffalo—”
* * *
I hope you enjoyed these excerpts!
And now, here is a sneak peek at what’s yet to come!
Get ready… I now unveil the shiny new cover of the upcoming Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency!