Castle Frankenstein

In 2002, I was working with the Department of Defense Finance & Accounting Service. About once a month, I would travel from Grafenwoehr, Germany to DFAS headquarters at Kaiserslautern to hand-deliver financial records for the US Army Transportation Management Center for Europe.

On one trip, I finished early and took the autobahn back home. I saw a sign around the Mannheim and Darmstadt area for Burg Frankenstein. This immediately piqued my interest. I had time to spare so I took a short excursion to the castle said to inspire Mary Shelley to write her gothic novel, The Modern Prometheus, in 1818. Today, we know this story through Halloween and classic hit movies as the story of a monster come to life by a mad scientist through the channeling of a lightning bolt.

But did you know that there really was a mad scientist?

Castle Frankenstein is all mostly in ruins now. In 2002, it was still quite large and stunning, however. I remember the stones being almost red. I remember walking through the ruins alone and up the stone steps to the towers. The place is supposed to be haunted.

The castle was built around 1250. It was sold in 1662 and used as a hospital for a while before falling into ruins. By the time Mary Shelley may have seen it in 1814 when she visited the Rhine region and a small town called Gernsheim, 10 miles away, the castle would have been in pretty bad shape. No one knows for sure if Mary Shelley went there but it is believed her stepmother, who was a translator for Brothers Grimm stories, had first heard the story of the mad scientist and passed the story on to Shelley.

Who is this mad scientist?

His name was Johann Konrad Dippel. He lived at the castle or near the castle sometime around 1673. He invented what he called an “elixer of life” that was said to cure many diseases. Johann was a professional alchemist, a medieval term for a chemist. According to rumor, Johann also did anatomy and some even speculated that he exhumed bodies for his research.

There are other fascinating and mysterious stories associated with the grounds around the castle. Supposedly, there is a fountain of youth nearby that turns old women into young girls on Walpurgis Nacht. There is also a story of a knight fighting a deadly dragon.

The most interesting story I found is located on Mt. Ibes. This is the location of a collection of magnetic stones. Compasses do not work on Mt. Ibes. It is a place supposedly where ancient rites, rituals, traditions take place according to the old ways of the Franks, the previous Germanic tribes that lived in this area. Frankenstein literally means “stone of the Franks” which could be related to this magnetic stone circle phenomenon. Mt. Ibes is supposed to be a sacred and respected place.

Sadly, I did not take pictures of the trip. This was 2002 prior to the arrival of the smartphone. and it was just a side excursion from the autobahn. It was one of those “spur of the moment” decisions that I will never regret. Some day it would be great to see the Castle Dracula too.

There is another place close nearby there along the border with France. The paranormal story from this place was called The Bleeding Nun and it is featured in another gothic classic written by Matthew Gregory Lewis called The Monk. The bleeding nun is an apparition that appears at Castle Lindenberg and warns you of giving in to lustful desires as it must have led to her demise. The Monk was published in 1796.

The only other story I really love from the Rhineland region is probably The Lorelei. She is a beautiful apparition that sits on the rocks just above a dangerous turn of the Rhine River. She was jilted by a faithless lover and committed suicide by casting herself into the waters of the Rhine at that spot and drowned. Now, she seeks revenge on sailors or other male travelers on the Rhine river. She sings a wondrous tune just like a siren. She is said to be exquisitely beautiful and also…..deadly. Men who see her, generally swim towards her….only to drown in the treacherous rapids below her. She became the inspiration for a portion of the small adventure book I wrote, Searching for Fire.

Here is a nice link to a BBC article with pictures of Castle Frankenstein. Thanks for reading this and have a gute nacht, freunde.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20161018-germanys-most-monstrous-castle

Short Stories and Stream of Consciousness Thoughts

I read this article tonight. Here is the article link:

https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-short-stories.html

It provides a great list of the best short stories to read. The stories are listed in two categories. The first category is for children and the second is for adults. I have read almost all of the children category stories but sadly, only a handful of the adult short stories shared in the article.

Along with this article, I’ve been thinking about some recent discussions I’ve had with friends online here and also at work. One discussion was on the book The Clan of the Cave Bear. This is a very large and dense book by Jean Auel and was written during the 1980s. The story is about a Cromagnon women in ancient times who is raised in a Neanderthal tribe. She is very light-skinned with blond hair and blue eyes. She has an athletic build and learns to become a skilled hunter with a slingshot. But she is considered to be terribly ugly by the other members of the tribe who much prefer the Neanderthal appearance. This story is interesting to me because it taught me early on in life that public opinion of beauty and appearance and racial views is fluid and adaptable, given to change with influencer trends. The story, at its heart, boils down to the “Ugly Ducking” story.

Another recent discussion I had at work centered on the movie The Lion King. We discussed the parts of the story and speculation from articles I read that The Lion King is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This really got me pondering other Shakespearean plays such as Macbeth and how you could make a modern-day version of that great play.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner……perhaps someone’s already had these ideas. There’s a specific passage in the Bible from the Book of Job that mentions these exact words….the sound and the fury. Also, one of the characters in the book by Faulkner is also called Uncle Job which I find interesting.

This got me thinking about stories and patterns of stories and whether a lot of the stories we have are similar to each other or old stories adapted to contemporary culture of the time.

Interesting and random stream of consciousness thoughts late at night….

As a side note, I guess my favorite short story for children would probably be the book titled You Are Special by Max Lucado. I also love many of the stories of Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein.

As for adult short stories……that’s much harder to consider. I suppose you could consider The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes a bit of a story although written as a narrative poem. I like that one as well as The Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant, Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras and several of the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King.

Do you have any short stories that you recommend? What about children’s short stories verses adult short stories? Which are your favorites in each category? Please comment below. I’d like to hear your recommendations for good short stories to read 🙂

If you’ve managed to read this far into the post, thanks so much for reading these late night ramblings!

Remind Me

My daughter was born in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Her name is Ella. Another woman named Ella came from Hampton Roads. She was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News.

Ella Fitzgerald.

Just listening to her beautiful voice tonight…….reminds me…..brings me back to those days in lovely Virginia.

Here, listen:

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year in 2021! May we all be reminded of the wonderful things in life this year.

Noel a Paris

They decided on the trip together. Usually they always spent Christmas with family but this year they wanted to try something different. Christmas was usually spent listening to Aunt Gabby’s cat stories or watching the family open presents one by one slowly. Mom usually made a big buffet and Dad usually always got a hunting gift. The grandkids would run around the house and someone would setup Christmas music on the TV. There would be hugs and family photos with ugly Christmas sweaters or Grinch pajamas sets. Generally, there would be some games…board games, card games, gingerbread house competitions and such. It was always great fun but also a little awkward at times with the big family reunion. There were lulls in conversation or points where one had to be tactful and polite, particularly in regards to political topics. And, hectic…it could be hectic too as the family packed up all the presents in the car. She’d fuss over everything especially the smashed bows on the presents or whether the tree lights should be left on while they were away. She’d always be the last to the car. The kids would be crowded together and arguing, nit-picking each other. He’d get frustrated and beep the horn.

Yeah.

Christmas with family…..

This year would be different. They talked about this months ago when she had received a great price deal on roundtrip tickets. She had stared at her monitor at her sales cubicle. She studied the advertisement photo of a beautiful lit-up Eiffel Tower on a starry night. Come spend Noel a Paris, the breath-taking City of Lights…that’s what the picture caption read. Usually she skipped these promo ads but this one for some reason had caught her eye.

It had taken some convincing for him. A couple of dinners together at night. She approached the subject each time after their kids had excused themselves from dinner. She talked to him while cleaning up dinner plates and putting food back in the fridge. Eventually, with some reluctance, he was on board too. It was probably the cheap airfare price that did it as he was an accountant by profession and nature, preferring to limit extravagant spending.

The day they left the kids at Grandma’s, it snowed a heck of a lot. The kids wished them a great trip. They hugged each one and told them to be good. He struggled to get the car through the growing snowdrifts and she watched the kids with her parents through her rear view side mirror on the passenger side until they were too far away in the distance.

The ride to the airport was blustery and cold. He had to keep the wipers and heat going on high mode. In comparison, the climate in Paris outside the terminal after their excruciatingly long flight was sunny and much less calamitous.

They managed to get to the hotel through the kindness of Parisian pedestrians and a taxi driver that pointed the way in English. Their understanding of the local language was beginner level at best but they did manage “merci” and “bonjour” from time to time.

They stayed at a four story hotel off the Champs Elysee and close to the St. Antoine de Exupery street where she’d read the couture shops were located. They ate French croissants for breakfast and wandered the streets of Paris for a day or two. They visited art museums and strolled past trendy boutiques for fashion. They went up the Eiffel Tower together and took many beautiful pictures of all of gorgeous Paris, the statues, the buildings, the homes, and the people.

It was super fantastic until Christmas eve around five o’clock. Suddenly the bustling streets and walkways of Paris were very quiet and empty. Everything had shut down…the shops, the restaurants, and all the other businesses. They walked together in the growing darkness on the still streets. They passed many brightly lit homes. There were people greeting each other happily on front steps with packages. Inside some cheery and warm homes, they could see people happily gathered in comraderie. They began to feel homesick and that feeling grew as they ate cheeseburgers at Planet Hollywood, the only place in Paris still open. They wandered back thoughtfully to their hotel room. They each got their small gift for one another. They sat on the bed and exchanged them. It was nice but the moment ended quickly and they looked around the room wandering what to do next. They ended up watching TV together and went to bed early. As they changed into pajamas, he looked at her and said, “ I kinda miss Aunt Gabby’s cat stories..”.

She smiled, relieved he felt the same way she did in that moment. She laughed, “Yeah, I miss them all too…especially the kids. I miss them so much tonight. Christmas isn’t the same without them….without family.”

They smiled and sat on the bed together. They called back home to Grandma’s and were happy when one of the cousin’s picked up the line. They spent a good while wishing the bustling and noisy household at Grandma’s a very Merry Christmas.

And that was the last time they skipped out on family time at Christmas.

The Christmas Gift

In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.

The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.

The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??

Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.

A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.

Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.

I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.

I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.

Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.

I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.

It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.

Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.

He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”

He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”

He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”

With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.

Ghost?

(This a short excerpt from a story I am working on. It is based on true life. Happy spook-tober!)

“I have a story about ghosts,” Skylar said to Stein while trying to search for something meaningful to say in that awkward moment.  “I mean…I never have seen… a ghost but…..I experienced something strange one time.”  She looked at Stein and then looked around at the darkness of the forest outside their car and at the solitary rail bridge ahead. 

“I was younger.  I went to the city with my Dad.  We went to a summer festival that day.  There were festival tents all around this old Victorian mansion.  It loomed above the wide lawn. It was all brick and three stories tall. I didn’t like the house. It gave me an odd vibe I couldn’t shake. Yet, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go on the historical home tour with him.  I said yes.  We got in the house and were ushered into the living room space.  It was an elegant old home and well furnished. 

The tour guide began explaining the history of the house to us.  She talked about the owners and the number of times it had transitioned from family to family.  In the early 1920s, it had been turned into an orphanage after the Spanish Flu epidemic, for kids who’s parents had died from the flu.  It was run by nuns and priests.  Then for a while, it was supposedly a psychiatric hospital.  In the 1980s, it was turned into a historical home and they began giving tours and stuff.”

She paused and looked at Stein.  “The tour guide began telling us about the hauntings there.  Supposedly there is a Lady in Red that haunts the place, a young woman who had a botched abortion and died.  She is crying and she begs at the front door to see a priest.  There are some other ghosts there too…..children from the orphanage.  And they say there is a very malevolent ghost there too on the first floor, a psych patient that committed suicide.”

She paused again, “That day, I followed the tour group into the hallway.  I was standing in the hallway on the wood floor and I felt cold air coming up from the floor.  It felt good cause it was summer.  It was real cold like air-conditioned air.  I felt it all around me but the others didn’t seem to notice it like I did. I remember looking down at the floor thinking the cold air was coming from a hole in the floor leading to the basement. I stood there for quite a while in the cold spot.”

“We continued to the dining room and I stood off to the left of the big table.  The tour guide was talking but all of a sudden, I felt faint……..very very faint.  Not sick but like I was gonna pass out. And I was having trouble seeing…. like the room was darkening before my eyes.  I was so worried that I would faint on an antique chair and break it.  So, I rushed over to the next room to the right.  It was a library or den or something. My vision was getting worse and worse and I knew I had to get out of that house immediately.”

I stumbled my way to the front door, jerked it opened, and rushed down the concrete steps groping for the handrail.  My vision was narrowing, the blackness was overtaking my sight.  I bumped into a few people awkwardly and went around the corner of the house stumbling. With my hands in front of me reaching out to grasp air, I could barely see. My vision was decreasing to a tiny pinhole and then suddenly…… wham!  I hit my face on the concrete sidewalk.  I blacked out about one foot away from a tent spike sticking out of the ground and tied to one of the festival tents.  I didn’t just faint like they do in the movies.  I slammed my face into the sidewalk really hard as if I had been pushed by someone. When I came to, there was a crowd of folks gathered around me asking if I was okay.  I was trembling and the whole right side of my face and neck was bruised, swollen, and bleeding from cuts.”

“I had barely missed putting my face through a tent spike. If I had hit that tent spike, I would be dead for sure.”

“The cops and ambulance came.  They asked me what had happened.  I told them about the cold air in the hallway.  I told them I thought maybe there was some chemical in the air and maybe there was a hole coming up from the basement.  I asked them to check because I was worried about it. Maybe it was carbon monoxide. They checked the entire hallway.”

“There was no hole in that hallway. There was no explanation for the cold air at all.”

“I didn’t think much of it.  I figured over the years, I’d just blacked out but one day I told a friend that was big into paranormal TV shows about it.  She said…..well, she said I might be something called a sensitive.  She said maybe I was empathetic to ghosts, that I could feel things deeply…..more than others.  Starla said I experienced a cold spot in the hallway that day because I felt the presence of a ghost standing beside me, lingering around me.  I felt it but could not see it. And the others, could not feel nor see either.

My friend said it might have been the malevolent ghost. It may have been trying to hurt me intentionally and pushed me towards the tent spike on purpose…..” She trailed off.  “To this day, I still don’t really know what happened. I have never ever seen a ghost but perhaps, I felt one nearby that others did not feel. My friend said this is a gift. That I should use it, to help others so I began researching more about the paranormal world.”

The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn is Just to Love and Be Loved in Return

The first tape I ever bought was Nat King Cole’s Greatest Hits. Natalie Cole had just released the song with her father called Unforgettable.  It was my favorite song at the moment.  I liked love songs back then. I liked old AMC movies about love. Especially the black and white movies like Roman Holiday or any of the kodachrome Elvis movies or anything with Cary Grant. I liked everything to do with love. I was a typical young girl full of heart and dreams. So, I went to the store when I was maybe 12 in 7th grade and I bought Nat King Cole’s tape.  I still can recall that day at the mall store.    

I learned every love song on that tape, laying on my bed with my Walkman and listening to the songs with my eyes closed and smiling.  His songs were so happy and promising and full of optimism. I played the tape over and over and over again.  I wore that tape out.  His voice was amazing.  The songs I loved the best were Walking My Baby Back Home and L-O-V-E.  A lot of people today reference Nat King Cole and probably don’t even realize it.  The phrase “to love and be loved” comes from a little known song from Nat King Cole called Nature Boy.  It actually goes like this…. “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  This song is also in the movie, Moulin Rouge. 

There’s an urban legend story about Nat King Cole’s wife.  Some say it is true.  Some say it is not.  Here is the story, irregardless.  This woulda been in the year 1965:

“An African-American woman is stranded on an Alabama Highway in a rain storm. She flags down a motorist who turns out to be a white man who takes her to where she can get a cab. She’s in a big hurry, writes down his address, and leaves. A week later, there is a knock at the man’s door. It’s the delivery of a giant console color television with a note from the woman he had helped on the rainy highway. She thanks him and says that because of his kindness, she was able to make it to her dying husband’s bedside. It is signed Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

There are other firsts in my life for different types of music playing.  The first 8-track tape I ever remember hearing when I was a little girl in the 80s dancing at my grandma’s house with my cousins was the Beegees.  I remember dancing to Stayin’ Alive.  It was a very happy moment. I must have been four or five.

My mother had a record player and to this day it is in her attic.  We only had three records we would play over and over again.  They were Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, and then Olivia Newton John.  I can’t remember the specific album from Olivia Newton John but I remember her singing I Honestly Love You. My mother liked her a lot.

My first CD, well, that was Wrecks n Effect or maybe Guns n Roses Appetite for Destruction.  To this day, Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorites. 

Once streaming came on board, it was pretty easy to access all sorts of songs and I honestly can’t remember what were my first ones then.  But I remember the tape of Nat King Cole the most of all. 

How about you?  What are your fondest memories of music?  What was your first 8-track or your first tape or CD?  What songs meant the most to you as a kid?