The Bear Mountain Lights: The Practical Origins of a Story

Rachel in the bath--NO not that kind of bath!

It’s rather funny how inspiration can come from the strangest of places.   Since we launched the first edition of our ezine (The Gallery of Worlds) this week, I thought I might explain how one of my stories in it was inspired.  “The Bear Mountain Lights” was never intended to see the light of day.  In fact, it was written originally to serve one purpose:  To scare the begeebees our of our own dear Rachel Burkholder.

Anyone who knows Rach well knows that she is a lovely, intelligent lady.  Those who understand her better know that she is also terrified of windows overlooking dark places (she has a good reason for this, which she can explain in the comments, if she likes).  So, with one of our (in)famous Halloween Inklings meetings coming up, I decided to write a story that would do nothing more or less than make Rachel scream bloody murder.  I had two of my elements already:  darkness and windows, but I needed something to tie it together.  That came when I remembered that I had a box of cheap fireworks, and in there I had some things called “flashers.”  As fireworks, they were really pretty pointless:  all they did was repeatedly pulse with an incredibly bright light — so intense you couldn’t even look at it — and then go out.  As a medium for terrifying Rachel, they might work pretty well.

Tread lightly on these mountains!

So, I began to write a story to go with it.  When it comes to the supernatural, I personally have always found “real” stories much more terrifying than anything Hollywood has ever made up.  The idea that what you’re reading about involves real people, real places, and real entities is very potent, even if you strongly suspect someone is making this stuff up.  It takes away the comfort of knowing for certain that this is all imaginary.  After all, if it happened to them, it could happen to you!  I therefore set my story right here in Virginia and used the area around the mountain on which we live for most of the action.  To give it an ancient feel, I brought in some completely manufactured “legends” from a local tribe of Indians who live in the county.  I honestly felt a little guilty about making that part up, but, hey, this wasn’t supposed to be heard outside that little room on that one night.

What emerged was “The Bear Mountain Lights”:  a supernatural horror story about three men who violate the burial grounds of the Indian tribe in an attempt to steal land.  As a result, they bring down the vengeful wrath of a demonic guardian who manifests itself in tremendous bursts of intense light.  (The rest of the story you’ll have to read in the e-zine.)  I recruited the help of a mutual friend, Ari (an amazing woman who somehow manages to be pretty, intelligent, and completely bad-ass all at once), to actually pull the trigger.  The idea was that we would set the fireworks outside the window and rig up a remote fuse that Ari could activate from inside the the house.  After I reached a certain part of the story, where the lights were coming after the main character, she would set them off.  Of course since Ari would be sitting oh-so-innocently on the opposite side of the room, no one would be paying her any attention.  Hopefully, the fireworks inside would be much more interesting than the fireworks outside.*

Ari is on the right. Don't let the smile fool you. She doesn't need any of the highpowered firearms she's qualified to use to kill you.

I wish I could report that we pulled it off.  I wish I could tell you that we had to scrape Rachel off the ceiling.  Unfortunately, Ari couldn’t be there that night and so we had to put it off.  One thing pushed out another, the prank never happened, and I was left with the story.

I was surprised, however, to find that people actually liked “The Bear Mountain Lights.”  They found it creepy, and more than one person likened it to Edgar Allen Poe, something that had never occurred to me.  I was even more taken aback when people started talking about including it in our e-zine as the dark fiction piece.  So, I set to work on it again, cleaned it up, replaced all references to the real Indian tribe with a completely fictitious one, and then moved the setting to a made-up county, supposedly somewhere in the Old Dominion.

As I said before, its strange how inspiration works sometimes.  Oddly, much of mine seems to come from Rachel, as this one did.  If you get the chance, I would love for you to read (or listen) to the Bear Mountain Lights.  Do please let me know what you think!

* To be fair, I hoped it would scare everyone else too, but Rachel was my best bet.

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About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on February 3, 2011, in Audio Posts, Demons, Edgar Allen Poe, Fantasy, Inspiration, Plot, Rachel Burkholder and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I am glad to be the standard and judge of things that are scary…Windows overlooking the dark, being the most terrifying. People can see in and you can’t see out…creepy. As to why I am particularly scared of dark windows, the second story is not safe and creepy crawlers can look in with their blood shot eyes and stare at you before they reach in and steal something off your bedside table. I rest my case…
    The story is great, but I am rather glad that he did not pull off his “scare Rachel to death” project. As he well knows…he did something similar once…it was not good for anyone involved and I rather like breathing and not having my heart in my throat…

  2. Remember Rach, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger! Occasional spooky hijinks are just… er… resistance training for scary situations.

    And I still regret that we never were able to pull this off… 😀

  1. Pingback: Star-sisters: The Practical Origins of a Story « While We're Paused

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