“How do people come up with this stuff?” If you’ve ever seen a crazy horror movie or read a scary story that stayed with you and wondered what sort of deeply disturbed individual conjured that experience; well, here I am.
My latest short story, Sky Horns Growling, was inspired by a few different influences. The initial idea came from a really visceral nightmare I had several months ago. Without giving too much away, it cemented the idea of putting readers in a minute-by-minute catastrophe where at every turn the “rules” of our world seemingly go right out the window. I wanted to drop readers into a situation that evolved so quickly, so drastically, so incoherently that they are left shell-shocked just like the characters. Everything happening, though, needed a sense of immediacy and reality to it. You won’t find generals in war rooms explaining the bigger picture – you’re only as aware of what is happening as the main character, Ethan, and grappling with events as they occur. H. G. Wells did this with War of the Worlds and Steven Spielberg used this approach masterfully in the unforgettable opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan to devastating effect on the audience. I’m not saying I’m either of those geniuses, but the impact I was aiming for was very much in that vein.
Another main influence on the story is a bizarre phenomenon I’ve been following for a few years called “sky sounds”. OK, it’s not really properly named “sky sounds”, but do a quick search and you’ll find plenty of videos on the subject. Here is a recent Mysterious Universe article with embedded examples worth a look. This is something I’d only become aware of in recent years, and I don’t think I’ve come across widespread reports on it prior to the last decade or so (that I know of!) Essentially, there are numerous eyewitness reports and videos of loud, booming, trumpet-like sounds emanating from an otherwise peaceful sky. The events are being reported from around the world – from New York to Moscow and many places in between. What you get are videos of the sky accompanied by strange noises and bewildered commentary from folks stunned by the occurrences. Are they all real? Nah, probably not. In fact, a lot are likely hoaxed and the very nature of the videos make them exceptionally easy to fake. Still, these sounds have been recorded during major league baseball games in the states, by individuals posting on YouTube, and reported to local police resulting in numerous regional news reports. That there are no immediate answers isn’t surprising, but the theories that have risen to explain the sounds range from doomsday trumpets literally from Heaven above to invading aliens spaceships to the fabric of our dimensional reality changing in our midst.
Being September, it’s also a time of year when people the world over pause to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Like all Americans old enough to remember that day, for me it’s almost as if it happened yesterday. The confusion, the lack of answers, the panic, sorrow, anger and mix of emotions stirred that day still aren’t too far below the surface when thinking back. As a writer, at times my stories are semi-autobiographical and I tend to occasionally tap in to those personal feelings we don’t always talk about but which are common person-to-person. Early on in the story, Ethan wakes to the sound of emergency sirens and shortly meets up with neighbors to assess the situation. On 9/11, I woke a little late to the sound of my alarm clock radio. While there was usually music playing, that morning there was just conversation among the morning show crew. I didn’t pay it much mind, and turned off the alarm. After a quick shower I dressed and made my way to my first class, a political science lecture meeting at the ESSC building at the center of the University of North Texas campus. I was soon seated in the large auditorium with other students as we watched the unfolding chaos on the projection screen. People were crying, dazed, and at a loss for words. What we were witnessing was unthinkable, impossible and yet happening right before our eyes. That day, it didn’t matter who you were-you were an American, and complete strangers seemed to connect and support one another in the face of unimaginable horror. I find we often don’t have much time for the strangers passing in the park or neighbor down the street, but in times of crisis we not only need one another, we band together as a community.
Finally, a very supportive fellow writer offered to graciously read and provide notes to me on the story. While there were the usual rough edges she shared some great advice, with one suggestion being that as a reader she wanted to know more. Originally I intended this story to be a one-and-done that left readers in a very dark, hopeless place (I mean, hey, it’s a very horror-ish tale), but that, I decided, would be the easy way out. What’s much harder is bringing things back around and to a satisfying conclusion versus leaving folks stranded on a cliffhanger. So, this story is merely the first act of a larger one I’ll be exploring in the coming months. I have some ideas about where it goes, but very much like the readers I’ll be reacting to each shift, each wrinkle in the situation and trying to discern where it’s going ultimately and what awaits the characters.
To wrap-up, yes, I wrote this crazy story. Yes, I have dreams that are less-than-pleasant just like everyone here and there. Yes, I like scary stories and unsolved mysteries. While this is a work of fiction, it undoubtedly was born out of my own experiences and those of others that are all too real, and at least from my perspective that is what makes stories like this one unsettling. That all said, I like to think I’m a fairly well-adjusted person who just wants to entertain people and take them on a journey that stretches their imaginations and connects with them in a very personal way. My hope is that this story, as with all my others, is entertaining, thought-provoking, and stays with you long after you’ve read it. If I’ve accomplished that then I think I hit the mark I was aiming for.
Enjoy, and more to come…