I’ve been living with voices in my head since writing my first short story at the age of eight. The character that came into my mind that day lived in an underground tunnel used by my classmates and me to avoid crossing a wide, heavily trafficked street in order to get to church. Every day the nuns would march us, two abreast, across town and through the tunnel to Mass before lunch. The concrete lined, graffiti decorated tunnel never seemed menacing until my best friend’s mother tired of our silliness one rainy afternoon.
“Be quiet you two!” she snapped in desperation. “Here’s some paper and pencils. Sit down and write something.”
That’s the day the monster in the tunnel came to life. He lived in a cave behind a sealed door we passed on our daily trek to mass. Some of the boys tried to open it from time to time. The lock always held fast despite their best efforts.
“What’s in there?” we wondered. “Why is it locked ? Who has the key?” It was probably nothing more than a utility closet holding spare bulbs for the overhead lights that didn’t quite dispel the gloom along with the brooms and dust pans the maintenance man used to sweep up the sticky wrappers we’d drop after a visit to the candy store on our way home.
In my story, the monster in the tunnel was a patient creature, sometimes waiting for days or weeks for just the right straggler to pass his way. Then, quick as a wink, he’d reach his hairy arm out through a secret hatch in the door and grab some poor kid who’d be reported truant when he didn’t return to school after lunch. Horrors!
When the rain stopped, my friend’s mother wasted no time in getting us out of the house to play. Later, much to my embarrassment, she told us she’d read our stories.
“This is good,” she said, holding the smudged pages out to me. “Really good. You should write some more.”
I did. And I’m still writing. I don’t recall how that first story ended but I do recall the abject fear I felt every time I had to go through that tunnel again. I’d scared myself silly.
The monster in the tunnel is still alive. He no longer frightens me. He’s become the ancient retainer who opens the door to my muse, inviting the characters that live in my head to come forward and speak to me. I welcome them all, as I welcome you, the writer, the reader, the editor, agent or publisher to stop by and share your love of the art and craft of writing. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. They’re a friendly bunch… most of them.