My new thriller, No One To Hear You Scream, was inspired by actual events that happened to my family and me following the purchase of a house in foreclosure. While my husband and I are city people, both born and raised there, we had this country dream about buying a house with some acreage. I’ve since learned that it’s not an uncommon dream and a lot of people who make the move to the country end up selling and moving back to the city a year later, which is exactly what we did.
After several years of planning and dreaming, in 2008 we found our dream house on a 30 acre wooded property out in the middle of nowhere. This was in the Niagara region in Ontario. The property was magnificent and I fell in love with the peace and tranquility of the place right away. There was a beach within walking distance, a mile down the road, and our property had a huge pond where our dogs eventually learned to swim. I knew immediately living in that environment that my creativity would explode.
And I was right…but it just wasn’t in the way I had expected.
Shortly after we moved in, strange things began to happen. One morning as we were leaving for work we discovered the passenger side window of my husband’s car had been smashed. We were completely mystified as to what had caused it. There was no tree branch or rock, no projectile of any kind that could explain it. A random act of vandalism didn’t make sense either, since we were so far removed from civilization. Our nearest neighbour couldn’t be seen from the property. The driveway to the road was at least 100 feet long. Somebody would have had to purposefully come onto our property with the intent of doing damage. But who? We were new in town and hadn’t had time to make enemies.
A few weeks later we noticed the riding arena on the property; a canvass and steel structure that was 140 feet by 80 feet had been slashed up. Somebody had gone around and put huge slices all the way around the perimeter (we later sold it, damage and all, to a neighbour). And then the final straw was when we came home to find the window in our garage completely smashed in. It was large enough to fit a person through it, and the garage had access to the house. We weren’t sure if somebody had actually come into the house since nothing was damaged or missing. But at that point we decided we needed to call the police and report it.
When an officer showed up at our door the first thing he said was, “Have you had any problems with the former owner of this place?” Apparently he was well known to the cops and was quite upset over losing his property to the bank. That same day my husband was leaving for Quebec on a gig with his band (he’s a singer in a metal band). My daughter was staying with friends for the weekend and I was going to be alone in the house. That night I took the phone and a big kitchen knife to bed with me. And I didn’t get much sleep. What little sleep I managed to get was disturbed by nightmares of somebody stalking us. I think it was my subconscious trying to form an image of this unknown person. In my dream there was this guy with a shaved head, standing at the end of the driveway wearing a long black leather coat with a fox trim collar, puffing on a thin cigar. He had a shotgun in his hands. And from this image, Rory Madden, the antagonist of my story, was born.
That morning I sat down at my computer and started banging out the story. I constructed the entire book around Rory, my bad guy. Interestingly, I was no longer scared and I spent the whole weekend, long into the night, writing the story. I must have put in about 30 hours on the manuscript. It was amazing. A few times I wondered if I was crazy sitting in that house by myself out in the middle of nowhere, tapping away on my keyboard, while some unknown stalker was out there potentially watching me. I had no blinds on the windows of my office. But for some reason I didn’t care. I was so fixated on my writing and I felt entirely empowered by it. I even put up a sign over the broken garage window in magic marker with the guy’s name on it, telling him to stay off my property or I’d kick his ass. Fortunately we never heard from him again. Perhaps he got the message.
Later that year we sold the property and moved back to the city. While there are many aspects of living out there that I truly loved, we were quite happy to move back, especially my daughter. She was just fifteen at the time and it was a huge change for her. Although she was looking forward to living out there and the fact that we were planning to purchase horses, she didn’t adapt well to the isolation.
There was also the issue with some seriously nasty bugs on the property. Tics were a huge problem. We constantly had to check our skin for the little bastards whenever we’d been outside. We had found them on ourselves on more than one occasion and our dogs were always bringing them in, in spite of being treated for them. We found a little kitten on the property one day riddled with bot fly larva. We took it to the vet but it didn’t survive. The spiders out there came in two sizes, large and extra large. They were so smart they’d play possum if they’d been spotted, actually flopping on their backs and playing dead. There was always strange noises coming from the woods at night, really weird animal sounds. And on those pitch black moonless nights it could be quite unnerving.
The commute became an issue too. We were driving into work every day which was an hour each way. We had to take two cars because both my husband and I are bad passengers and we don’t like each other’s driving. So our gas expense was enormous, as well as the mileage we were putting on our cars.
But the good aspects of living out there were the wildlife, species of birds I didn’t know existed, deer on the front lawn some days, bunnies, crazy amounts of hummingbirds, dragonflies and butterflies. And our dogs loved roaming around the property by themselves. We didn’t use their leashes once that whole year and we’d walk to the beach with them, sometimes never seeing a car the entire way. My husband and I discovered an old rusted out 1940s car on the edge of our property one day while we were out walking.
I do love living in the city though. It’s funny how we had to move to the country to discover that we were really city people all along. And I have to say I do feel a lot safer here within screaming distance of my neigbhours.
No One To Hear You Scream is available from Black Heart Books (ISBN: 978-0980887426).