“Saturnalia”: When Your Nightmares Write Stories

Something chittered and cackled as it danced in the shadows of the naked trees. Maria skirted her dead jeep, putting it between her and the noise, afraid that the creature would burst through the foliage. She tried to make out what it was, but the trees flanking the road confounded her eyes with their twisted limbs. Thick smoky rivulets streamed from beneath the battered metal hood, further obscuring her vision. Yet something rustled beyond the sharp, frosty branches of the forest walls. Something feral and utterly frightening. 

From “Saturnalia”

In 1999, I had a really effed up dream.

The dream was not only scary as hell, but extremely detailed and well plotted. It included an entire ensemble of strangers, a brother named Joshua who had died, and a town with a secret so dark it could only hide in a Louisiana swamp.

I wrote it down immediately and called it “Saturnalia.” The details of the dream were so deeply carved into my memory and psyche that I even named the main character after myself. I didn’t act like myself in the dream, though. I was naive, trusting, religious, forgiving…a person sure to find trouble.

(Okay, arguably I’m the kind of person sure to find trouble, but this is another kind of trouble.)

First Person, Worst Person

Anyway. I originally wrote it in first person. Although I love first person — my two most popular stories are in first person, present tense — it just didn’t work for some reason. It felt too much like telling someone my dream and not a story. (Then again, when I read it out loud to my old writing group comprised of women in the film industry, I got bitched out for scaring one of the members. It clearly worked on some level.) When I moved it out to third person past tense, it helped considerably, but for many reasons the story remained a mess. I’m still kicking myself for handing in the gooey lump of crap that I did to the Dark Faith anthology editors. “Saturnalia” definitely belonged in either of the anthologies they eventually published.

Washing Up After Heartbreak

As if hitting bottom, she just didn’t want to wash up until after that heartbreaking rejection. I gave her to a friend who lives in New Orleans for a locality check and to a Hispanic friend for a cultural check. They picked the gummy, gross bits off of her and I set to scrubbing her head to toe. I then had my writing group read it and they came back with a resounding YES.

Where You Can Read “Saturnalia”

While it didn’t appear in Dark Faith, you now have it for your enjoyment in both of these great anthologies:

Left Hanging: 10 Tales of Suspense and Thrills

Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror

But Seriously — WTF?

Where did this dream story come from? This total heart-fuck, mind-fuck, spirit-fuck of a story — it wasn’t inspired by the news or anything I read. Maybe my brain stored some kind of aborted nightmare baby one of the many times I was watching The Wicker Man as I ate Morning Star Strips.

Mmmmm. Morning Star Strips.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad it happened.

Poor Maria. I wonder if she made it out of Ville D’Or alive?

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