Halloween Haunts: How Grandma Made Me a Horror Writer
by Jeremiah Dylan Cook
I didn’t know true horror until the day my grandma died. Up until that point, no one I’d known closely had journeyed into the great unknown. That’s not to say I didn’t understand the concept of death. I’d learned that lesson when I’d watched the film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come at the age of eight. As the credits rolled on that bittersweet Robin Williams film, I burst into tears over the realization that my days were numbered. A year later, my grandma, Linda Springfield, would pass suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart aneurysm on October 26th, 2000. Despite being a physical therapist with an entire cabinet of trophies and medals to show for her dedication to fitness, she was gone at the tragically young age of fifty. This October marks twenty years since she told me scary stories or made me costumes, and since she loved Halloween, I could think of no better way to honor her then to talk about how she helped point me toward becoming a horror writer.
The first thing you should know about my grandma’s contribution to my horror career is that she’s the first person to ask me to tell her a scary story. The ride between my house, in Hazleton, and my grandma’s, in Kingston, was about a half-hour, just long enough for a kid under ten to need some entertainment. My grandma solved this problem by weaving all manner of spooky tales from memory. Then, she’d ask me to make up my own ghost stories to relay to her. While this was probably just her way of keeping me busy on the drives, I now write scary stories professionally, and I started using my imagination to create macabre tales because of my grandma.
When it comes to Halloween, there are few aspects more important than dressing up, especially if you’re a kid who wants candy. Throughout my childhood, my grandma made most of my Halloween costumes. She turned me into a bullfrog (a costume you’re obligated to wear once if your first name is Jeremiah), a triceratops, Batman, Superman, and Zorro. During the last visit I had with my grandma, we were looking for material to make my costume for that year. I wanted to be Cyclops of the X-Men. After she passed, Halloween was the furthest thing from my mind, but my mother, determined to ensure I still celebrated the holiday, supplied me with a homemade werewolf costume. Up until that October, I’d always been a hero or a friendly animal of some kind, but the year my grandma passed, I stalked the streets as a monster, foreshadowing my future love for the horror genre.
In the Halloweens following my grandma’s death, I no longer trick or treated. I’d enjoyed my stint as a werewolf, as much as I could while grieving, but the holiday had been fundamentally altered by her loss. The thought of costumes depressed me because I knew my grandma would never make me another one. Instead of trick or treating, I started a yearly tradition of staying in and watching horror movies on Halloween. Every October 31st, I’d light my jack-o-lanterns and build my knowledge of spooky films. My earliest favorites were Silver Bullet (and most other Stephen King adaptations I could find), The Amityville Horror (1979 version), and The Fog (1980 version). These introductory horror films led me to discover favorites such as The Evil Dead, Aliens, and The Thing. Those films led me to read horror. Without my Halloween celebrations changing, who knows if I’d ever have become as invested in the horror genre as I am now?
To return to the beginning, I said I didn’t know true horror until my grandma died. That horror wasn’t just her loss. It was knowing that she’d done all the right things to live a long, healthy life and knowing it didn’t matter in the end. The random nature of our own finite existence has haunted me ever since, and I’ve used that fear to fuel my fiction. In that way, I think I honor my grandma’s memory every time I write a horror story, and I make the best positive I can out of her loss. To this day, not a single Halloween season has passed without me thinking of my grandma. My hope is that, on All Hallows’ Eve, when the veil between worlds is thinnest, Linda Springfield can see her family and recognize that we’re doing alright, even though we still miss her terribly.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Jeremiah Dylan Cook is giving away a copy of New Pulp Tales Magazine issue 1. Comment below or email HalloweenHaunts2020@gmail.com with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.
Jeremiah Dylan Cook is a horror writer who completed his arcane master’s degree in the eldritch art of Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. He has a story entitled “Lost Vintage” in the recently released Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses. His story “The House Flipping Find” was featured in Season 14, Episode 8 of The NoSleep Podcast. He is also the managing editor of New Pulp Tales. You can learn more about him at his website, www.jeremiahdylancook.com.
Below is a preview of “Lost Vintage” by Jeremiah Dylan Cook, a short story included in Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses. In this scene, a hiker named Sonia meets a stranger in a delipidated graveyard while taking cover from a storm.
“My name’s Sonia, by the way. I’ll be your companion while mother nature lets off some steam.”
Lightning flashed overhead, and the rain fell from the leaves in titanic plops.
“Well, the earth certainly deserves a chance to vent its rage. I’m Camilla.”
A frigid chill cut the warm day to pieces.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” I set my backpack down and used it as a seat.
Camilla pulled a cigarette from inside her low-cut neckline. “You got a light?”
“Sorry. I don’t smoke.”
“Pity. A good smoke is hard to come by these days.”
The wind sent Camilla’s dress whipping back and forth, and I glanced down to see the woman’s feet were encased in grave soil.
I gestured to the ground. “What’s going on there?”
All warmth melted out of Camilla’s face. “The house is right there. I recommend you visit. This storm’s only going to get worse.”
I turned to look where Camilla indicated and saw a large Victorian mansion nestled in the trees, just off the trail. The home had an enormous wraparound porch with ornately carved wooden arches running underneath the roof. Paint peeled off the structure, but I could still make out the bright blue hue from its heyday. A large, circular window was set in the lone steeple on the third floor, where a shadowy figure loomed. I assumed it was a trick of the cloud darkened day, but the sight made my skin crawl. I turned to ask Camilla about the house, and she was gone.
To be continued in Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses.