I write novels, so I should be accustomed to writing those scary moments that keep the readers on the edge of their seats. But imagine how I felt when I found myself spooked during the middle of the night the other week.
It was during the early hours of the morning when I heard sharp, high pitched scream from outside my bedroom window. My eyes snapped open and I suddenly realized my room was flooded with bright, white light from the motion sensor lights outside. Normally they just flick on and off after a few seconds, but this particular evening they stayed on for at least ten minutes. I could feel my heart begin to pound in my chest. Then my creative mind went into overdrive. Was there something actually in the room? Was there someone in the house? Was there an intruder outside?
I quickly checked on my yellow lab, Lily, who sleeps on her own comfy bed at the foot of mine. When I glanced over, I saw that she was snoring peacefully. How could she have not heard that ear piercing scream? I looked for Kitty, my feral cat. He wasn’t in his usual place lying next to her. Instead he was silhouetted against the windows, his body stiff as a board. I knew then something was amiss. I called his name quietly, but his eyes stayed firmly fixed between the wooden slats looking downwards, to the outside.
I padded across the room and picked him up gently. At first he was resistant to be drawn away from the window. But I wrapped him in my arms and took him back to bed with me. I stroked him, hoping to calm both our nerves, wishing I could hear his gentle purr, but his body language told me something else. He was still on high alert as his ears flicked back and forth almost as if he could hear something else. I took a long, deep breath then listened for other sounds from around the house. But nothing.
Finally, the motion sensor’s switched off. Left in the dark I switched on my side lamp. It cast warm glow around the room which I found remarkably soothing. But what was that sound I heard? And what was Kitty so frightened of?
I tucked the bedsheets round me then reached for my ipad. My finger tapped the security camera program and within minutes I was able to bring up the visuals on the screen. I saw nothing unusual as I flicked through the different camera views. Then I played them back and waited.
The area I concentrated on first was just outside my room. For a few moments it was in complete darkness…then suddenly a flash of bright white light. And there was the culprit! A large coyote. Long ears, thin face, long snout and a very bushy tail.
It trotted into view…but it was not alone. It was followed by a second…and then a third. I watched mesmerized as they dashed around, playing and jumping over each other. Then they stopped. Their ears pricked up, they raised their noses, catching any scent in the air and ran off.
Relief, I finally felt relief knowing what was going on. What had started off as scary, now turned into a mission filled with curiosity.
I checked the rest of the cameras, and sure enough I was able to track the pack.
They came from the depths of the back garden. Cautiously at first, until they reached the open grassy lawn, they zoomed around at high speed almost as if they were playing “catch.” They stopped only occasionally to sniff at the grass and my flowers, and then to mark their territory. But this wasn’t their territory, this was mine, Lily’s and Kitty’s.
I continued to watch as one sniffed at the side gate and then my garden tools. It looked up at the camera, its eyes glinting, then it crouched down and slid under the wrought iron gate. The motion sensor lit up and I watched the rest follow down the side of the house.
The rest sped back to the driveway, an open area, to continue playing. One hopped up on to the wall. Alert, he padded along the wall then hopped off again.
I continued to watch them for a while until they disappeared into the dark night.
Thankfully there had really been nothing to be scared about at all. It had been a revelation of sorts, a chance to observe a pack of coyotes, investigating and having fun.
When I felt sleepiness overwhelm me, I snuggled back under the covers, this time with Kitty who was purring in my arms.
Since having watched the pack of coyotes play around my home and my garden, it brings home a certain truth; that we are never too far away from the wilds of nature and the nocturnal animals that come with that.
However, now I’m a little more cautious when I let Lily outside at night. I make sure I’m armed with pepper spray, a bright flashlight, and I make sure I’m never two feet away from Lily.
Kitty, the feral loves his outdoor lifestyle during the day, but I make sure he sleeps with me during the night.
For the last several days my remote control has refused to open the gate.
Battery, I thought. I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember when I’d last changed the battery. Eight dollars later, yes I brought two, with new battery inserted, I drove full tilt at the gates, hit the remote … and nothing happened. Took out the battery, rubbed it down, reinserted it, pressed. Nothing. (I should add that there is another way to trigger the gates, so I was not completely trapped – just inconvenienced.)
I googled everything in sight on the internet, watched videos (by men – always by men), who went into extraordinary detail on the movements and mechanisms of gates and garage doors. I re-keyed, re-synchronized, rebooted, readjusted and re-calibrated a dozen times. Lights would flash … and nothing would happen.
I hate the idea of calling someone and paying for something I feel I should be able to fix myself, but I finally bit the bullet and called the gate company. Have you changed the battery (yes), is the motor running (yes), is the gate opening (yes), have you sworn at the gate (yes, several times, and I may have volunteered that information, rather than been asked.)
When the technician arrived, he took the large black box off the motor. After a great deal of close up inspection, the guy suddenly jumps back, alarmed. I, being curious, lean in.
And there, right in the dark depths of the motor is a rat. Very cute, very fluffy. Very big.
We prodded him/her with a stick to move them away. But no, this rat was not happy about the possibility of having to move home. And why should he/she? The nest looked cozy, was warm and dry and well-lived in and, with the exception of the daily gate trundling open and close, probably quiet too. However, maybe the rat was not too happy with the trundling: the reason the remote was not working was because the rat had eaten the wiring!
I have to ask myself what nutritional value is there in wiring? Curious, I had to find out. Thank you, google. It comes down to a teeth issue. Apparently rats teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. They need to chew on anything to file the teeth down and wiring just happens to be their favorite, especially narrow metal wires. Now he/she is having to relocate elsewhere.
I did not want to fill the nest with poison, I love animals to much, so instead I filled it with mothballs. (Again, thank you google.) So Operation Mothball is underway and hopefully my Gatekeeper will get the hint. The last time I looked, the nest was empty, though I did hear ominous rustling in the bushes, which might have been an indignant rat plotting more wire chewing revenge.
The gate technician was amazed that I was not frightened of rats. He thought it might have been do with the fact that I was English and wondered if there were a lot of rats in England. I assured him that England has less rats than America, but I was reminded of the very first horror novel I ever read, and the reason I became a writer: James Herbert’s, The Rats. You can read the interview here. http://www.melanieruthrose.com/blog/unbound-worlds-filaments-of-fiction
And here are the actual photos of my Gatekeeper!
Well it seems you can, on eBay.
eBay is where the world goes to shop … and some of the items it sells are out of this world.
Research is the fun part of writing and it can be divided quite neatly into two parts: practical, on the ground research and online noodling. Without a doubt, today’s writers are spoiled with access to the entire world. There are so many interesting sites with a wealth of information. However there is a caveat, and I’m sure all writers have come across this at some time: research can inevitably take you down unintended paths. For instance, whilst I was working on my last novel Mirror Image, and researching various aspects of the paranormal, I often ended up on some odd and wonderful sites. But one of the biggest surprises I discovered was on one of the largest and most popular sites on the internet: eBay. Alongside the clothes and watches, shoes and bags, crafts and tchotchkes, people were actually selling and buying paranormal items.
I quickly typed in Haunted Objects. First up was an Effanbee doll called “Blythe.” (A haunted doll – and writers love haunted dolls!) I discovered that Blythe is a gentle spirit who winks and constantly opens and closes her eyes. The current owner has communicated with her through dreams. Having read the complete history behind Blythe I’ll admit, I was tempted, but just before I hit the Make Offer button, I decided to see what else eBay had to offer. Check out Blythe here.
I then typed in the words “Haunted Dolls.” Up scrolled a fabulous listing ranging anywhere from haunted clown dolls to dolls acting as spirit vessels holding good or even evil spirits. (Note to self: avoid, because if a lifetime of reading, writing and researching into the occult has taught me anything, it is that odd things lurk in the shadows.) There was Jessica, Emily, Evelyn, Miranda, Blaze, Arlene, Lisa, Angelica, Rose … and, lest you think only female dolls are haunted, there were were also a couple of male offerings. There is Paul who apparently likes to make his presence known; Henry, who is a little shy at first but seems to become much more active when he knows he’s at home. I was relieved not to have discovered a haunted Barbie or Ken somewhere in the collection!
Next I moved on to Haunted Jewelry, and was presented with a list of rings, pendants, brooches, necklaces, earrings and more.
Some of the rings were Wiccan which had been infused with magical powers by a Wiccan High Priestesses and her coven. For those of you who may not know, Wicca was developed in England. This modern day witchcraft dates back to mid 20th Century and is a craft which promotes a peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of life. The roots of Wicca disappear into the mists of history and myth, but it was Gerald Gardner, a British Civil Servant, who revived the religious belief in the 1950’s after the British Government repealed the anti-witchcraft laws. It is now the fastest growing religion in America.
Also on eBay are Voodoo rings. One in particular caught my eye. Handmade and forged by a blacksmith in New Orleans, this unique, one of a kind piece is supposed to be haunted by the spirit of the Voodoo Spirit is was originally crafted for. It is fashioned into a skull with two large teeth which protrude from the base. Apparently the teeth were used to make incisions in the skin for blood rituals. Surprisingly, there are currently no offers. Check it out here.
There were also haunted Djinn rings. Djinn are more commonly known as a genie and the spirits can be good, bad or neutrally benevolent. Renowned author, Graham Masterton, wrote a novel called “The Djinn” in 1977 which went on to become one of his most popular novels. I have read it and it is one of those books that you’ll find yourself reading again and again.
However, I think my best haunted find of the day had to be the Antique Wood Dibbuk Box with the caption Spirit-Buyer Beware! Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is currently priced at $666, and there are 10 buyers keenly watching. It comes from a very old home in Laurel Canyon, CA. Apparently, the box and its contents has an overwhelming energy and when a medium was called in to do a session on the Dibbuk box, she repeatedly got the messages Very Evil, Beware!
Read more about it here: and this is one of those items where the phrase “buyer beware” really does apply.
I’m always on the lookout for beautiful mirrors and naturally, could not resist the temptation to research Haunted Mirrors. There is surprisingly little available online, but I did come across this beauty: Antique Empire Era Mercury Wall Mirror Mahogany Wood Frame. I was disappointed to find no history behind the curious object, though there are a lot of photos. And with the current asking price of $2,296 I’d certainly like to know I’m getting something truly haunted.
Of course the mirror in the novel Mirror Image is real. The mirror belonged to Dr. John Dee, a 16th century alchemist, mathematician, geographer, astronomer and astrologer. Dee used his scrying mirror to summon spirits. You can read about him and his mirror on The Truth Behind The Mirror.
So for all you budding ghost enthusiasts looking for the weird and wonderful do check out eBay. However, BEWARE, you will find yourself lost in the selection for hours on end … perhaps never to be seen again.
If you have a haunted object in your home I’d love to hear about it. Find me on twitter @melanieruthrose and let me know about the object.
The horror or fantasy novel which influenced me the most? I grew up in England in the 70’s – when some of the great fantasy and horror novels first appeared. As a teenager, I remember trying to read Stephen King’s The Stand. (But it was just TOO big, with so many characters, and I think I got lost and gave up.) Stephen King was big in college, so I know I read copies of The Shining and Salem’s Lot, which were passed around. A lot of my friends loved Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, but it was just too studied, too clinical to be really scary. And also, these were all American novels, set in America, so that made them a little more distant and, somehow, a lot less scary.
And then, I stumbled across James Herbert’s The Rats. This is the book which genuinely terrified me, it turned me into a lifelong fan and an avid reader.
The premise of The Rats is very simple: mutated giant rats attack London.
I was born and raised in London, England, so I was easily able to identify with the locations in the cities East End, which made reading the book all the more real. The thought of mutated, diseased rats invading the city was incredibly scary.The moment I saw the cover of a huge black rat leering out of the picture, with crazed eyes and huge incisors, I knew I had to have it.
There’s a true saying in Britain “In the City of London you are never more than five feet away from a rat.” That, in itself, should run a chill up your spine, let alone reading a novel that’s infested with oversized Rattus rattus!
I think I must have been around fourteen years old when I first picked up the book at W.H. Smith in Gatwick Airport, England. The moment I saw the cover of a huge black rat leering out of the picture, with crazed eyes and huge incisors, I knew I had to have it.
We were on our way for a two week family vacation and my mother, always excited to see me read, had given me money to buy any book I wanted. When she asked what book I had purchased, I told her it was a novel by James Herbert. Given the title, Rats and the author, Herbert, she assumed I’d bought a novel by the well-known English author and veterinarian, James Herriot, whose series of humorous and gentle novels were set in the idyllic countryside of Yorkshire. If there were rats in James Herriot’s novels, they were the fluffy, gentle type, who nibbled on a slice of apple; James Herbert’s rats gnawed on your face!
I never let on to my mother that I was reading horror.
The Rats was so very cleverly crafted. They were intense, graphic descriptions of death, mutilation and a little erotica thrown in for good measure: what more does a teenager want?
At sixteen and just about to end the school term, we had just finished our GCSE ‘O’ levels exams (American Diploma) and had a free reading period. I brought my much beloved, battered and well-thumbed copy to college with me. I was already half way through the book when my teacher asked me what I was reading. Clearly it was a mistake to show her the cover. I watched her read the opening paragraphs, saw her eyes widen and knew I was in trouble. Deemed as inappropriate, my beloved copy was confiscated! Two days later, I bought another copy.
Over the years I’ve devoured all of James Herbert’s novels and it’s interesting to see how his writing evolved and matured. Although he never lost his visceral punch, he shifted into more psychological and scary stories, but decades later I still return to his first book and the two sequels, Lair and Domain. I’ve lost count on how many times I have read them.
James Herbert had a wonderfully unique and straightforward style. He had worked for an advertising agency and I am sure that honed his ability to get his message across and tell the story without any long exposition. Here were characters you could completely relate to and Herbert always left you wanting to turn the page. Because the writing in The Rats was so straightforward and clear, it sparked that thought which every aspiring writer recognizes: I could do that. That’s how we all start. Kudos to James Herbert who certainly encouraged my passion for writing horror.
For me, that is the greatest compliment one could ever give any author.
And, just for the record: The Rats was rejected by five publishers before it finally found a home. It sold 100,000 copies in three weeks – and these were the days long before social media.
Would I ever consider having a rat as a pet? Yes, absolutely, just a long as they are not the variety, size and crazed as depicted in the novel The Rats.
Sadly, James Herbert, OBE died 2013 aged 69. He had just published his 23rd novel, Ash. I have it here on the shelf above my desk.