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CONVERSATIONS WITH REAL VAMPIRES by John Edgar Browning “10 August. New Orleans. — On the eve of the second Tuesday of every month, I have become, to the watchful bystander, a familiar presence in the French Quarter. Flying through the dusky sky over Bourbon Street, as I strolled along casually, were fast, sweeping brown bats: An homage, maybe, to the business of interviewing vampires? To my side hung the trusty brown leather satchel that housed my pen and paper, and digital voice recorder. I left politely at home, of course, the crucifix I didn’t actually own, and the short wooden stake carved for me by an older brother when I was younger. For indeed the vampires with whom I was meeting tonight were not prisoners of lore and legend: theirs was a new lore, and they were becoming very quickly their own legend. “We are meeting an hour later than usual for the third month in a row, because the sun, during the summer months, sets closer to 9 instead of 8. Tonight, I will ask for the first time if I can watch them feed.” The passage described above is not the work of fiction, I assure you. Rather, it is an extract from my

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Dothan, Alabama, kicks off its annual Peanut Festival today. by Vanessa K. Eccles It is beginning to smell a lot like fall in South Alabama. Driving down any country road will result in the wonderful fragrance of peanuts. The start of cool weather, the dusty fields and the late night hours of a peanut factory reminds all of us locals that the National Peanut Festival is on its way. Our stomachs rumble with thoughts of the Corn Dog Man, roasted corn, elephant ears and peanuts, of course. Not to mention the memory of seeing Neanderthal-looking men walk around with giant turkey legs in their mouths. It is not uncommon for people to show up at the Peanut Festival just to eat. In addition to great food, exhibits include photography, crafts, plants, food preservation and commercial booths. The livestock exhibits are always a favorite with the kiddos. There are prizes given to winners of all contests. The ever-so-desirous ribbon keeps contestants submitting every year. Who could forget the rides? From the Ferris Wheel to the swings, there is something for every stage of daredevil. The giant wheel can be seen miles away. It lights up the sky, reminding every heart of its desire to ride. What

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by Terri L. French I, like many from Huntsville, Alabama, am a transplant. Yes, I’m one of “those” Yankees — the ones that stay. I’ve lived in north Alabama for 23 years. My “you guys” have long since morphed into “y’alls.” But, I’m not, nor most likely ever will be, totally acclimated to Southern culture. I learn new things every day. For instance, there’s a lady down the road from me who has colorful glass bottles jutting from a tree in her yard. I’d never seen such a thing. Was it whimsical yard art, or did the tree have a drinking problem? Being a curious sort, I went home and spent three hours on the Internet researching the origins of the mysterious “bottle tree.” For you other transplants and uninformed indigenous types, here is what I found. Like many of the South’s oldest and most colorful customs, the bottle tree tradition was brought to this country by African slaves and continued by Southern African American families and white rural folk. What is now more of a decorative yard or garden feature was created for a paranormal purpose. According to legend, colorful bottles were talisman worn by trees. Once the spirits ventured inside the bottles

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by Diana Beall The raging storm came with a mighty roar. The wind blew fiercely, lightning flashed every few seconds, and thunder roared as the rain came splashing down against my window. It was so frightening, I couldn’t close my eyes. I wanted to scream, and I held it in for as long as I could, until a huge shadow passed by my window. “Mom-ma, daddy,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. They both came rushing in as the loving, concerned parents that they are. “It’s only a bad storm,” my Mom would say as she kissed my forehead. “But, there’s something at my window,” I explained. My Dad walked over to the window and said, “Oh, I see the problem, son. What you see is a shadow of a large branch that keeps moving in the wind. I’ll fix that and close the curtains and make it disappear. Now, everything is all better.” With my eyes still wide open, I asked, “What if there really is a monster or ghost out there?” As my Mom stroked my head, she talked about the bottle tree in our front yard. I listened as I did when it was Christmas Eve and she

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Halloween is coming soon. What are you going to be? Sweet Potato Queen - Her highness Jill Conner Browne's SPQ store on the Sweet Potato Queens website sells her signature red wig, queenly shades, rhinestone-encrusted baseball cap or crown, a variety of t-shirts and even a bling mug, all guaranteed to make your butt look smaller and instantly transform you into a queen. (For the guy lucky enough to get a date with a queen for the evening, there's the "Gen-u-wine Spud Stud" t-shirt.) True Blood Character - HBO's hit vampire series "True Blood," set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, has its own apparel, so you can get Vampire Bill's trademark thermal henley, the Merlotte's waitress tee and apron, Jason's varsity jacket or a complete Sookie outfit. Add in a bottle of "Tru-Blood" and a few bite marks, and you're ready to go. Scarlett O'Hara - Unless you're prepared to spend a pretty penny on this costume, you may want to take a nod from Scarlett herself and rip down some curtains, but we did find a costume shop in New Hampshire that will ship out several different gowns for rental. They've got a couple versions of the green curtain dress, plus Scarlett's

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by Shome Dasgupta Friday Night Greg sat at a booth inside the Cottage – a poorly ventilated bar and coffee shop, where one puff of a cigarette can make your eyes water, your hair smell like ash, and your skin wrinkle. Nonetheless, it was one of the few places in Lafayette, where people can smoke inside an establishment. He sat with his elbows resting on the table and his head between his hands. He looked at the glass ashtray, full of yellow cigarette butts. He looked up and saw Circus standing at the bar, in front of the video poker screen, unbuckling his belt and unzipping his pants. “No, Circus,” Greg said. “Don’t.” He didn’t hear Greg and started to pull down the front of his boxers. Greg shouted his name and walked towards him, putting his hand on Circus’ shoulder, who was, at 6 feet, a few inches taller than Greg. They were both slim guys, but Circus had a bit more muscle than Greg. Circus was one of those guys who could eat plate after plate of foods full of fat and never gain a pound. Greg had gained some pounds since his freshman year of college and just recently was able to

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by Erin Z. Bass I recently finished reading "The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, And The Invention Of Murder" by Daniel Stashower. While I've enjoyed reading Poe's short stories and poetry since I first discovered them in high school, I have to admit I didn't know much about the author himself. That is until I read the above-mentioned book. "The Beautiful Cigar Girl" tells the real-life story of the grisly 1841 murder of New York cigar salesgirl Mary Rogers, which Poe used as the basis for his detective story, "The Mystery of Marie Roget." That angle is compelling enough, but author Stashower, known for his biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, weaves in Poe's life story among the events of the murder case. The result is a portrait of an orphaned, alcoholic, self-destructive and under-appreciated writer who tried desperately to achieve fame until the day he died. It's hard to believe that Poe (pictured circa 1904 at right, courtesy of Library of Congress) wasn't famous in his day. He had his moments - upon publication of "The Raven" and "The Gold-Bug" - but they were short-lived. Today, there's no doubt that Poe is the father of the detective story (creating

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South Louisiana's Boudin Cookoff takes a day to celebrate a regional specialty. by Erin Z. Bass If you're looking for boudin paradise, travel no further than South Louisiana. Sure, the region's known for its crawfish, gumbo and etouffees, but a lesser known delicacy that comes stuffed in a sausage casing represents Cajun cooking at its best. Defined as a mixture of cooked rice, meat, onions, green onions and seasonings that is pulverized in a meat grinder and then stuffed into a sausage casing, a link of boudin is the snack of choice in the region. You can find it at gas stations, mom and pop restaurants, meat markets, the grocery store. Boudin is great with eggs for breakfast, as a side dish or with the stuffing taken out and formed into a ball and then fried. And now, once a year, this regional specialty gets its own day to celebrate. Lafayette, Louisiana's, third-annual Boudin Cookoff took place October 16 this year. Twenty-one of the area's top boudin shops (one from as far as Pensacola, Florida) came out to Parc Sans Souci with their steamers and fryers, vying for the title of "Boudin Master." For 50 cents a taste, attendees had the opportunity

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The inaugural Cheese Dip Competition celebrates a food that Arkansas can call its own. by Kat Robinson Arkansas boasts itself as home of the cheese-filled hot dog, rice served with sugar, Grapette and the fried pickle, but so far the state hasn't found anything that truly unites the masses. That is, until last year, when documentarian Nick Rogers came out with "In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip." Rogers did extensive research and discovered the origins of cheese dip dated back to the mid-1930s, when a Mexican immigrant by the name of Blackie Donnelly started serving up the dish at a Hot Springs restaurant. His wife apparently came up with the first recipe. Donnelly moved his business to Prothro Junction (northeast of Little Rock) in 1939, and his restaurant Mexico Chiquito, where the original cheese dip is still served, was born. After the documentary came out, Rogers expected some strong opposition from Texans, who claim just about every Americanized Mexican dish. But there was silence. His discovery that dated cheese dip to a time before nachos (which were created in the 1940s in Mexico) seems definitive and strong. And that’s where the idea of the World Championship Cheese Dip Competition came from. After all,

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Louisiana's Angola Prison Rodeo Rides Through October. by Amanda Burleigh Fall is here and that means it’s time for the annual Angola Prison Rodeo at Louisiana State Penitentiary. The longest running prison rodeo in the country, the event started as a form of recreation for the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a.k.a. Angola, inmates and as entertainment for the prison employees and residents of the surrounding community located 59 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. As interest grew, the rodeo was opened to the general public in 1967 and has become one of the most popular events in Louisiana. Held every Sunday in October, the Angola Prison Rodeo has been called “the wildest show in the South” and with good reason. Aside from the usual rodeo events, like barrel racing and bull riding, the rodeo has a variety of events that can’t be found anywhere else. One of the most dangerous is Convict Poker. This exhilarating event consists of four convicts sitting around a table “playing poker” when a bull is released and charges for them. The last one sitting is the winner! Although all rodeo contestants and many of the workers are inmates, it is a professional production with professional judges and rodeo clowns. There

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