I THINK I DIED WHEN I WAS FOUR. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here… Recently, I was asked to write a little behind the scenes non-fiction piece for my novella, A Season in Hell (Crystal Lake Publishing, September 7, 2018). Having just finished that, feeling the joy in writing such a piece, I decided to dive into the behind-the-scenes inspiration for two of my releases this year. Those two books would be From Death Reborn (Silver Shamrock Publishing, April 13, 2021) and Storm Shadows (JournalStone Publishing, November 12, 2021). The two are actually connected in a way, so let’s dive in and see what inspired these stories.
Okay, back to the beginning… When I was four, lightning struck my window and formed a skeleton across the pane. Those of you who have already braved Storm Shadows recognize this as a scene in the book. But let me explain how this ties into From Death Reborn, and why I didn’t write an afterword for each book, due to this intersection. Laying there in my crib at four, that was something I had not expected. I was far too young to understand the purpose of the lightning rod just outside of my window, but I understood fear all too well. That house, and I mean this with all of my heart, was the scariest fucking place I’ve ever been. My family experienced a wide range of haunting, including seeing ghost dogs jump in through windows at night, knobs sliding up and down the door, hearing a deep voice warn us to leave, and many more. So yes, I knew fear better than most at that young age, and so I was terrified by the skeleton formed on my windowpane that night.
I know, I know… You’re thinking, “But you said you think you died?” Yes, that is true, and here is why and how that ties into From Death Reborn. After the lightning struck, I crawled out of my crib and headed for my parents’ bedroom. The house itself was a two-story model, one in which an old doctor supposedly killed his entire family and then himself (yes, I know it’s a very common story, but in this particular case it happens to be true). My bedroom, as well as my parents’ room, was on the first floor. On my way to their room, I stopped at the front door, and something compelled me to open that door. When I did, everything was gone. No trees, no houses, no ditches or small swells, no nothing…just flat land as far as I could see, save for some storm clouds hovering ominously in the sky above me. And as I walked out into our yard, and kept walking, eventually I found myself far away from my home, which I could no longer see. That’s when it happened.
For those who don’t know, I consider myself a spiritualist. What does that mean? I do believe in a higher power, and I think of myself as a Christian, though I doubt most of them would be very accepting of my beliefs, as science plays a big role. Regardless of my beliefs, the one thought I hold dearest is that people can make up their own minds about reality. It isn’t my place to judge anyone, and yes, that is ultimately what separated me from the church. I was told I was going to Hell for the music I listened to, for wearing tie-dyes, and other assumed wrongdoings. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when my mom approached me with a religious book, I refused to read it. She asked me time and time again, each time with me avoiding doing so. Until one day when she convinced me to read a few paragraphs she’d earmarked. In that small section, the author detailed a near death experience (NDE) and spoke about meeting God to the exact details of my own story. Imagine my shock. The afterlife has always fascinated me, but that was the birth of a story, right there, standing in my mother’s living room—a little nugget to build upon.
The clouds began to spread, the sky opening up, and what I saw beyond was a clear blue sky lit by a bright and shining sun. And then He appeared. Or, at least, I assume it was a he; it could have very well been a she or a them or something I cannot even comprehend. Whatever the case, I found myself standing beneath this hole in the sky, encountering a being comprised of billions of tiny glass prisms reflecting light in every possible color imaginable. And He/She/They spoke to me. What they said, I have no idea, and I don’t recall anything after that moment other than finding myself back at home. In fact, I completely disregarded this experience for many, many years, until my mom brought it up early in my marriage.
The other truth in From Death Reborn revolves around the death of my niece, just sixteen at the time, who was killed by a drunk driver. Aleia (and yes, if you’ve read the book, you can make a correlation with the name) has appeared often in my stories in one way or another, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Her death changed me, as it would anyone. And the car accident in From Death Reborn is, in a way, a tribute to that, and the story itself a means of me working through my issues in losing her, including reuniting with her in the afterlife, should that be possible. While the core of that book is probably more dark fantasy, it includes many horror elements, but I like to refer to it as my superhero story. If you’ve finished all the way to the end, you might know why.
Now, let’s revisit Storm Shadows to complete this short essay.
When we moved away from that house shortly after that incident, our new house also proved to be haunted. Perhaps it’s something inside of me, something unlocked by that NDE, that allows me to see things through the thin veil that hides them from others. The day we moved in I set off to explore the house, and soon I found a terrible looking stuffed gorilla in an oddly placed attic within the upstairs closet. That gorilla tormented me nightly, causing me to lose a lot of sleep. I was also the new kid in town, and a group of bullies had taken a liking to me and decided to torture me as frequently as possible. Those were grueling days, going without sleep and then finding myself face down on the ground, being pummeled and my face forced into the wet grass. Some would call those formative years; I call it trauma I’ve not soon forgotten. Did it make me stronger? Sure, but I’d rather have not gone through it all. So here’s my clear message on that: bullies suck. That is all.
Lying asleep at night, strange sounds often awoke me. And yes, all houses make sounds, and over time you might grow accustomed to them. It takes time. But in this instance, each time I awoke, I found that stupid gorilla standing in the middle of my room, staring at me with its awful orange eyes. I tossed it back into the attic, but it showed up in my closet weeks later. I threw it in the trash, and still it came back to my closet. Chucked in up the sewer tunnel of a nearby creek, and still it returned. I don’t think I rid myself of that gorilla until I was twelve and we moved to Pennsylvania, believe it or not. And, of course, all of this, the gorilla, the bullying, me trying to get rid of it, is in Storm Shadows. But there’s more…
Yes, the shadow people really did come for me in that second house in the suburbs of Chicago. One night I went to go to the bathroom and there he was, standing in the window of the backdoor, his shadow cast by the porchlight I had just turned on. That occurred a few times over the next few weeks, and eventually, one night while I was asleep, that shadow appeared from behind my bedroom door. It strangled me through my sheets, trying to kill me. I managed a peep, barely audible call to my mother, and the shadow took off. Who knows, maybe it was some entity coming to reclaim a soul it felt was stolen from the afterworld, but for whatever reason, that was the end of it. And soon after, we moved to Pennsylvania.
It should come as no surprise that even now I have real horror stories. I’ve seen things in near every house, things that cannot be explained away. I’ve seen things with friends, things that changed us, and terrified us. Perhaps this is why I write horror, as I try to reconcile the things I’ve seen, explain them in some way. Where that takes me, I often don’t know—I am a pantser, after all. But I hope you enjoy the ride when you take a chance on one of my books. I hope it keeps you lying awake at night wondering whether that shadow on your wall really did just move.
Amazon links for the mentioned books:
A Season in Hell – http://mybook.to/ASiH
From Death Reborn – http://mybook.to/FDR
Storm Shadows – http://mybook.to/StormShadows
Kenneth W. Cain
January 31, 2022