“Sometimes They Come Back: Origins of The Midnight Order”

(The estimated reading time for this is 9 minutes)

© 2015 by Christopher Fulbright.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Almost 35 years later, it’s hard to say if there was ever really a castle at all.

In my youth, on occasional drives north from Colorado Springs to Denver, on a certain stretch of I-25 north of Monument Hill but south of Castle Rock, my father would point to the east and say “look for the castle!”

I would look. If you did not look in just the right place at just the right time you’d miss it. But I swear it was there. Far in the distance, as hills rolled by and valleys opened only to be obscured again by the rise of the land, clearly then—to my eye or perhaps my Dungeons & Dragons-addled imagination—I saw a castle. It was secluded and high on a hill, as all self-respecting castles should be, and then it was gone, out of sight. The land closed around it, a magical forest concealing it for another time.

I recently searched online for that castle, and there is no mention of it anywhere. I can’t find it on Google maps. Maybe it was never there at all; maybe it was a rock formation that only looked like a castle, like the one for which Castle Rock itself was named. Or maybe it was some magical portal that my father opened for me by lighting fire in my imagination.

No matter. That castle stuck in my head. And as I got older, my imagination replaced its dragons and wizards with something decidedly more dreadful and ghastly. My writer-brain took this and ran with it. Seventeen-year-old me wrote a 14-page short story called “Harvest – The Spawning,” with the dash and everything. I finished it on September 4, 1988. I know this because the date is written in light pencil in the upper right corner of the first page. I do not recall whether I was happy or unhappy with this story, but I never did anything else with it. It lived in a folder in my desk. It joined a banker’s box full of such stories which remain unpublished to this day.

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This box of stories was one of the only things that survived what I recall as one of the most regretful property losses of my life.

It’s a bit of a tangent, but kind of relevant. Allow me to fill you in on this real quick.

Around 1992, being a foolish young man full of anger and dreams, I quit my job at the newspaper where I had worked since I graduated high school. I cashed my last paycheck, went in on some beer and weed with a few friends and watched the sun go down over Rampart Range. That night, with no pre-planning or intent other than getting the hell out of there, a friend of mine and I got in my 1974 Dodge Polara, bought another case of beer, and drove east. We woke up at a rest stop in Hays, Kansas. Deciding we had gone too far to turn back, we drove on until we ran out of money in St. Louis. We did a quick side job for enough cigarettes and gas money to get to Chicago. There we squandered our meager fortune and managed to find another day’s work, which paid us just enough to get home to Colorado.

When I got back home, I was more or less aimless. I did not want to move back to the small town where I had gone to high school, so I moved to Colorado Springs, sharing an apartment with another friend. I was relegated to restaurant work. I worked a split shift at Sea Galley on the far side of town, cleaning the restaurant early in the day and doing dishes in the kitchen by night. I remember listening to a lot of heavy metal on my Walkman while I cleaned, and I remember reading horror novels on the couches up front on the days I decided not to take the long bus ride back to the apartment before my next shift started.

One day, as I was getting ready to start my evening shift, I got a call. The hot little gal who worked the hostess station handed me the phone. I smiled and she ignored me. I was the guy who cleaned the bathrooms and dishes, after all.

“Is this Christopher Fulbright?” said the voice on the phone.

My heart dropped like an anchor. No one used my full name back then.

“This is Deputy So-And-So with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. You have 15 minutes to get to your apartment and grab anything you want to keep.”

“What?”

“You’ve been served two eviction notices, and today’s the cut off. You’re out. I don’t have to do it, but I’m giving you some time to get here and grab anything you want to keep.”

I stammered, told him the situation. I was on the south side of town with only the bus for transportation (the old Polara took a shit in a parking lot downtown, where I’d left it for dead several months before). The deputy had a little sympathy for me, as I was obviously stunned.

As it turned out, I had been paying my roommate my half of the rent for the past several months, trusting that he was walking it down to the leasing office and doing the responsible thing. He, on the other hand, had quit his job and been spending all my rent money on crack cocaine. For two fucking months.

Anyway, water under the bridge and all that. The point is, the deputy came to understand that, although I was no angel myself, I had nevertheless been wronged in this particular scenario. He was nevertheless obligated to evict me. But he waited there all that time so I could grab one thing out of all my belongings—that banker’s box of short stories.

Among them, “Harvest – The Spawning.”

The box spent the next six years in my father’s garage. When I moved to Texas, I brought it with me. It remained unopened in storage for several more years.

Until recently.

About a year ago, The Midnight Order was accepted for publication by DarkFuse. I spent some time working on edits and proofreading galleys. I submitted my corrections and started working on something new, not able to psychologically cope with the strange and awful feeling of sitting and waiting for something to appear in print.

I was driving to work one morning through the March rain, and I thought of The Midnight Order.

It occurred to me, quite suddenly, to my utter surprise, that I had written this story before. I was surprised because this was not something I had consciously intended to do. All that day, strangely ill-at-ease about it, I tried to remember details of the story.

That night, I got home, dug through the garage, and found that box. For the first time in over twenty years, I read “Harvest – The Spawning.”

It didn’t line up exactly, not by any means, but the heart of the story was there. All of the primary plot points were there. There were deep similarities between the female main characters. What awaits them in a secluded castle is similarly dreadful, and the castle itself—that same castle for which I looked so carefully on that highway of my youth—had been transplanted and altered to fit my diabolical needs.

At some point in the past I read an interview with some successful writer (maybe someone out there will remember who it was—I think it was Koontz or King but can’t be sure), talking about the way story ideas came to him. The gist of the idea was that the muse is a kind of reservoir in which ideas come to surface all the time. The ideas didn’t always stay at the surface, though. Some of them sank, disappearing forever, and his thought was that those ideas were no good—they weren’t powerful enough to stay afloat. But the good ideas, the ones that refused to die and insisted on being written, came again and again to the surface, waiting for their time to live on the page.

My idea for The Midnight Order not only came to the surface and stayed there, it got written, sank into the deep, and then surfaced again 25 years later. Perhaps the muse felt like I was ready. Maybe the story never really left me, and the forces that work in our lives, that float us through these rivers of experiences, of love and death and parenthood and children, just brought me back to a time when my subconscious mind took a look out that window on the highway of my youth, saw that castle, and said “We’re going back.”

I can’t say for sure. But I am glad it happened, by whatever whim or dark magic.

I’m glad I finally discovered the true nature of The Midnight Order, even if it is a little unsettling. Even if it means that wizard castle of my youth is really inhabited by something much darker than I first dreamed.

I’m also glad I never have to go back.

 


 

About the Author

Christopher Fulbright is a former newspaper reporter turned technical writer with fiction published in DarkFuse #1, and non-fiction published in Cemetery Dance magazine. A horror novel written in collaboration with Angeline Hawkes, Night Wraith, is coming soon from SST Publications; their novella Elderwood Manor is still available. For information and eldritch miscellany, please visit his website at http://www.christopherfulbright.com.

Christopher’s latest novella The Midnight Order is now available from DarkFuse.

midnight_order

To say ex-porn star Nikki Lane has led a troubled life is putting it mildly. She’s abused every human vice from here to Hell and back again—she’s given herself to men, alcohol, drugs and pain. But now she’s ready to face her demons, to snatch her life back from the dark pit of depravity.

Looking for a place to get away from it all, Nikki seeks the advice of an old friend who belongs to an exclusive group of recovering individuals called the Midnight Order, who promise to siphon the evil from her very soul in a remote castle on the East Coast.

But at nightfall, the paradise transforms into a bleak fortress of horror when the Order convenes its secret cleansing ceremonies. And the chilling price is more than Nikki’s willing to give as she’s forced to face her greatest demon yet.

What stalks the halls of the castle, the cliffs of the island, and the shores of the beach? What cruel payment is demanded from…the Midnight Order?

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© 2015 – 2016, DarkFuse & individual contributors. All rights reserved.

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