The Ghosts of October

Note from Jessa: Something about October is perfect for creepiness. It’s getting darker earlier. The scent of death and rot haunts your heels like a wet leaf stuck to your shoe. The claustrophobia of impending winter. Little kids swarming your porch… Or maybe that’s just me. Here’s writer Mike Garzillo to share his October creeps.


Thanks, Jessa, I felt inspired to blog because it’s October and the weather has been awesome.  Unlikely in Portland, it’s like this every October in San Francisco.   

I spent 12 years living in San Francisco.  Summer warmth arrives fashionably late every year, in September and October.  Fog becomes rare, the nights are clear, and a full moon is brighter than any streetlight.  October is a great San Francisco month; reverence for hedonism makes Halloween a favorite holiday while decorations are creative but rarely scary.  A skeleton in the shadows, with small mirrors for eyes, sitting in the front window of a dark Victorian as you jog by, is scarier.  Jogging late at night in October in San Francisco was different than during other months, creepier, not the fog-induced creepy of horror movies, it was more a sense of foreboding.  I’d assumed it was the random skeletons in windows or looming holiday expenses that made me imagine real ghosts hiding among the fake ones, watching.

24 years ago I was living in The City during the earthquake.  The evening started with countless groups of friends gathered at packed bars or house parties because the A’s were playing the Giants in The World Series.  It was beautiful weather as the game started.  I was at a bar with friends.  The TV on the wall started shaking and then went black.  Bottles of alcohol behind the bar flew forward, smashing against the bar.  Windows exploded, the sound of shattering glass blending with screams.  People ran for doorways, most ran outside.  It would have been more terrifying if it had lasted longer but suddenly it was over.  The power was out.  We all smelled gas.  This was before the Internet or cell phones so nobody knew anything more.

A buddy and I had motorcycles so we drove toward our apartments, agreeing to meet at his.  He lived in the Marina, I was in Pacific Heights.  There was very little damage to mine; some stuff in my living room had bounced around.  As I drove toward the Marina I could see the fire and smoke.  My buddy’s apartment was in a building that was still standing, even thought there were huge cracks in the side.  Five blocks up, buildings burned.  Soldiers in camouflage uniforms with guns were already standing on the corners of Chestnut Street, watching, a convincing looting-deterrent.

The Ghosts of October

No phone lines worked.  We didn’t know about the Bay Bridge or what happened in Oakland, yet, or when power would be restored.  My buddy left to find his girlfriend.  I stayed in the Marina, watching news helicopters land in small areas, unloading guys with TV cameras.  Soon film crews were everywhere as firefighters sprayed the flames.  Cops were putting yellow strips of Keep Out tape across the front of buildings, condemning them, not allowing anyone to go in and get their stuff if the building was unsafe.  One guy had died already trying to get his stuff, falling through the back stairway of a condemned building after it had been tagged.

Night descended with no power or phones.  We were being told to get inside.  I had a motorcycle and could go anywhere.  Currently between girlfriends, I’d been with a few of them recently enough that there was still hope.  I opportunistically drove toward one of their apartments.  People were outside still, standing and talking with each other.  It seemed like a good night to knock on the right door.  She wasn’t home.

I rode around on my motorcycle again, seeing what other areas of The City had been damaged.  The night had become darker than ever before.  People were all inside now, the streets empty in neighborhoods other than The Marina.  I love the dark, I’m never afraid of it, but started to feel like I had reason to be, that same ghosts-while-jogging feeling magnified, as if they had all come up through cracks in the earth into San Francisco, accompanied by death and destruction.

I really didn’t want to spend the night alone and was hoping the next door I knocked on, she’d feel the same way.  She did.  I asked why and she described the same thing I’d felt, like there was something out there to be afraid of.  She was concerned about what would happen next, tomorrow, and asked me to spend the night.  I agreed while thinking about what was happening already while we were the ones hiding in the dark.

Mike Garzillo is one of the few men in the Rose City Romance Writers, which teaches him as much about women as living in San Francisco did.  His 1980s San Francisco Gothic romance Emerald Eyes will be released in February, 2014.  Follow him on Twitter @SFGothicRomance.        

12 Days of Halloween from Danielle Monsch

Note from Jessa: I love running into Dani at romance novel cons. Not only is she a cool, fun, sweet soul with a personal energy of the sort that is peaceful and welcoming to small wary animals and introvert weirdos like me, but she writes the kinds of stories I like to read. How fortuitous! So I’m thrilled to host her and her good cause today.


From about mid-October until Christmas was always a magical and much anticipated time when I was young.

Probably not an uncommon statement from a kid. My mom should have been a party planner, because our house was always decked out for the season. We were the house that people do that double-take with, because looking only once wasn’t enough to take it all in.

Mom’s favorite holiday was Halloween. Since I’m a fantasy/paranormal writer, it’s safe to say that rubbed off on me, and with kids of my own, I enjoy Halloween in a completely new way, with my kids excitement about dressing up and their enjoyment in the *fun* scares.

While her favorite might have been Halloween, Mom excelled in overall holiday planning. My mom was a generous lady. She never liked cooking, but she loved to bake the holiday pies and cookies and other goodies that come with the season, and everyone who knew us came away during the holiday season with loads of culinary delights. If you ask me to name my favorite food ever, it would have to be Mom’s pumpkin pie.

It’s probably because this time was usually so joyous that one memory sits there, lumpy and misshapen and not a fit with the rest.

Don’t ask me how old I was, but I came down the stairs one night – going to get some water I think – and Mom was on the couch, staring at the Christmas tree. The packages weren’t under the tree yet, which was odd since Mom tended to put them under as soon as the tree went up (Mom is not a last minute shopper – in fact, I’m pretty sure her shopping is done in July.) Now I haven’t believed in Santa ever, so it was no question in my mind about who presents come from.

What set this memory in my mind so sharply was my mother’s face the few moments before she realized I was in the room. At the time I didn’t have the words or the emotional knowledge to name what emotions were in play. All I knew was it wasn’t good.

Several years later we were talking, and in the way of conversations everywhere, somehow that night came up, and I asked Mom what was going on.

She confided that when I saw her, the reality of our situation was none of us kids were going to get Christmas presents. It had been a bad year with lots of doctor bills and not as much work as they hoped to get. Maybe they would be able to get a practical clothing item, but certainly nothing beyond that. Then she told me that a couple days after I saw her that night, her uncle heard about our situation. Without her or my dad asking, he went out and got presents for us kids and told her that it was his early Christmas gift to her and he would not accept any money or repayment.

Mom told me she cried while she wrapped them. She told me it was the best gift she’d ever gotten.

While my childhood would never fit in a Dickinson narrative, there were a few years there where we did with minimal, so hearing after-the-fact that no presents was a possibility didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the lurch in my chest at the thought of it as a near reality. That didn’t make sense – after all, we were several years past by then, and I was a grown person who understood economic realities.

That lurch, though, was real. And as time has marched on, I think I understand the reason for it, just like now that I’m a mother I understand the look on my mother’s face that night. The holidays were a safe and sacred time. The rest of the year – okay, it’s life, and life happened. But in my memory, the holidays were apart from that, not touched with the ickiness that could happen at other times.

If I didn’t get presents that year, I think that safety and warmth that the holidays (or the thought of) always caused would have disappeared. I wouldn’t have had that protective bubble anymore that helped get me through bad times, and the loss of that would have been a greater tragedy than not getting a doll under the tree.

So while Toys for Tots was not responsible for me getting presents that year, I recognize in a deep and personal way the very good work they are doing.Dani Toys-for-tots.jpg.

Toys for Tots is my favorite holiday charity. There are many excellent charities I celebrate and give to, but this time of year my thoughts and my wishes are for the kids who are not in the best circumstances and are in danger of not having a gift under their own tree. It’s not the material item that matters (though it’s always nice to get a great gift, right?) What I never want them to lose is that safe warmth that should categorize the holidays, a warmth that sometimes might be the only thing that gets them through the rest of the year.

Which leads me to the 12 Days of Halloween!

12 Days of Halloween is my (and many other excellent authors) way of having a great time and celebrating the beginning of this wondrous time of year – with giveaways and gifts and raising money for Toys for Tots!

What is involved?

Dani StoneGuardian800First! My novel Stone Guardian is on a very special sale. From now until Halloween, it is half-off with part of the proceeds going to Toys for Tots! So you get a book for cheaper than usual, and a chunk of the money will be going to an amazing cause! Huzzah!

And on the other side, I’ll be sharing lots of giveaways! Ebooks (donated by many generous authors) gift cards, swag sets, a Coach (!) bag, and finally…

An iPad Mini!

Dani apple-ipad-mini-2Yes, you read that right – an iPad mini with a special Entwined Realms designed cover set is the grand prize.

So if you are interested, please keep up with me at Twitter, Facebook, or my blog with all the ways to win.

Let’s celebrate the beginning to this great time of year, have a great party, maybe win some stuff, and most important of all – support Toys for Tots and make sure they can help a lot of kids this year!


Dani AuthorHeadshot

Born to the pothole ridden streets of Pittsburgh, PA, Danielle started writing in a time long ago, a time when there were not enough vampire stories to read and she had to write her own to fill the void. Yes, such a time of darkness did indeed exist.

Danielle writes stories full of fantastical goodness and plenty of action, but always with lots of romance (and a bit of woo-hoo!) mixed in. Vampires and Werewolves and Demons and Angels, Sword & Sorcery, Fairy Tales, Updated Mythologies and the like – if it’s out of the ordinary, it’s fair game for her stories.

When not writing, Danielle reads comic books and watches cartoons (though she says she reads manga and watches anime, because saying it in a different language makes all the difference.) She listens to music, plays D&D, follows XKCD, watches movies with the Rifftrax on, and is mom to two amazing little girls and wife to her favorite guy in the world. You can contact Dani by e-mail.

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