My early experience with the horror genre and its consequences

I was recently watching the Conjuring and recalled when I first heard about Ed and Lorraine Warren back in the 1970s. This is turn brought back memories of perhaps the first instance I became interesting in ghosts and the supernatural.

I myself have never seen a ghost and I can’t say for sure if I’ve experience anything that could be categorized as supernatural. The closest I’ve come to it is an overwhelming feeling of sadness at a child’s grave in Virginia City, NV around 1994 or so. At the time, I believe it was, so this could be my mind trying to retroactively rationalize my experience. I could continue down this thread, but that’s for another time.

When I was about ten years old (1977), I read a paperback copy of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. I had not seen the movie that came out four years earlier, so I had only my imagination to go by. Certainly, the demonic parts of the novel were scary, but what really frightened me was the idea that ghostly voices could be caught on tape. I don’t recall the movie going much into the subject, but the book addressed many instances of supposed ghosts and/or demons caught on reel-to-reel tape and the mere idea of this scared the shit out of me.

At the time, I had two reel-to-reel tape recorders, each given to me by a man who lived in the apartment building my grandmother was the manager for. One was a small, single speed recorder and the other was a full-size, three-speed recorder that I had all kinds of fun with. I loved recording myself, my sister and my friends at different speeds and playing them back. It was great fun.

And then I read The Exorcist. I don’t think I used either of those recorders too much after that. They are both long gone, along with the tapes.

It didn’t cure me of being curious about ghosts, however.

When I was in grade school, you used to be able to order books at a reduced price from a catalog. I think you could get up to 3 at a time. I don’t recall every book that I ordered, but on two separate occasions, I would select a collection of ghost stories. They weren’t very big books, but I loved them, read them and scared myself shitless. To me, the true ghost stories were more frightening than anything Hollywood could dream up. Or novelists. I only wanted true stories.

Then I would have nightmares. I dreamed about being in bed, unable to move while a dark entity crept up on me out of my line of sight. I would try to scream, but couldn’t, the tension mounting until I would finally wake up, my heart pounding. I later learned this is called sleep paralysis. I rarely have this happen anymore.

When I was eighteen, 1985, my friends and I visited the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. I experienced nothing supernatural there, but I started having new dreams. I didn’t dream that I was in the Winchester House, but a different house nearly as big. A house with many floors, many staircases, very little light. Only a certain part of the house was haunted, however. (I’m getting chills right now writing this.) This part of the house always drew me to it. I knew to stay away, but I would always end up there somehow, frightened to death as dread consumed me.

The ghost that inhabited that part of the house was an old woman. About a month after I visited the Winchester House, my great-grandmother died. She was 91 when she died, born in 1894, and I was always a little scared of her. In the dreams, I used to think it was her. Sometimes I would wake up talking in a raspy voice while having this dream, which probably should have also scared me, but I was too relieved to have snapped out of it.

Except for this one dream where the old woman lifted me up off the floor with my face turned toward the wall, smearing my face up the paneling until I reached the ceiling, her gnarled hand on the base of my skull, trying to shove me through. I woke up talking in a gravelly voice as I was trying to scream in the dream, describing what the woman was doing. This dream still gives me chills.

Over the years, the house would change, becoming larger, higher. The dreams expanded outside of the house, placing it in a neighborhood of normal houses with neatly mowed lawns and well-maintained sidewalks and streets, the house the only blight. It was black and brown with age, towering far above the other houses. Often I would float off the ground and look at each story, sometimes seeing the old woman inside. The fear factor was lower, but not much.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this dream and the old woman seems to have gone. I have visited many “haunted” locations over the years and have experienced nothing out of the ordinary. I have known many people over the years who have seen ghosts and had other experiences, but I’ve not experienced anything myself. After believing in them most of my life, lately I have lost that belief and now believe there must be some other explanation for ghosts, something science has yet to explain.

And yet, I still write in the genre. I think that my lack of belief in the subject frees me to explore more creative ideas and more interesting stories.

I just hope those dreams don’t come back.

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