The time of year when people’s thoughts turn to ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires, zombies and werewolves, and—scariest of all—”Sexy Mr. Rogers” costumes. Seriously. If you haven’t seen it, don’t Google it, because then you’ll never be able to unsee it.
Some people’s thoughts turn toward those things in October, anyway.
But some of us think about those things all year long. I’m one of them. October’s just when everybody else is on the same wavelength.
See, I’m a writer. I don’t necessarily call myself a horror writer, because I’ve written a whole lot of books. Many are horror, but others are thrillers, mysteries, westerns, superhero novels… you name it, I’ve probably done it.
Since May of this year, I’ve had six books published, all of them horror, but not one of them about vampires, zombies, werewolves, or ghosts. One—Year of the Wicked—is about witches. Season of the Wolf is about big, scary wolves, but not werewolves. The Slab, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, and Cold Black Hearts are about ancient world-building and world-destroying gods, demons, sorcerers, dark magic, psychic experimentation—and also people: real people in a real world who are affected by these phenomena.
Over the course of my career, I have written about vampires, and zombies, and the like, but I prefer to make up my own terrors rather than rely on the traditional ones. And I’ve written a time or two about ghosts. But the truth is, as much as I love a good ghost story, they’re hard for me to write about. Maybe that’s because of all those supernatural entities, I’ve had personal experience with only one of them.
Or have I? All these years later, I’m not entirely convinced. But I’m not not convinced, either—and that, I think, is important.
Here’s what happened. In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my family moved from Virginia to Germany. My father worked for the Department of Defense, and he’d loved Europe since World War II, so when he was offered a posting there, he took it.
We lived in a hotel for the first couple of weeks, while my parents looked for a home in the city. Then a coworker of my father’s had to go back to the U.S. for a few months, so offered us his house to stay in while we hunted for a permanent place. We took it, but it had only two bedrooms. My parents got one, my little sister the other. There was a large, furnished, one-room basement, and that was where I would sleep.
Or that was the theory, anyway.
My first night there, I didn’t sleep. At all.
Remember, I’d been in Germany for weeks at this point. And I’d lived in Europe before. I wasn’t suffering from jet lag, or nervous excitement, or anything like that. I’d been sleeping fine in the hotel.
But in that basement, I couldn’t. I felt scared, anxious, upset.
I felt like I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t see who was in there with me.
I lay awake. I wandered around, checking out the bookshelves. I lay down again, tried to sleep, couldn’t. I had never felt so uncomfortable being in a room, or anyplace, in my life, and haven’t since.
For the rest of our time in that house, I slept on a couch upstairs, in the living room.
Remember, I was a teenage boy. Privacy was important. The couch was too short, and by being in the living room, my sleep was disturbed anytime somebody else in the family wanted to use it. It sucked.
But it was better than that basement. I couldn’t go back down there.
It wasn’t until decades later—long after I’d left for college in California, then stayed, and my parents had retired and moved, with my sister, to South Carolina—that my mother told me the story. In that city, she’d learned, there had only been one murder in nearly a hundred years.
It happened in that basement.
Locals avoided that house, which is why it was rented to Americans stationed there temporarily. Its owners wouldn’t live in it, nobody who knew its history would rent it.
Was it a ghost? I never saw anything down there. Never felt like it was trying to communicate with me, or to harm me. But it was a presence, nonetheless. A psychic memory, for want of a better description. There was nothing there, but…there was something there. And whatever it was, or wasn’t, it disturbed the hell out of me.
I’ve never had any other ghostly experiences, before or since. I’ve stayed in “haunted hotels,” and nada, even though there are dozens or hundreds of recorded stories about sometimes terrifying encounters in them. In one hotel, a close friend felt like there was a presence lying on top of her, bearing down on her with weight far beyond what its size would suggest, smashing her into the mattress. She only stayed the one night, and wouldn’t go back.
I’ve stayed there several nights, on many different occasions, and visited the place more than that, eaten in its restaurant, enjoyed cultural events, even signed books there. Nothing.
Another friend, in a different haunted hotel, was knocked flat by something that grabbed her legs and tried to drag her under the bed. Others witnessed the attack and caught her, pulling her out.
And just a couple of weeks ago, my wife, the fantastic author and poet Marsheila Rockwell, had cervical spine surgery. Part of the procedure involved having bone from a cadaver inserted into her spine, where the discs between the vertebrae were gone. After the surgery, she was sent to a facility—not a hospital, but a place that functions as both rehab and hospice—for overnight observation, to make sure there were no ill effects from the procedure. I slept beside her bed in an uncomfortable pull-out bed. At one point during the night, she woke up with a firm but gentle hand on her shoulder. She could hear me sleeping in the pull-out, so she knew it wasn’t me. A nurse, then? She took off the thin sweater she’d put over her eyes, to block out the light, and nobody was there. The hand was gone. But she’d felt it, even after awakening.
Was that a ghost? Whose? We were in a facility where people go to die. And she had the bones of a dead person in her neck. Given that the hand felt like a nurse’s—so comforting, not jarring, not an attack—I like to think it was someone telling her not to worry, the surgery was successful, she’ll be fine.
So, yeah, October. Ghosts and goblins, and so on.
Except goblins, I’m pretty sure, aren’t real.
Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written more than seventy books, including original supernatural thrillers River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts, horror epic The Slab, and the Stoker Award-nominated teen horror quartet Dark Vengeance. Other works include the acclaimed thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, and—with his wife and writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—the science fiction thriller 7 SYKOS and Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the authorized prequel to the hit video game, as well as numerous shorter works. He has also written novels set in the worlds of Star Trek, CSI, NCIS, Narcos, Deadlands, 30 Days of Night, Spider-Man, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and more. Two of his novels have won Scribe Awards for Best Original Novel, presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
He is also the author of many comic books and graphic novels, including the original Western series Desperadoes, some of which have been nominated for Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. Other comics work includes the horror series Fade to Black, action-adventure series Garrison, and the original graphic novel Zombie Cop.
He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Western Writers of America, Western Fictioneers, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book businesses, as a bookseller, VP of Marketing for Image Comics/WildStorm, Senior Editor for DC Comics/WildStorm, and the first Editor-in-Chief for IDW Publishing. When he’s not writing, reading, or editing something, he’s probably out enjoying the desert landscape around the Arizona home he shares with his family and dog and cats. Find him online at his website, Facebook, and Twitter.
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