UrbEx & The Dawning of Dark Hollow Road – Part 1.

The popularity of UrbEx (aka Urban Exploration) doesn’t really surprise me. What does surprise me is how so many people seem to think it’s a new phenomenon. It’s more visible now thanks to such YouTube channels as Baltimore, Maryland-based Dan Bell’s FILM IT and the European (Dutch, I believe) BROTHERS OF DECAY, but it’s been around for generations.

Also known as Urban Spelunking (spelunking being ‘the hobby or practice of exploring caves’) UrbEx takes its practitioners into the realms of man-made structures, most commonly empty and abandoned homes, mansions, hospitals, factories, and the like. No Trespassing signs don’t seem to mean much to the dedicated UrbEx-er. In fact, to some that’s as good as a welcome mat, even if one has to enter these sometimes dangerous structures at night under the cloak of darkness.

In one of the earliest memories I have as an UrbEx-er, I couldn’t have been any older than ten or eleven and very much the tomboy. Across the road from the house I grew up in was a mysterious barn-like structure.

This wooden, red building had three large garage-type doors on the front, no windows on the ends and only one at the back. This single window was usually made inaccessible by stacks of rough-cut timbers. It was owned by the lumber mill and fine furniture factory at the end of the street, appropriately named Mill Street.  You can find some awesome pictures of what is left of this mill at The Explorographer’s SLEEPY HOLLOW SAW MILL post. 

 

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Not much remains of the mill anymore.

Much to my parents and grandparents horror, we played a lot across the street during the weekends when the mill was closed. We climbed on, raced between, and flirted with gravity and the possibilities of one of those tons-heavy twenty-foot long timbers shifting and crushing us to death on a regular basis. The cut wood was bundled and placed in stacks that swayed precariously as we climbed to the tops and jumped from one to another, like Superman leaping across buildings in a single bound. We scrambled and clawed our way to the top of the sawdust pile made by the enormous saws that did the initial bark removal outside, and rolled down them, sometimes into a puddle of mud. It wasn’t only dangerous play, it was messy.

 

But, what we really needed to know was, what was in that red building and how could we get in to find out?

During one fateful summer afternoon, the opportunity presented itself. During a game of hide and seek, someone discovered the stacked wood was at such a height and distance as to provide the thin and nimble kids that we were, easy access to the lone window some ten feet up. A sheet of outward-swinging hinged plywood covered it and we could see the simplest of hook and eye latches holding it loosely in place. That lock and the inch-wide gap it displayed was no match for a sturdy stick. The hook was quickly popped from the eye and the covering opened wide.

Behind it we were met with a multi-paned glass window and another simple hook and eye latch. In this case the window swung open inward at the bottom and the latch holding it shut was right there, unobstructed from our eager fingers.  It was freed, offering us a two foot wide gap into the building. One of our hooligan numbers peered in, ooohed, and slithered in through the gap.

What wonders awaited us? What was so valuable to the lumber mill that they kept it under lock and key in an almost windowless building? The rest of us quickly wiggled our way in one at a time, ready to be amazed!

As we passed through the window, each of us rolled onto a very smooth, hard, light brown surface. Cardboard. Huge sheets of cardboard, strapped together in giant bundles ready for the forklift operator to come along and haul a stack back to the factory to box up fully-assembled hardwood tables, chairs, dressers or cabinets. Box storage. That’s all it was, boring, folded up boxes! What a rip-off. We’d endangered life and limb to find a bunch of stupid, flattened out cardboard boxes!

We spent a few minutes atop the stack we’d entered on and talked. I’m sure pondering the thrill of it all, but quickly grew bored, as the minds and bodies of restless ten and eleven-year-olds will do. We crawled out the way we came in, slipping the hook and eye lock of the glass window back into place and closing the plywood shutter as best we could before climbing down to the safety of ground level – an adventure had, a mystery solved.

 

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COMING – SPRING 2018

For me this was the dawning of a new fascination. This interest would wax and wane over the years and would eventually lead to the writing of my Psychological Horror novel, “Dark Hollow Road”. You see, there’s a house on Dark Hollow Road that by all appearances is unoccupied. Even the locals say the last person to live there was back in the late 1970s. The doors are all locked. The windows on the first floor are locked and covered from the inside. And, to date, three children have gone missing within close proximity to the place.

 

Stay tuned for further posts about my UrbEx adventures and how those experiences led to the creation of “Dark Hollow Road” – quite possibly the darkest and most disturbing story I’ve ever written. Coming your way in the Spring of 2018.

The Horrors That Grew Me – Witchcraft

It’s no secret. I’m fascinated by witchy things and things associated with witchcraft. This does not mean I am one. I have a huge interest in vampires, too. Their lore and mythology, the novels, the movies, the whole nine yards, (Except for Twilight. I hate Twilight. Sorry. Deal with it.) all enthrall me. This does not mean I am one or believe I am one.

As with so many other horrors that grew me, I wasn’t entirely clear on when this interest first blossomed until recently. It has simply always been. But, the more I’ve thought about it for the writing of this post, the more I’ve come to understand about its origins. There’s a bit of interest in Spiritualism that I can easily trace to a particular relative on one side of the family who would later not only purchase my first Ouija board for me as a birthday gift (my 13th birthday, btw) but would also teach me how to use it – much to the rolling of her husband’s eyes. Another close relation on the other side of the family was really into the meaning of dreams and astrology.

As I was exposed to dream interpretation from my earliest days, let’s start with Ballantyne and Coeli’s Your Dreams And Your Horoscope : 25,000 Interpretations of the Messages Received in Sleep and the Predictions of the Stars, Planets, and other Heavenly Bodies, a copy of which was given to my great grandfather for Christmas in 1943. This same book now holds an honored place in my private research library. From Abacus to Zoo, we are presented with dream interpretations of all kinds in the first 564 pages of this yellow-paged tome. This is followed by finding numbers associated with dreams based on numerology. On page 574 we start our lessons in astrology, which continue for another 300+ pages. Hm. It all seems rather witchy to me.

 

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The Mysterious, Zolar?

This book would lead me to buy a dream book of my own, Zolar’s Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Dreams along with his Compendium of Occult Theories and Practices. This Zolar fellow has thirty books listed on Goodreads, but there’s an overwhelming lack of any actual information on who Zolar really was (or is). Other than a picture I found of a bearded man wearing a tweed suit with matching hat and smoking a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe, I haven’t found a thing. I strongly suspect that he’s the Simon and Schuster equivalent of General Mills’ Betty Crocker.

 

Once the research fuse on this particular study was ignited, things really got interesting. I quickly found myself diving into the non-fiction book Witchcraft At Salem by Chadwick Hansen and The Complete Book Of Magic and Witchcraft by Kathryn Paulsen. Much like the vampire library, the library of books on witches and witchcraft grew.

For my high school senior paper I wrote about the causes of the Salem witch trials and as part of my research was granted access to Cornell University’s massive Witchcraft Collection at the age of seventeen. I was taken to a small study room that contained nothing but four large tables with two chairs each, and several surveillance cameras. I was permitted to take in a pencil and a notebook. That’s it. Having looked at the card catalogue prior to my admission, I had a list of documents and books I was interested in seeing. These were brought to me and for the next few hours I gathered as much information as I could that pertained to my topic. I was in Heaven – and some would say probably working my soul’s way to Hell. Little did I know at the time, but I was also gazing at documents that pertained to my own family lineage.

For a good twenty-five to thirty years or so, I was very involved in all manner of occult dabbling. I taught myself to read the Tarot and other methods of scrying. The use of the Ouija board was common practice. I gathered stones and crystals. I burnt cedar and sage. I met and hung out with a lot of pagans whose practices ranged from Druid to Wicca and participated in numerous drum circles. It was fun and I learned a lot spiritually about myself.  It’s been a solid ten years since I’ve done any of that and a good five since I’ve spoken to anyone from those days.  My interest is still there, but it’s really just an interest now, not a practice. As I said, it was educational and it helped me find a pretty content zone when it comes to all this spiritual, in the religious sense of the word.

A few years prior to my maternal grandmother’s passing, she gave me a book she highly prized. It was THE family genealogy book, researched and written by her cousin. When she gave it to me she said, “You’re the only one who really seems to care about this so I wanted to make sure you got this.”  It would not be until 2009 that I would find a passage in this book that thrilled me beyond words, despite the sad injustice of it all.

In the Preston line of family is this entry:  Thomas Preston, born abt 1642, per his deposition 30 Jan 1690, stating he was then 48 years old. He m’d in Salem Village, Mass in 15 April 1669, Rebecca Nurse, d/o Frances & Rebecca (Towne) Nurse.  Rebecca (Towne) Nurse was born 16 Feb 1621 & was executed as a witch 19 July 1692.

Thomas Preston’s brother Roger was my 7x great grandfather, making Rebecca (Towne) Nurse my 8x great aunt. It’s a thin, frail line of descent, I grant you, but I’ll take it. Of course, the 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse accused and hung as a witch was no such thing. In a similar vein, my Godfather is descended from Judge William Stoughton – also of Salem fame – and his wife, my Godmother, is also descended from an accused Salem innocent.

Last but not least, all this love of genealogy research led me to work on a lineage for a friend – just for fun. Through that I discovered the Connecticut Witch Trials that ran from 1647 to 1697, before, during, and after Salem. No fewer than thirty-four men and women were formally charged with witchcraft. Eleven were hanged. And from these people grew my idea of the Barnesville witches that you’ll find in my Barnesville Chronicle series.

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So, there you have it – my love and fascination with witches, the good ones, the bad ones, the factual ones, the fictitious one, and the ones that weren’t really witches at all, but innocent victims of their culture and circumstance. The apex of this horror that grew me will be the day I walk into the homestead of Rebecca Towne Nurse that still stands today in Danvers, Massachusetts (the original Salem Village) as a museum and feel some strange, magical, and witchy sense of coming home.

The Music of the Muse

Back when I was a kid, all the really cool movies had accompanying soundtracks. I was in love with these things. There was a section of my record collection devoted to Jesus Christ Superstar, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Dunwich Horror, The Hunger, and The Shining, just to name a few. With the black light on and the incense smoke swirling in the room, I listened to these just as much as I did all that screaming 80s hair band music and loved them just as much, if not more, because of the moods they would create. I can’t help but wonder if my parents thought maybe I was conjuring up old Beelzebub when some of these albums were playing … talk about your Devil Music!

While I was writing my first novel, an epic fantasy adventure called “The Pride”, I listened to a lot of Enya. She was big back in the 1990s. I even made a soundtrack for the novel, basing each selection on a certain scene and putting them in chronological order on the cassette tape. Good times.

I didn’t write much of anything but short stories and poetry in the ten years following “The Pride”. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of other author’s being asked if music plays a role in their writing. Most seemed to choose music of a similar genre to whatever they were writing in, to set a certain mood, I guess. The horror writers leaned towards dark, gothic stuff and metal. Romance writers seemed to linger in the Classical section. You get the idea.

For a long time, I needed near total silence in order to focus on my writing. Anything with words in it was completely distracting. I’d sing along instead of working. For a while, I’d use Mozart or Chopin for that simple reason, no singing! And then, for no recallable reason whatsoever, I had my headphones on listening to the Blues as I wrote. And I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. My fingers danced over the keyboard. One scene after another rolled out of me in thousands upon thousands of words. I was thrilled! What had I just discovered? Was this a fluke or had I stumbled upon my Muse’s music? The Blues seems a very odd choice to write Horror to.

In the years since this revelation, the effect has remained the same. BB King, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and Stevie Ray Vaughn along with so many others would rock and croon their way into my writer’s brain, waking up that little Muse and sending her into action. It’s almost a fool proof way of smashing writer’s block. And if I can’t get any writing done even then, I know it’s time to save, close, and go do something else for a while, cuz if it isn’t happened then, it ain’t gonna happen.

How about you? Is there certain music that helps you progress with your chosen craft, be it writing, painting, scrap booking, or even housework? What kind of music inspires you and your Muse into motion?