The guest blog series resumes with this chilling account by author Doug Rinaldi. I imagine we all have a story or two like this we could share around the campfire or candlelight, something which happened to us that we just can’t quite explain away and for which we suffer those sidelong glances and eye rolls from the skeptics and the scoffers at the telling of it. Enjoy.
What I present to you here is a tale of the unexpected and the bewildering. An account of something life-altering that, over the years, I have never truly forgotten… my first experience with something well beyond the reach of rational explanation. Believe the validity of these words or not, I won’t blame you; up until that day, I, too, was a skeptic. These occurrences are always stuck in the back of my mind, stewing and churning until something jars them loose again to flood my memory banks. Profound and personal, the effect they had on me is still substantial to this day. While others around me at that time had had a sense of something strange, it seemed as if I was the only one singled out or given extra attention for reasons outside my understanding.
Back in 1997, I had just returned home from college. I landed my first job upon returning at a chain bookstore in Connecticut. At the time, my nights consisted of working part-time as the warehouse clerk on the closing shift. One night, going about my usual routine, I heard one of my female coworkers call out my name for help. The warehouse—shaped like a backward L—made it impossible for me to see her from my vantage point. So, being the polite and helpful guy I was, I hollered back, telling her I’d be right there.
I stopped what I was doing and hurried over. When I rounded the corner, almost tripping to my death on some boxes, I expected her to be right there, waiting for me. The warehouse was vacant; not a soul to be found. Maybe she’s hiding behind a cart, I thought, playing some kind of lame joke.
Now I understand audio matrixing and that it’s possible to hear one thing and mistake it for something else, but the fact I actually answered back reinforces what I heard. That’s how certain I was that someone called my name. Moreover, whatever made the sound absolutely resembled my coworker’s voice. I made it all the way to the door and after opening it, I peeked around the immediate area.
No one there either.
I ventured out further and found my coworker across the store and on a stepladder with a stack of books in her hand as she restocked a shelf. I already knew the answer, but I asked her anyway if she’d been to the warehouse looking for me. As I figured, she hadn’t. The probability that she could have gotten that far and that involved in her task in the time it took me to cross the back room seemed next to nil. The perceived facts of the situation stacked against me and I was tweaking out a bit. Regardless, I reluctantly went back to my duties until the end of my shift.
Incident number two happened about a week later. Again, standing at my station and scanning boxes full of books, I had my back to the rest of the warehouse. Everything was silent and still between bouts of ripping up cardboard and the annoying ding of the barcode scanner. And then I heard something unmistakable… a faint giggle.
I whirled around and saw nothing there. Or, so, I initially thought. However, as I turned back to my work, my peripheral vision caught something. A short figure. I froze in place, transfixed. Roughly about the age of nine or ten, a small boy stood against the back wall. His skin was ashen and his clothes were dated. A deadpan expression crossed a face framed by a mop of brown hair as he stared at me, unmoving.
In that three-second interaction, I registered those few details in my startled brain and my skin rippled and crawled with gooseflesh. My heartbeat raced, bouncing in my ribcage. The fight or flight response kicked in; I felt it in the back of my throat. With haste, I rushed to exit the warehouse, doing my utmost to avoid the area where I saw the boy. Not once did I—or could I—take my eyes off that spot.
Panicking, I stumbled over boxes in my retreat before finally making it to the sales floor. A little bit later, after I had calmed down, I pulled a coworker into the warehouse (the same one I thought had called my name earlier) and told her what I had seen, despite knowing how crazy I sounded. Of course, I spooked her out in the process. To this day, my memory is still seared with the image of the sad, ghostly boy.
The third of these most vivid incidents happened one night sometime after that “visit.” As I recall, I was in the humor section and helping with closing duties (i.e., flipping through a copy of Blanche Knott’s Truly Tasteless Jokes). While straightening the shelves and alphabetizing books, I heard someone whisper my name plain as day. Ambiguous yet startling, I could not make out if it was a male or female voice—the word just echoed in my ear.
I turned around to nothing but another shelf full of books. Honestly, at this point, I was kind of enjoying the attention it was giving me. A few minutes had passed and as I continued fixing up the aisles, I felt someone blow on the back of my neck. My skin crawled and covered my body in a cold wave. I spun and I looked around—no one was there, again. Though still alone, I did happen to notice that there were no vents or air ducts overhead that could’ve kicked on and spit out the cold air. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but facts were facts.
Later, before we left for the evening, I brought my experiences up again to some coworkers. Come to find out, I wasn’t crazy; others had also felt that something was not right inside the store. They had kept quiet about it for fear of sounding out of their minds, but once I brought up my three big incidents, they all opened up and admitted similar events. Though I was happy I wasn’t the only one, I anxiously waited for something else to happen. Unfortunately, it seemed whatever otherworldly presence or supernatural energy that might have been dwelling on the property packed up and shipped out.
Soon after, my store closed up shop and moved to a new location. At first, strange things happened to me there, too. The instances were very subtle, almost dismissive, this time: things being misplaced, odd shadows and whispers. I brought up my concerns, anyway, to my friend who also shared some of the strange sensations at the old location. She still agreed that something was still off, joking that I had brought the “ghost” with me to the new store.
Funny thing is, that the old location still remains empty today. It’s almost as if the land it occupies is sour and unusable. I find it sad knowing that it’s not possible to venture back into that strange, yet familiar, territory. I’m just left to wonder if whatever force that had so desperately tried to make contact with me is still there… waiting.
In closing, I’m aware of how insane it all sounds—and believe me, I still get those looks from people. Those three very unexpected and life-altering experiences have stuck with me over these last two decades. Even though I now live in another city, in another state, the memories of that place and the things I had seen and felt within its walls still haunt me to this day—and probably forever will.
Here’s a revised version of the first chapter of my upcoming novel, Threads. I hope you like reading this sneak preview as much as I liked writing it, and any and all comments are welcome. Just keep in mind that nothing here is written in stone, and some elements are subject to change. That being said, enjoy!
People said life was short, but that wasn’t always true. Sometimes it stretched on forever, like an endless, rutted road.
Rafe Hadley slumped in his wheelchair and stared out at the cold January sunlight shafting through the window and falling across the faded green tile of his room. Wheel of Fortune blared from the TV mounted on the wall and there wasn’t a goddamned thing Rafe could do about it. A nurse had turned it on to keep him company, their notion of activities here at Shady Acres.
Some fool woman on the TV jumped up and down and screamed like her ass was on fire because she had won five hundred dollars, and that high and mighty Pat Sajak was grinning like a goat. Rafe huffed and shook his head in disgust. Day after day, week after week, they parked him in front of this idiot box, and Rafe sometimes thought his last couple of remaining marbles would come rolling out his ears and go bouncing across that green tile. He cursed his crippled body for denying him the pleasure of rising and taking a hammer to the damnable thing. But he remained still as a stump below the neck, unable to lift so much as a finger. A cry of fury and frustration boiled up from his belly, only to pass his lips as nothing more than a whimper.
For the umpteenth time, Rafe yearned for his old radio (always tuned to the local classic country station) but it had gone on the fritz three months ago. He could not ask for another one, the ALS having silenced his tongue as well as crippling his body, and no one had ever offered. So now Rafe’s life—if you wanted to call it that—had become an endless parade of game shows, talk TV, and toilet paper commercials.
“Hello there, Mr. Hadley.”
Rafe swiveled his head toward the open door. That crazy old Dolores Johnson stood in the entrance to his room. She was stark naked, her blue-veined bosoms hanging down to her doughy waist like two deflated balloons. The hair on her skull was a wiry gray nest, a fair match for the lesser thatch between her fish belly-white legs. She stood on scaly flat feet with long yellowish-brown toenails that reminded Rafe of an old bull horn he once owned. Her eyes burned with insanity.
“Fine afternoon, isn’t it?” she said.
“Perhaps you’d like to walk with me in the garden after supper.”
Rafe stared. There was no garden anywhere at Shady Acres. And had there been he sure as hell wouldn’t be ambling through it anytime soon. Go away, he thought.
Two nurses appeared and fetched Dolores. They escorted her back to her room with no apology or word of greeting at all to Rafe. Once Dolores had gone, though, Rafe was surprised to find himself disappointed at her departure. Her sudden exhibition had at least been a change of routine, something to break up the constant, suffocating monotony.
The worst part about being eighty-three, and what they called infirm, was the feeling of worthlessness. It wasn’t only the godawful boredom, or that the walls pressed in on every side until you were sure you’d go right out of your gourd. It was more than that. If you could do something—anything—you had the chance to earn some respect. And respect was important. More important than love or money. But at Shady Acres respect was in short supply, as was compassion, which left Rafe up Shit Creek with nary a paddle.
The nurses returned to transfer Rafe to his bed and change his diaper, an act that never failed to mortify him. He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling while the two women, one white, the other colored, tended to him. He was especially shamed to be so disgraced in front of the colored woman. Rafe had never been a prejudiced man, but he’d learned early on from his pap that whites and coloreds had no business mixing. It wasn’t natural. Rafe himself had nothing against them. In the summer of 1937 he saw a black man lynched in Greenville, Kentucky. The young man was a soldier on furlough who’d had the poor judgment to stop at the Piggly Wiggly on his way through town. There he had socialized with Antoinette Purdy who was working behind the counter. Antoinette was also the preacher’s daughter, and a white girl of seventeen. Two hours later, ten-year-old Rafe sat on a split-rail fence, munching an apple and watching as a bunch of piss-drunk Klansmen threw a rope over a thick sycamore branch and strung the sorry bastard up, the man weeping and wailing right up to the end. Part of Rafe felt sorry for the colored soldier, but another part of him figured the man had it coming. He should never have shown his face in that town. Or had the gall to trifle with a white girl. So Rafe sat there and watched it happen and never said a word. But he didn’t pitch in, either, and he thought that accounted for something.
Rafe wondered what those white hangmen would say about the new black president. He reckoned he had a pretty good idea.
The nurses prattled on with not a word to him. When they had finished and gone Rafe looked at the TV. Family Feud was on. He sighed and stared out the window. A dark cloud had swallowed the sun, casting the town of Evansville, Indiana—or rather his framed view of it, a brooding abandoned brick warehouse across West Franklin Street—into gloom.
After a while, giving in to sheer boredom, he dozed off.
He woke to darkness pressing against the window and a soft clinking sound at the foot of his bed. It was Darryl, the night orderly, setting Rafe’s supper on the tray table. Rafe felt the familiar mix of dread and hatred. His weak heart pounded as he braced himself for whatever horrors Darryl had in store for this evening.
“Hey there, you old cocksucker,” Darryl said, a good-natured grin on his moon-shaped face. “Time for din-din.”
Darryl took the bed’s clicker and raised Rafe to a sitting position. He put the railing down and rolled the table forward. After switching on the headboard lamp, bathing Rafe in light the color of murky piss, he lifted the metal plate cover and set it aside. Rafe looked at the tray: a piece of liver as tough as boot leather; a stingy scoop of mashed potatoes he knew from experience would taste like lumpy wall plaster; a scattering of dry lima beans; and a glass of lukewarm milk to wash it all down. It reminded him of an old joke: One lady says, “The food here is terrible.” And the other lady says, “Yeah, and such small portions.”
But Rafe was hungry.
“Mmmm—mmm,” Darryl said, and smacked his lips. “Looks good.” He stole a glance at the open door. Beyond it the hallway stood dim and empty. A grin crept over his face as he turned back toward Rafe. “It could prolly use a little sauce, though, don’tcha think?”
Rafe watched as Darryl hawked up phlegm from the back of his throat and spat a thick glob of goo onto the liver. Darryl took the fork from the tray and used it to smear a coating of slime over the rest of the food on the plate. His grin stretched wider as he shoveled up a forkful of potatoes with a single lima bean stuck straight up on top—like a tiny King of the Hill, Rafe thought—and brought it toward Rafe’s mouth.
“Just like Mom used to make, huh?”
Rafe clamped his mouth shut and drew his head back, staring at the lump in disgust.
Darryl looked put out. “What, you don’t want none?”
Rafe looked out the window at the dark.
“Well—” Darryl shrugged. “—we can’t let it go to waste. That’d be a sin.” With that, he drew up a chair and dug in. But he kept one eye on the doorway the whole time. Darryl deprived Rafe of food only once or twice a week; wouldn’t do to let a resident starve to death. But the orderly had plenty of other amusements in his cruel bag of tricks.
“So,” he said around a mouthful of potatoes, “I bet it sucks, having to lay there day in and day out, can’t even scratch an itch. Or play with your pecker.”
Rafe stared out the window. He knew the drill.
“Ah, a dried up old fucker like you prolly ain’t got no more lead in your pencil, anyway.” Then Darryl said, “‘Course, I got cock enough for both of us.”
Rafe jerked his head around at this new tack. Darryl’s eyes danced in the dimness. He knew he’d hit a nerve. He lowered his right hand to his crotch, began massaging himself. “Maybe I’ll give you a little taste.”
If Rafe had his way, Darryl would have dropped dead as a turd right then and there. Rafe wished it harder than he’d ever wished anything in his life.
No. He wanted more than that. He wanted Darryl to suffer. Rafe eyed his tormentor with a hatred so red hot he felt his own face burning. Darryl smiled back pleasantly. He stopped rubbing himself.
“There’s nothing you can do,” he said.
Rafe looked away, angry tears scalding his eyes.
Darryl glanced at the doorway, then back at Rafe again. “Time’s getting closer,” he said, and Rafe waited to hear the same words he heard every night Darryl was on shift. “One of these nights I’m gonna sneak in here, quiet as a spider, and smother you with that smelly old pillow of yours. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.” He shrugged like it didn’t matter either way.
Go on, Rafe thought. Do it now. Have done with it.
Didn’t this fool get it? Didn’t he understand he’d be doing Rafe a kindness?
Darryl set the plate down, gulped Rafe’s milk, and stood up. He clicked off the headboard lamp, and in the sudden half-light Rafe had the sensation he was looking into the eyes of a rabid dog. Darryl collected the tray and headed out the door, cooing as he went, “See you later, sweet p-tater.”
Rafe lay in the darkness, his hunger pangs causing his stomach to clench like a fist. In a world of hurt, his pap would have said, as in, I’m gon’ put you in a world of hurt, you no ‘count little sumbitch. But like Darryl said, there was nothing Rafe could do. So he simply bore it, as he had born all the other troubles in his life: the early days with his pap; starving on the road after he had lit out on his own at fifteen; his time in Joliet.
After a time, a shadow darkened the doorway as a figure stepped into the room. It appeared Darryl was back for more.
But when the figure moved into the wedge of light at the foot of his bed, Rafe saw it wasn’t the orderly at all, but the corpse of the colored soldier they’d hanged from a tree in Greenville, Kentucky over seventy years ago.
The guest blog series resumes with these two pieces from author Wayne Lemmons. The first is an essay concerning a ritual I am most definitely familiar with. The second is a dark short story about two young chums on an outing in the woods. Enjoy!
I have a memory locked away in a box that sits in the back of my mind. I drag that box out on sunny days in hopes that the darkness inside of it can be lightened by a cooler blue in the sky. I dissect its contents. I look at every single piece of it through the proverbial magnifying glass that each of us keeps locked in our minds to examine things when no one else is looking. I tread lightly upon it, my mental boots barely marring the surface enough to look underneath.
When I am done and unnerved, I close the box tightly and promise to save it for another of those sunny days.
I wonder if all writers do the same. I know that readers do, as I have thousands of times, but they open the boxes of others, pull out their own detective gear, and find entertainment in those feelings of unsettled fright and sometimes overwhelming greed for more of the same.
That’s what we do, writers of the horror genre. We find those rooms inside of us that are filled with tightly sealed crates. We open the boxes of thoughts that should never be mentioned in every day conversation and try to capture them with pages and ink, or more recently screens and graphic text. It’s a beautiful thing, really, that finding and capturing. I think that it keeps us from going crazy.
The people on the other side of the pages are much healthier when reveling in their obsessions. They sleep well, for the most part. They read twenty or thirty pages and lay the book on a well-lit nightstand and maybe talk about what they looked at to the person next to them. The really great ones finish the book and leave a review for the poor slob who wrote that book during sleepless nights over their fifteenth cup of coffee.
I see horror changing. It’s always been a changing genre, but over the last few years we’ve seen the market flooded with a million different kinds of horror. There is the subtle stuff, psychological stuff, old-school scary stuff. There are the extreme horror folks running amok. There are ghost stories and demon stories pouring from that great pitcher in the sky without an emptying in sight.
Isn’t that incredible?
The reader now has so many options that when asked what they’re reading it’s almost boring just to look up and say, “Horror,” without further description. Now you have to tell someone if you’re reading about the time someone’s Aunt Shirley murdered her entire family because her dead husband, Gilbert, was telling her all the stuff they say behind old Shirley’s back. Or you have to admit that you’re enjoying someone’s very descriptive scene concerning the separation of a human tongue from its rightful place in a human mouth.
These are far better days for the fans of horror. These are far better days for the creators of that wonderful feeling of true horror.
Are you tired of my ranting yet? I hope not, because I’ve left a box for you at the end of this paragraph. Hopefully you enjoy its contents as much as I will enjoy being rid of them for a while. ♦
“Come on, Andy! Hurry up!” Jacob shouted, turning as he ran along the path that broke into a wooded area behind his family’s home.
“Jeez! I’m going as fast as I can!” the other boy replied.
Andy was chubby and winded easily. He’d never been a boy built for running and would avoid the action in most situations. This was different, though.
Jacob had knocked on his door earlier in the morning with a rant about the most exciting thing. The boy had been flustered and anxious, rambling on and on about some “Thing” caught in the woods behind his New Hampshire home. Andy, who’d been in the middle of breakfast, was torn by the explanation. He could stay at home to finish the stack of pancakes that his mom had set before him, or see something extraordinary. For most boys the possibility of seeing anything more interesting than the walls of his bedroom would’ve sent them running without thought. For Andy, it was a debate.
“You gotta come, Andy!” Jacob urged, “You don’t wanna miss this!”
“Okay. Okay,” Andy finally gave in, “I just need a few minutes.”
The boy had gone back to his place, determination springing forth, and engulfed the contents of his breakfast plate. He chugged a glass of milk to flatten out the sugary sweet taste of syrup before running through the front door. His mother noticed that Andy hadn’t even taken the time to clean himself up. The boy was a mess in yesterday’s white tee and a milk mustache. She shook her head at him, but did not reprimand the kid. He didn’t often run off with his friends and she was happy to see him doing something other than shoveling snacks into his face while sitting in front of the television.
Jacob was far ahead of Andy, looking back over his skinny shoulder to shout at the fatter boy every few steps. Andy was sweating and gasping for breath as he tried to keep pace. It wasn’t working for him. Jacob was a slight boy and wiry to boot. He could’ve walked faster than Andy could run.
The bug of Jacob’s excitement had infected Andy by the time they’d rounded the side of the big house that sat on a closed cul-de-sac not far from Andy’s own home. Contagious feelings are part of a boy’s nature and the chubby kid without ample friends was more susceptible than most.
Tree branches flicked out in front of them, but Jacob was the only one with the reflexes to duck the assaulting foliage. The other boy simply took his lumps, the sting of switches appearing as red welts on his face and arms. His feet were hurting, too. The cheap athletic shoes he wore didn’t have the padding to support a child with his husky stature.
Andy saw that Jacob had stopped up ahead and was incredibly relieved. He couldn’t have kept running for much longer, especially with the lump of fried dough sloshing around in his belly. He feared that he might still be sick even if they stopped running for an hour. He’d known eating so fast was a bad idea, but reason had been trumped by the desire for sticky sustenance.
He was soon standing beside Jacob, looking around the area for the “Thing” he’d been lured away from the comfort of his breakfast table to see. There was nothing sitting or standing in the area and the suspicious voice in the back of Andy’s mind was telling him that he’d been tricked, though Jacob had never done so before.
“Where is it?” Andy asked between heaving breaths.
“Just up ahead. It’s in the clearing,” Jacob answered, waving a hand in the direction off to the right of the path, “We gotta walk there. Running might make it nervous.”
“What is it, Jacob? Why is it all the way out here?”
Jacob looked at him in disbelief. Andy turned to look back the way they’d come and realized that he hadn’t run more than half a mile. It wasn’t as far as his strained lungs and legs had made him believe. For a moment he was embarrassed, but when he turned back to Jacob the boy was looking toward the clearing again. He’d likely already forgotten Andy’s misjudgment.
“You wanna be quiet. We don’t want it to know we’re there at first. It’s tied, so it can’t get me. Us, I mean. It might be pretty mad about being tied to a tree,” Jacob said, looking at Andy with a strange smile.
“Okay,” Andy returned, realizing that the only way to find out what it was that Jacob was so excited about was to just go look.
Both boys walked toward the indicated area, Jacob in the lead. Their steps were overly cautious and if an adult had seen them it would have been humorous to watch. When Jacob walked through a small passage in the surrounding trees, Andy lost sight of him. The greenery was so thick that once he went into it, he kind of disappeared to anyone on the other side. Andy followed, growing more nervous than anxious all of a sudden.
“It’s over there,” Jacob whispered, pointing to what looked like a brown boulder.
Andy squinted, trying to make sense of the form. He stepped closer as he noticed the separations in the rock, not cracks or anything like that. They were limbs. There was a head tucked against one of them. When Andy realized what the form actually was, he jumped backward, his feet tangling into themselves, and fell hard on his rear. His teeth clacked together violently.
“You okay?” Jacob asked, the beginning of a giggle clogging in his throat.
Andy nodded, afraid to speak. If the thing was what he thought it was, then it wasn’t a “Thing”. It was a gosh-darned bear! How had a bear managed to transplant itself into the woods behind Jacob’s house? Andy was full of questions, but had yet to gain the strength to speak. Wonder had replaced all of his voluntary actions. He sat there, gaping at the thing, as Jacob walked even closer.
“Oh yeah,” Jacob confirmed, that peculiar smile returning to his lips.
Andy looked at the other boy for a moment, thinking that the smile reminded him of the look that some animals, like the one in front of him right now, got just before they fed. The notion was ripped away when the body of the bear moved. Suddenly it was standing, turning toward them.
Jacob turned back to it, standing less than ten feet from the bear now. It seemed to grow from the ground, moving so slowly that Andy could actually see the muscles on its legs and back rippling with the effort. He couldn’t judge its standing height yet, as it hadn’t raised up on the strong hind feet, but he knew that it would be tall, very tall.
“You can come closer,” Jacob offered, “It can’t get us when we’re this far away.”
Jacob pointed out the rope tied around the bear’s neck and waved Andy over to where he was standing. Andy walked dazedly to Jacob’s side, never taking his eyes off of the animal. It had turned toward them, was staring at both boys as if in deep contemplation. It seemed to be wondering why they were there. That was the idea on Andy’s mind, anyway.
The bear walked to the end of its rope, the strands tightening once the bear had gotten within twenty-inches of them. Its mouth hung slightly open, the tongue hanging out of its great jaws, making the massive animal look like a pet that had been waiting for attention during the heat of the morning.
“I call him ‘Fur’,” Jacob said, “He’s nice.”
“Yep. I’ve been feeding him for the last few days. He eats a lot.”
Jacob was saying all of this in flat tones, a conversational voice that should’ve been reserved for discussing homework. Andy was a little bothered by it. The hair on his neck stood on end as the bear turned his head to look directly at him.
“My mom says that we shouldn’t go into the woods. Your mom says the same thing, huh?”
“She does,” Andy said, hypnotized by Fur’s eyes, “Says we can get lost easy.”
“Did you tell her we were coming to the woods?”
“Gosh no! She wouldn’t have let me come.”
“Good,” Jacob said, turning as if walking away from the bear.
Andy felt two small hands and a great deal of pressure on his back. He was thrown forward, didn’t even have time to scream, and the animal had him. Andy, who had never seen such a thing so closely before, would have the image of the thing’s teeth on his mind for the final few horrifying minutes of life he’d have to endure.
Jacob watched as the animal mauled the fat kid that lived close to his house. He’d been good to have around when no other kids wanted to play, but it was no big loss. After all, he’d found Fur strung up in the woods and would always have entertainment as long as he could manage to feed him.
I recently appeared on the Dead As Hell Horror Podcast, where One Sick Puppy and I reviewed a great movie, Stir of Echoes, starring Kevin Bacon, and one not-so-great flick, The Darkness, also starring the talented Mr. Bacon. Our discussion starts at 55:10.
Continuing the guest blog series, here’s a post from Lisa “Leigh M.” Lane, a writer after my own heart. She had me at The Twilight Zone, but when she mentioned Richard Matheson, I was well and truly hers. Enjoy!
I was probably a little too young when I first started watching reruns of The Twilight Zone, my little, five-year-old head ill-equipped to process the disturbing imagery and the depth to most of the show’s storylines. Still, even then, I was hooked. A part of me must’ve seen through some of the childhood terror, seen something meaningful and important. Or maybe I’ve just always, even as a little girl, enjoyed a good twist.
If I had to choose one influence I felt had the most impact on my own writing, I’d be stuck in a draw between Rod Serling and Richard Matheson. Their work has haunted me in ways no gore or extreme horror ever could. They left me with the thrill of cosmic justice, the mystification of the bizarre and the outlandish, the dread that could result from one single unlucky decision. They made me think.
Of all the episodes that stuck with me long after I’d watched them, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” has probably had the most lasting impact on me. Sure, I could list dozens of others that twisted my brain in equally provocative ways, but the slice-of-life gone so easily awry hits closest to home. I’m too young to remember the McCarthy era, but I’m old enough to know we’re all just one catastrophe away from tearing one another’s throats out. Hell, we’re seeing similar behavior right now, the rancor between various political affiliations already having grown ugly and vicious enough to divide families and close friendships. The electricity has been cut, and the opposing party still has its lights on. Rocks have already begun to fly. I have to ask: Who’s sitting back, watching the entire ordeal, analyzing and planning around our next moves?
But that’s one of the reasons The Twilight Zone was—and still is—so meaningful: Its stories transcend time. The episodes dared to point out our collective flaws. They challenged complacency. They looked within to expose the darkness lurking outside.
They didn’t redirect overwhelmed minds with promises of a happy ending. They didn’t work to distract us from our grim reality. They used broadcast television as a tool to bring the most important of issues to the forefront.
To remind us all the ultimate price of complacency, conformity, and rash judgment.
I often wonder what Serling, Matheson, and crew would make of our world today. What would The Twilight Zone look like if they were writing the show now instead of decades ago? Aside from having fewer smokers, better technology, and a bit more social disconnect, would the episodes have ended up looking relatively the same? What would today’s world look like through Serling’s eyes? What kind of commentary would Matheson so bravely take on?
And if The Twilight Zone did have a voice today, offering a critical look at contemporary issues through a contemporary lens… would we listen?
You can find Lisa at The Cerebral Writer.