What, are you scared?

Comic, Face, Fear, Fright, Horror, Man, Panic, Retro

Why do some people seem to get a kick out of scary stories? Whether on the page or screen, they stimulate that tingly feeling down your spine. The fact is a lot of us enjoy when our heart speeds up, and we can’t catch our breath… that rush of adrenaline, and all those lovely endorphins. Sounds kind of like falling in love doesn’t it.

 The writer Neil Gaiman said, “Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open, and you will step out into the daylight once again.” That’s how I like to take my horror – in small doses. I prefer a controlled environment, and a horror movie’s a great example of that. 

 Scary films are generally about one and a half hours long. Buying a ticket, and armed with snacks, I settle into my seat. All those childhood fears of things that go bump in the night rush forward. If I’m out with someone, I find I can control my fear response better than when I’m on my own, especially if it’s a good film – otherwise, I have to do a lot more self-talk to keep myself in the seat. Hopefully, the filmmaker has tucked in a bit of comic relief that will diffuse the tension just enough for me to take a breath before the terror rushes back. 

 And, I’m not talking about being grossed out or repulsed either. Watching humans being tortured and hacked up isn’t my idea of a good time. Even if they were stupid enough to go inside that house when I told them not to…

 While I’m compulsively reaching for the popcorn, my brain’s busy checking out the perceived threat portrayed on the big screen. Intellectually, I know I’m in no real danger, but my amygdala needs some convincing. My heart’s pumping and my feet tap restlessly against the floor, as the tension runs through me. My stomach feels fluttery, it’s almost the same feeling I get when riding a roller coaster. As my brain recognizes the threat isn’t real – It drops a rush of hormones and chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin. This puts me into an elevated state – I feel happy and, surprisingly, less anxious – able to enjoy the thrill of the moment. The movie comes to an end. The credits roll – the lights come up – and the ride is over. I walk out of the theater, stimulated, excited, and, best of all, unscathed. 

 It’s very different when I’m reading, that’s where the scary gets to me. I don’t seem to have the same regulated emotional response that I have when watching a movie. Turning the pages of a novel, I stir the written words into my own overactive imagination. The story intensifies, and the pages turn faster as I race to the end of the book. I’m suddenly aware that the house is quiet – too quiet… the tension builds. My eyes dart uneasily at the shadows, my nerves have me starting at sudden noises. When the story becomes too intense, too scary, I put the book down. It’s getting dark, I turn on all the lights and switch on Hallmark or the Cooking Channel and hunt for the chocolate – only to settle my nerves. My body’s gone through the same flight or fight response as when I’ve watched a horror movie. It’s received that same flush of adrenaline, but, instead of feeling elated and less anxious – I’m still a little on edge and need to distract my brain. Only then will the frightening images fade. For some reason, when reading, my brain has greater difficulty dealing with the stress of being scared.

 Monsters are generally symbolic. Some psychologists say they reflect our fears or worries, whether we realize it or not. Freud asserted that monsters were created by our unconscious – for me, they have to live in my conscious mind, at least while I’m working on a novel. My writing group finds it amusing that sometimes I have to put a story away because I’ve creeped myself out. I realize that’s a bit perverse. However, as I read through my own work, I hope that readers will enjoy the thrills and chills that evolve in my stories, and want to come back for more. 

Ghosts, Spirits & Phantoms, Oh my…

Before deciding to move to Colorado Springs, I did a thorough investigation of weather patterns, tax rates, housing, population, demographics, crime statistics, employment – in other words, the works. I was able to find about everything I needed to make an informed decision. Needless to say, I relocated to the Centennial State. I knew as soon as I settled here that I’d come home. Sometimes you have to make a move to find yourself.

 Wanting to pursue writing but not having a lot of extra cash, I found affordable courses online. Rob Parnell was offering his  Easy Way To Write series at the time, and I found them quite helpful. While taking his  Dark Fantasy & Horror Writing For Profit class, a story idea began to form in my head. It developed into my current project, Dead Ringer. Since I wanted to locate the story in the general area of Colorado and Manitou Springs but didn’t want to tell someone else’s story – I dug into research mode again. This time on a paranormal level.   

Colorado Springs is a large city covering about 186 square miles. Downtown is the city’s hub, and there you’ll find what’s now the Kimball Peak Three Movie Theater. Tales of a ghostly little girl who skips up and down the hall of the projection room and screams in the bathroom can put you off your popcorn. Folks have also seen the specter of an old man, thought to be the projectionist who died in a fire. 

 Down the street from the theater, the Antlers Hilton is a hotspot with several ghosts. Employees and guests report encounters with a little girl that appears in some of the rooms. In Judge Baldwin’s Bar, a man with a mustache appears after hours. There are also sightings of an elegant young woman dressed for a night on the town.

 The Broadmoor Hotel is a five-diamond hotel with beautiful, spacious grounds, a first-class golf course, and enticing restaurants to tempt your palate. Many have seen the apparition of a young woman late at night – usually floating down the hallways or up the staircases, wearing clothing from the 1930s. Talk is she’s Julie Penrose, wife of Spencer Penrose – founder of the Broadmoor. Employees note lots of activity in the penthouse Julie lived in until the 1950s – cold spots, lights going on and off, and objects moving on their own.

  At the former Ward’s location in Colorado Springs, which is now the Memorial Hospital Administration Building, sounds come from the walls. And in the women’s restrooms, toilets flush on their own, and lights turn on and off. It was reported in the 1990s, a young girl and boy went into the restroom while the parents waited outside the door. The children never came out. 

 In Colorado Springs, the reports of ghostly activity go on and on. Other well-known locations around town are St Francis Health Center, Garden of the Gods, Evergreen Cemetery, Gold Camp Road, Rock Ledge Ranch, Pioneer Museum, and The Underground. 

  In Manitou Springs, it’s hard to find a place that isn’t haunted. Situated between Garden of the Gods and PIke’s Peak, Native American tribes lived in the area and held it sacred. 

 Miramont Castle was built in 1895 by the French priest, Father Jean Baptiste Francolon, and later used as a care facility for tuberculosis patients by The Sisters of Mercy. It’s considered one of the most haunted places in America. Staff and visitors alike have recounted unusual experiences at the castle. Orbs of light appear from nowhere, and in the chapel, disembodied voices can be heard, and things go missing from the castle from time to time. One guest was startled when her cell phone played a religious song, and she didn’t listen to that type of music. Curiously her phone wasn’t connected to a music source or have any music files.

  Next door to the Cog Railway and The Incline is Iron Springs Melodrama & Dinner Theatre.  Former owner J.G. Heistand (who died in 1916) is often spotted around the place. A Woman in White haunts the theater and has been seen in the bathroom mirror and an upstairs window. Unseen mischief-makers have goosed employees as they’ve left the kitchen, and props and costume items randomly disappear – reappearing days or weeks later.

 Briarhurst Manor Estate offers a deliciously decadent dining experience and an event venue for weddings and conferences. It’s also one of the more famous spots in town. GhostHunters came to town several years ago and did a thorough investigation of the actively haunted manor. Things move on their own, lights go on and off, chimes and music can be heard coming from nowhere. Small footprints appear mysteriously, and visitors say they’ve been grabbed or touched. Apparitions are plentiful – children are seen and heard playing outside or running on the stairs. There’s also a little red-haired girl who likes the dining room and appears to diners. Guests and staff claim to have seen Mrs. Bell, wife of Dr. William Bell, who built the current Brianhurst in 1889, wandering the grounds.

 Some of the other active locales are The Peacock Bed & Breakfast Inn, The Cliff House, The Oneledge Hotel, The Crystal Valley Cemetary, The Craftwood Inn, the Avenue Hotel B&B, and Cave of the Winds.

  Researching Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs was an eye-opener. I found no need for concern about the originality of my story idea but instead found lots of inspiration for future tales. Great news for this horror /paranormal writer. 

Devils in the darkness

I was eight years old when I had my first paranormal experience. Funny that I can remember it happening as if it were yesterday – when I have so few memories of my childhood.

We lived in a large, three-bedroom green stucco house that stood at the back of a deep lot. I can still see the orange Spanish tile roof on the house. Mom was way ahead of her time with the xeriscaping and had a large garden out front, mostly made up of succulents, cacti, and rocks.

At the time, my brothers hadn’t come along yet, so it was just my folks, my two younger sisters, and me. Life was pretty ordinary. Mom was a housewife, yes, that’s what they called stay-at-home moms at the time. Dad was the breadwinner, working as an auto mechanic.

School was out for summer vacation, and Daylight Savings Time wasn’t even a thing yet. That made no difference; Mom’s always been a structured soul, and though it wasn’t dark out, we kids still had to go to bed at the usual time. It seemed wrong somehow that we had to be in bed, and it wasn’t even night time – but at eight years old, you don’t get a vote. I remember faint sunlight glowing through the curtains as I fell asleep.

It was the middle of the night. The house was quiet, but something must have wakened me. I thought I’d gone blind because I couldn’t see anything but dark. It was unnerving, and I was afraid. The hairs on my neck stood up, while my eyes probed the darkness for the source of my fear.

Across the room near the door were two red eyes staring at me. Set at an adult’s height, they blazed in the dark. My breath hitched in my throat, and I was momentarily speechless. When I found enough courage to call out, my voice shook, “Da-dad, Daddy?” There was no response.

I pulled up the covers and hid my eyes; maybe it was just my imagination. Lifting my gaze, I saw the glowing eyes still looking directly at me. My heart pounded in my chest – I tried calling for my dad, mom, anyone to come to help me. Nobody came. Pulling the covers over my head, sobbing and trembling with fear – I heard a voice telling me to pray. I did, never looking outside the blankets again, but crying myself to sleep.

The next morning, I told Mom what happened. She’s a very rational person and assured me that no one could have gotten into my bedroom – the house was locked up at night. It was only a bad dream – that neither she nor dad would let anything happen to me. Mom hugged and patted me, trying to make me feel better. I didn’t feel any better.

From that time on, I was afraid to be alone in my room at night. I often sneaked the light on if I woke up in the night. Dad must have had radar or something because he’d come in and turn the light off. I never felt safe in that house again and developed a deep fear of the dark. Fortunately, we moved out of the house a couple of years later.

PostScript – At eight, I had a child’s faith, and when I heard a voice telling me to pray, I knew God would protect me. I believe HE did. Over the years, I’ve learned that many have reported seeing glowing red eyes in the darkness. The most common answer to Whatis Shadow People. The WhyNo one knows for sure.

Shadow people – w:User:Timitzer [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D