Posts Tagged ‘vampire’

There are two old houses I pass on my morning walk that fascinate me. Both are big, hulking structures with peeling paint and overgrown trees on corner lots. One has porches jutting out on two sides and tall, skinny windows with sagging frames. The other has crumbling brick walkways and windows so scarce that I imagine it’s dark as a tomb inside. I’ve never been in either one of them but if I ever have that chance, I’ll take it.

These are the kind of places that make me want to write stories. I know what you’re thinking – big scary house, short scary story. Yeah, that’s what you’d expect. But sometimes good stories happen in the least likely of places. Not all ghosts haunt centuries-old castles. The fire of romance doesn’t burn exclusively on Southern plantations. And twenty-something singles don’t have ironic conversations only within the walls of hip, urban apartments.

Last year I wrote a screenplay called “The Courtyard” that’s a tidy mix of horror, science fiction and just a dab of romance. It runs about 110 pages which I’m told equates to roughly the same number of minutes onscreen, making it the perfect length for a SyFy Original Movie except that it isn’t about vampires, dragons, monster fish or a supermodel/rocket scientist trying to save the world.

The idea for the story came from another house I walk by frequently. It’s a neat adobe bungalow nestled in a neighborhood of ranch-style houses, and there’s not another house like it for miles around. It’s a typical hacienda, swirled stucco walls, exposed beams over the arched doorways, and a courtyard in the back. For years, I wondered, “What the hell was a house like that DOING there?”

As a story formed in my head, I knew I had to get into that house, specifically the courtyard. I’m a visual person and to get a sense of “place” when I’m writing a story, it helps for me to actually “see” where I’m writing about. That’s not always possible, as in the time I told my husband I needed to go to France to research apartments for a chef-turned-assassin novel I was writing but getting inside the hacienda six blocks away was certainly feasible.

I knew just knocking on the front door and telling the owner that my muse insisted I see the backyard would most likely land me in the back of a police car or a padded van. So I had to find another way in. And I did.

One Saturday morning, my friend Colette and I were driving from one rummage sale to the next when I spied a neon orange “Garage Sale” sign taped to an adobe wall. I wheeled into the nearest parking space and screeched to a stop. She looked at me over the classified section of the newspaper and said, “Hey, this one’s not on the list.”

“Yes it is,” I said, scrambling out of the car.

I walked rapidly to the open garage door, past the folding tables of outgrown clothes and cracked dishes, tattered paperbacks and outdated home furnishings. I shot through the open door in the back of the garage, Colette close behind, hissing at me, “You can’t go back there – the sale’s in the garage!”

It was too late. I was in the courtyard and it was everything I thought it would be and more. I pulled the little notebook from my pocket and scrawled as fast as I could. Fountain in center. Adobe sidewalls – 5 feet high? Cracked tiles by flower bed. French doors to back of house. Ceramic pots of flowers – dahlias?

“Hurry up,” Colette urged, resigned to her role as reluctant look-out. “God, why do I hang out with you?”

“Because I’m fun,” I replied, snapping the notebook closed. “I’m done. Let’s go.”

We went back into the garage, trying not to look like guilty trespassers, and I was headed towards the sidewalk when Colette smacked me on the shoulder.

“What?”

She crossed her arms and looked at me. “Well, don’t you think maybe you should BUY something, given the circumstances?”

I rolled my eyes but she did have a point. I grabbed a ratty pair of Keds from the table next to me, paid my quarter and we left. Money well spent because even though they weren’t my size, I got what I went there to get. A good story.

I don’t know if either one of the monster houses will pan out for a story setting but I noticed this morning that the windowless one with the overgrown fruit trees had a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Maybe the realtor will have an open house. Hmmm, where’s that notebook? And what’s the e-mail address for the SyFy Channel?

I’ve long been a reader of stories that scare the hell out of people.  My first horror story was Robert Lory’s “The Beat of Leather Wings”. It had me up all night with the lights on at the age of nine.  It was one of a number of equally scream-inducing short stories in a fantastic 1975 paperback titled “Boris Karloff Presents More Tales of the Frightened” which I checked out one fateful Friday afternoon from the school library. Now, what a book like that was doing in a Catholic elementary school library I have no idea but to the imaginative librarian who decided it belonged on those shelves, sir or madam, whoever you are – I salute you.

From then on, if a book had dismembered limbs, ghostly figures, or an unusually large amount of blood on the cover, I read it. If the title included the words “vampire”, “zombie”, “ghost” or “unholy terror”, it was on my top ten list. Edgar Allan Poe, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Saul, Peter Straub, Richard Matheson – my go-to team. 

My fascination with horror stories isn’t based entirely on how MUCH they scare me but more HOW they scare me.  A horror writer takes all the familiar elements of a story – setting, characters, mood, dialogue, plot – and twists and slashes and dumps them in a cauldron, stokes up the brimstone and brings them to a boil. Finding the right ingredients for a blood-curdling brew can be a challenge these days when reality is sometimes scarier than anything a King or a Poe or a Matheson could scream up.  

I’m working on a short horror story myself these days, what I hope will end up to be a delightfully dark little tale called “Jingle”.  While the cauldron’s more on simmer than boil at the moment, now might be the time for my group of readers to catch a few extra Z’s.  Because hopefully after they read it, the lights will be burning all night long.