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A Writer’s Life Transformed

If you’ve ever strategized in chess only to find yourself stalemated, you’d know what a mental illness diagnosis feels like.  I was diagnosed with clinical depression.  Feelings of inexplicable sadness, anxiety and obsession haunted me over the years.  I relied on friends for support, even happiness.  Subsequently I chased them off and was left alone to contemplate my illness.

How does one spell recovery?  Friendly and efficient staff at Vincent House, a vocational rehabilitation program for people with disabilities; that’s how.  Rather than dwell upon how it feels to be cornered on a chess board, I volunteer to perform tasks that help get me further ahead in the game, verifying attendance, answering phones, handling transactions as well as writing articles such as this one for the daily newsletter and monthly Gazette.  It has always been a dream of mine to pursue a career as an author, but reality dictated that I roll my head out of the clouds and become one with the modern workforce.

Vincent House saw this need in me before I saw it in myself.  They presented me with T.E.P’s, Transitional Employment Positions.  The first was collecting files and envelopes in the mail room at the Public Defender’s Office and delivering them to legal assistants.  Months later I was chosen by Vincent House to put together files patients needed to present to their therapists so they could best determine how to treat them.

These temporary positions along with other jobs I’ve held taught me the value of promptness, efficiency, organization and dedication, sharpening my work ethic.  It is this same ethic that I bring to my current job as an usher at Cobb12 at Countryside Mall.

Ultimately, the support and encouragement of Vincent House has transformed me.  I can’t thank them enough.  When I publish my first book, I’ll reserve for them an autographed copy and include a brief but meaningful dedication.

Ever Been Scared?

Have you ever really been scared?  I’m sure you have.  What scares you?  While you’re scratching your head trying to conjure a response lengthy enough to fill a diary or the better half of a spiral notebook, let me tell you about an experience that caused my alarm bells to go off.  It took place during my childhood, which I believe, is a time when a person’s intuition, sense of awareness, fear and imagination all blend together so that when something frightening happens, the overall reaction is akin to an emotional firecracker.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the same doesn’t happen to adults, but children are often more vulnerable to surroundings when they cease being familiar and border on being precarious.  I wouldn’t bother asking you to embark on this journey with me if I didn’t think you could glean something from it as a writer, especially if you’re just starting out in the horror genre.

My grandmother once rented a summer cabin somewhere in the middle of Cayuga State Park, a place that for all intents and purposes has remained virtually untouched by the curse of modern technology.  I wish I could tell you I was unlike any other curious boy between the ages of seven and eleven and not prone to wander, but that wasn’t true.  My venture started out the way most others do, by following a wide, straight path.  As they say in the Bible, “wide is the gate and broad is the way leading to temptation.”

My curiosity might as well have opened the gate and paved the trail I chose to follow, but my imagination was what ran on autopilot.  How could it not with everything going on around me?  The sun melted behind the horizon.  Following a renaissance of fiery hues, a platoon of shadows descended upon the valley.  A cool breeze rustled the surrounding bushes.  Crickets, bullfrogs, crows, loons and other creatures contributed to the chorus of the evening.  My nostrils flared with the odors of pine and old bark.  Rabbits, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and rats scurried about.  My path spread into a dozen different directions at once.  All these things beckoned me.

I had been warned by both my mother and grandmother not to stray, most of all at the onset of dusk.  However, it’s often human nature that when you tell someone not to do something, ninety percent of the time they’re going to do it anyway.  I couldn’t help myself.  My venture continued.  I guess you could say I was in a kind of trance.

Once Cayuga Park ceased to resemble what I knew to be familiar, it occurred to me that I had crash-landed on planet Lost.

God only knew how far I had actually gone.  I barely heard someone, it sounded like my mother, shouting my name.  She didn’t drown out the crows or the crickets, but her voice traveled just the same.  I imagined her face contorting with anxiety and how she might have shed tears when she realized I was nowhere to be found.

There I was, a boy straddled into a fetal position.  While the wilderness was alive with noise, what made my heart leap the most were the duping frogs and hooting owls.  Urine streamed down my pant-leg.  Fog permeated the night, blurring my vision, and I shivered from a drop in temperature.

Intuition warned me how vulnerable I was.  What bloodthirsty predators had sniffed me out?  Bats soared above me, possibly carrying myriad diseases.  Surrounding trees had transformed into gargoyles, all of them groping with jagged limbs.  Groping for what, I didn’t know and wasn’t sure I wanted to.  I’m still not sure how much of this was real and how much I imagined.  That was what frightened me the most.  Wait, was that a bear I heard growling in the distance?  Yikes!!!

Where to Find Great Ghost Stories

Many people enjoyed hearing ghost stories around the campfire, especially during their childhood.  What if there was a place where these were more than just stories, but pieces of history spread out over four centuries?  Such a place does exist.

 

Located about fifty miles from the Georgia border and founded in 1565 under Pedro Menendez Aviles, St. Augustine FL is the eldest European walled city in the US.  The town’s initial settlement was to serve as a port for the Spanish Treasure fleet.  Many believe the town’s haunted folklore relates to the electromagnetic fields atop which the town is said to rest.

Sandy Craig, a native resident, has provided ghost tours since 1994.  Her heritage can be traced back to the first Spanish settlers ever to imprint their souls upon the ancient land. Craig can be quoted as saying, “when I pass away, I want to stay here like everyone else and have people tell fascinating stories about why I can’t leave this wonderful city.”

Currently the owner of St. Augustine, Inc. Sandy established “Ghostly Experience,” rated the #1 guided Ghost Tour by avid readers of Florida Living magazine.  It started as an exciting and educational activity for school children staying in St. Augustine for an overnight visit.  With the help of Karen Harvey, a local writer and historian, the tour has since attracted members of all ages.  Craig and Harvey are no longer the only tour guides available to turn an evening of crickets and burning twigs into a night of phantom chills as well as windows and doors opening independently.  Ghost Tours employs over twenty different storytellers, each of whom has their own stories to contribute.

If you happen to be a skeptic and it’s very possible you’re not the only one, bear in mind every tale has been thoroughly researched through historical libraries, church documents, personal diaries and interviews.  People claimed to have captured orbs on either their cell phone or digital cameras.  Orbs, commonly referred to as ghost or spirit orbs, are balls of light, of energy consisting of several shapes and sizes and can be photographed without the help of a camera flash.  They are glimpsed by the naked eye and don’t always stand still.  Sometimes they maneuver swiftly around people and objects.  Orbs can appear anywhere, usually in places they have no earthly business appearing: indoors and outdoors, in schools and businesses, lurking in churches, racing through parks and cemeteries.  There could be one hovering somewhere near you as you read this.

Assuming a ghost-story is what you’re waiting for, you may want to inquire about one that originated at the St. Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast www.stfrancisinn.com.  It’s located in the restored historic district on 279 Saint George St.  Ask about a star-crossed love affair that once took place there and who, as a result of that affair, is still rattling within its walls.

If you’re going to be staying at the St. Francis Inn, the Casablanca Inn www.casablancainn.com or the Bayfront Wescott Bed & Breakfast www.bayfrontmarinhouse.com you may want to sleep with a night light on.

Brian D. Roth