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.