The Forgotten: Cozy Horror
I haven’t revisited my novel, The Forgotten, since the early 2000s, when I first wrote it. Now, I’m listening to it chapter by chapter, as the audio producer turns it in, and it’s quite an eye-opener. While there is, as always, plenty sex and violence — along with ribald problems like a talking penis — I’m inclined to label this book “cozy horror.” And while it’s horror — it oozes with ghosts — it’s also science fiction — or speculative fiction might be a better word since there’s nary an alien or a UFO in sight.
What makes it cozy? The Forgotten is a book for cat lovers in particular. Protagonist, psychologist Will Banning, has given up bad marriages in favor of felines and he’s quite smitten with the trio he calls the Orange Boys. They were based closely on my own trio of brothers; the only things changed about them were their names.
The Forgotten concerns a haunted town. Citizens of Caledonia, California (a thinly disguised Cambria, the coastal town where Arachniphobia was filmed) are seeing ghosts and hearing voices, and Dr. Banning’s waiting room is overflowing with new patients concerned that they’re losing their minds.
Will’s friend, veterinarian Maggie Maewood, is having similar problems with an overabundance of furry and feathered creatures that are acting every bit as odd as Will’s human patients.
I’d always wanted to write about an entire town being haunted — not just a house or hotel or a cabin in the woods — so when I began The Forgottten, I took a sciencey turn because I was fascinated by ELF waves. Those are Extremely Low Frequency waves and they’re quite real. The Soviet and American military spent a lot of time bombarding each other’s countries with them after WWII, and they are still used by the Russian military for undersea communication with submarines. (They were used by the US Navy for that purpose until 2004, the year after the book first was published.) There were and are many other uses for ELF waves, and some of them are frightening. For example, right after I wrote the book, I saw an ELF-wave rifle being demonstrated by the military on the nightly news. It could pipe thoughts into your brain — or heat it up like a muffin in a microwave. Creepy stuff.
So I researched and researched and ended up more fascinated than ever. What better way to afflict an entire population with ghosts — or mental problems — than to employ these waves? If you suddenly started hearing voices in your head talking about you, would you think you’re losing your mind, or that maybe a filling is picking up radio waves? If you began hearing your long-dead mother’s footsteps on the stairs each night, would you wonder if your house is haunted or if something’s wrong with you? And what if you saw the ghost of someone gruesomely murdered in your home long before you ever lived there? What if your spouse saw it, too? And what if the family dog also reacted? What would you think?
Most fascinating to me was how a psychologist like Will Banning would handle all this. This question played into another interest of mine. It’s been posited that some schizophrenics might be extremely sensitive rather than mentallyy ill. What if something happened that amped up regular folks’ sensitivities? How would a psychologist respond? Would he chalk it up to a convenient plague of schizophrenia, or would he be open to more possibilities?
Will Banning must contend with all these problems — and one of his own. As a man of science, how will he react to a ghostly visitor in his own home? One who reminds him of something he’s long forgotten? And what happens when he understands that his cats hear the voice as well?
You get a soft-science cozy-horror mystery for cat lovers!
How did the cats get involved? Major inspiration came from my very real trio of Orange Boys. One day, they went as still as statues and sat, unmoving, staring up at something invisible in the hall for nearly an hour. If I moved them, they ignored me, refusing to walk. Instead they remained seated and stared at the ceiling. Then, all at once, they stopped, and went back to life as usual. This happened a number of times. I began watching them and finally headed outdoors to see what was in the sky when they went into statue-mode.
Black helicopters. Military choppers, big ones. Seriously. Research led me to believe that my cats, with their incredibly sensitive hearing, were probably picking up on masers – aural lasers. When the choppers went away, so did the behavior.
Thus, all these things came together to form The Forgotten. If you like your horror with a feline twist and a little touch of speculative fiction, you just might enjoy this strange little story.
Learn more about the writing of The Forgotten at Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre