As a writer, one thing that really irritates me is when a movie or TV show features a blocked writer having some kind of adventure or an out-of-the-ordinary experience in real-life which provides the inspiration for his or her next magnum opus. I find this trope insulting. It’s like saying writers aren’t creative enough to imagine our stories and we’re only capable of writing thinly disguised nonfiction. But I did have a weird experience on Halloween some years back, and I did eventually use it in a horror story, so for me, the trope became real – at least once.
It began on Halloween in the year 2000. My oldest daughter was five, and my youngest hadn’t had her first birthday yet. The previous fall I’d accepted a full-time job teaching creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and at the time, the neighborhood we’d moved into seemed okay, but as the months went on, we began to realize that it had a kind of . . . I guess negative atmosphere is the best way to put it. Everyone seemed to watch everyone else with suspicion, and there was a sense that something bad might happen at any moment, like the build-up of energy in the air before a huge thunderstorm breaks loose. We were determined to make the best of it, though, and when Halloween rolled around, I volunteered to take our oldest daughter – Devon – trick-or-treating, while my wife Cindy stayed at home with our not-quite-a-toddler Leigh.
Devon dressed as a witch that year. She had a black witch’s robe, and a conical witch’s hat with black fuzz around the edge of the brim. She was very excited to go trick-or-treating, and while I was a little worried about how the night might go, I loved taking Devon out for Halloween, and I hoped we’d both have a good time. Plus, we didn’t know most of our neighbors, and this would be the first time I’d get a sense of what the area was really like. I told myself that once I had the chance to meet the people who lived in the neighborhood, I’d see that this place wasn’t so bad after all.
And at first, that’s exactly what happened. We went from door to door, along with other kids and their parents, ringing doorbells and shouting “Trick or treat!” when someone answered. Because Devon was so young and didn’t have any friends in the neighborhood to trick or treat with, I went up to the houses with her, smiling at the adults who answered the door, and giving them a wave as we departed. Everyone seemed pleasant and quite normal . . . and then we went to what I’ve come to think of as The Street. I can’t remember its name, but it was dark there. There weren’t many streetlights in the neighborhood, and those that were there didn’t seem to put out much illumination. Not many kids were trick or treating there, and while I didn’t feel the street was dangerous, I was reluctant to take Devon to the houses there. I told myself that I shouldn’t prejudge this neighborhood and the people that lived there, and I led Devon to the first house on the street, and we continued our rounds.
We soon came to a house that had a large chain-link enclosure in the side yard. It was a cage, complete with a roof, and inside were three very big, very shaggy creatures who looked like wolves. I was certain they were wolves, and they paced back and forth looking out at us and growling softly. The house itself was dark. The porchlight wasn’t on, and no light shone from inside. I had no idea what the hell someone was doing keeping wolves in a suburban neighborhood, and I didn’t want to know. I decided we could give this house a pass, and we continued on down the sidewalk.
This was almost twenty years ago, so I don’t remember if it was the very next house we visited after the Wolf House or not, but we soon came to house where, when Devon rang the doorbell, a man inside called out, “Come in!” After the Wolf House, I was hesitant to enter, but it wasn’t uncommon for people in the area to invite kids inside to give them candy, and besides, I was with Devon. If figured it would be all right.
We went inside and saw a living room that was empty – no furniture, only blinds over the windows. In the center of a room a heavy-set middle-aged man sat on a wooden stool, talking on a cell phone. He wore a white tank top undershirt, the kind some people call a wife-beater, and boxer shorts. No shoes or socks. Scattered on the floor all round him were newspaper pages, almost as if he’d hurled a newspaper up in the air and let the pages remain wherever they landed. Or as if he were putting down paper for a pet to do its business on. Except there was no pet visible.
A bowl of candy sat on the floor next to the stool, and he gestured toward it, not really looking at us. Not knowing what else to do, I led Devon to the bowl, told her to take a piece of candy, and then we got the hell out of there. The man never spoke, either to us or to whoever he was on the phone with. I don’t remember if I let Devon keep the candy she got from the Man on the Stool, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I confiscated it and threw it away once we got home.
That was the night I decided we needed to move to a different neighborhood.
A few years later, I was sitting at the dining table in our new house – this one situated directly next to a lovely small park – laptop in front of me, thinking about what I should write next. I decided to write a short story, and I remembered that night trick-or-treating with Devon in our old neighborhood. The story I wrote was called “Portrait of a Horror Writer,” a metafictional story about where horror writers get their ideas, and among other things, I included the Man on the Stool. I submitted the story to Cemetery Dance magazine, and it was published in their 48th issue in 2004. If you’d like to read the story, you can find it on my website here.
So I guess I shouldn’t complain about the “writer gets an idea for a story from a real-life adventure” trope since I lived it, at least in a small way, and not only did I get a story out of it that was published in a great magazine – and for which I got paid – but I’ve kept the story on my website for years. That’s a lot of mileage to get out of one strange experience, but I’m thankful for that little big of dark magic that occurred that Halloween night.
I’m even more thankful that we moved, though.
Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, and since then he’s published over forty novels and five collections of short stories. He writes original dark fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins. His novels include Like Death, considered a modern classic in the genre, and the popular Nekropolis series of urban fantasy novels. He’s written tie-in fiction based on Supernatural, Grimm, The X-Files, Alien, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers, among others, and he’s written novelizations for films such as Kingsman: the Golden Circle and Resident Evil: the Final Chapter. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, Writer’s Workshop of Horror, Horror 101, and Where Nightmares Come From. In 2017 he received the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, and he’s been a finalist multiple times for both the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award. His fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year, and he’s had several stories selected for inclusion in volumes of Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. In addition to writing, he’s also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
When an industrial spy steals a Xenomorph egg, former Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks must prevent an alien from killing everyone on an isolated colony planet.
Venture, a direct rival to the Weyland-Yutani corporation, will accept any risk to crush the competition. Thus, when a corporate spy “acquires” a bizarre, leathery egg from a hijacked vessel, she takes it directly to the Venture testing facility on Jericho 3.
Though unaware of the danger it poses, the scientists there recognize their prize’s immeasurable value. Early tests reveal little, however, and they come to an inevitable conclusion. They need a human test subject…
Enter Zula Hendricks.
A member of the Jericho 3 security staff, Colonial Marines veteran Zula Hendricks has been tasked with training personnel to deal with anything the treacherous planet can throw their way. Yet nothing can prepare them for the horror that appears–a creature more hideous than any Zula has encountered before.
Unless stopped, it will kill every human being on the planet.
Supernatural: Children of Anubis
A brand new Supernatural novel inspired by the record-breaking show starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.
A brand-new Supernatural novel that reveals a previously unseen adventure for the Winchester brothers, from the hit TV series!
Sam and Dean travel to Indiana, to investigate a murder that could be the work of a werewolf. But they soon discover that werewolves aren’t the only things going bump in the night. The town is also home to a pack of jakkals who worship the god Anubis: carrion-eating scavengers who hate werewolves. With the help of Garth, the Winchester brothers must stop the werewolf-jakkal turf war before it engulfs the town – and before the god Anubis is awakened…
Jayce’s twenty-year-old daughter Emory is missing, lost in a dark, dangerous realm called Shadow that exists alongside our own reality. An enigmatic woman named Nicola guides Jayce through this bizarre world, and together they search for Emory, facing deadly dog-eaters, crazed killers, homicidal sex toys, and – worst of all – a monstrous being known as the Harvest Man. But no matter what Shadow throws at him, Jayce won’t stop. He’ll do whatever it takes to find his daughter, even if it means becoming a worse monster than the things that are trying to stop him.
What are you willing to do, what are you willing to become, to save someone you love?
Sierra Sowell’s dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by a mysterious man known only as Corliss. Corliss also transforms four people in Sierra’s life into inhuman monsters determined to kill her. Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc work to discover the reason for her brother’s return to life while struggling to survive attacks by this monstrous quartet.
Corliss gives Sierra a chance to make Jeffrey’s resurrection permanent – if she makes a dreadful bargain. Can she do what it will take to save her brother, no matter how much blood is shed along the way?