True story. Years ago my late wife, Ann, and I helped friends move. Jim and Dory were relocating to an apartment complex not far from a major interstate in the Cleveland, Ohio area. After the move, the four of us ambled into the back of the propertywhere we found a large open space.
It was a romantic evening, perfect springlike weather, so we held hands with our respective partners and went for a stroll under a moonlit sky. The field was vast and lined with a black border of high trees that hid any glimpse of the highway beyond. In fact, we couldn’t even hear the sound of cars as we strolled farther and farther into that open field.
Weird, I thought to myself, wondering how such an impressive expanse of ground could remain so hidden from a highway so close. Then our gaze fell upon piles of fist-sized rocks that didn’t look randomly arranged. The spooky tone of the evening was contagious. We were all in our twenties then, so Jim and I took pleasure at making the women draw ever-closer and clench our hands tighter as we whispered stories about the devil worshippers who perhaps still lurked in the shadows.
Naturally, none of us actually thought it was anything more sinister than bored teenagers. But it was so much fun to pretend to believe otherwise.
Many years later, Warner Books published my horror novel, YELLOW MOON. In one scene there’s a vast field under a moonlit sky under which a winged toad is eating…well, I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t yet read YELLOW MOON, but we’re getting to the point here.
I’d captured this brief moment of time and found a way to use it years later in my novel. That’s what horror writers do. Turn their life experiences into easy fodder for the word processor. Not many of us have interacted with serial killers, demons or winged toads, but we all have those casual, nearly meaningless snapshots in time from which to draw plot inspiration. Maybe it’s an overheard snatch of conversation in an elevator. Or a simple walk in a moonlit field behind a cookie cutter apartment complex.
We take whatever we find in our world and turn it slightly askew in ways that produce shivers, over-the-shoulder glances or dark, dry chuckles.
And here’s where the rubber meets the road. Many years after YELLOW MOON came out, I got together with Jim who, like the loyal friend he is, had read my book.
“The scene with Skippy in the field, you recognize that, right?” I asked him.
Jim looked at me blankly.
“Dude, remember when the four of us took that walk after Ann and I helped move you and Dory into your apartment in Bedford Heights?”
“The rocks. You at least remember the rocks — right?”
But no matter how much I prodded, I couldn’t dislodge a single memory of that evening from Jim. Why? Because it hadn’t made an impression on him — and why should it? His psyche wasn’t built to retain such a trivial moment and magnify and distort it with all sorts of imagined weirdness. Mine was. Yours too, if you have a serious talent for horror fiction.
Which reminds me of a Stephen King essay which I’ll paraphrase here. He asked his readers to image a scene in which he’s sitting late at night in front of a dark body of water with the western writer Louis L’Amour. King wrote (or words to this effect), “He’d be thinking about a cattle range war for water rights while I dwelled on what lurks within that dark water.”
And I’d be right there churning up shivery thoughts with him.
David Searls is a horror writer whose novel Bloodthirst in Babylon will be released January 3, 2012. You can pre-order today.