By Josh Ferguson

Art work by Daire Lawlor. To see more of her work like this, grab issue 3 on the 25th of October. Subscribe in the sidebar on the right to be notified about the issue & more! 

All writing begins with inspiration. And inspiration can come from the wildest places. A lot of the time, however, reality is stranger than fiction and we, as writers, feel compelled to channel these real life events in our stories. Horror fiction is notorious for being inspired by real life. How many times have you seen a poster for a scary film with the words ‘Based on a True Story’ emblazoned across the top? Exactly.

The main objective of horror is to exploit your greatest fears. However, a lot of our fears are totally irrational and we have no legitimate reason to be afraid. But as soon as you learn that the story you are reading/watching actually happened, the intensity soars and the nightmares later that night become far too lifelike.

If you’re interested in writing fiction that chills to the bone, just in time for our Horror Issue later this month, here are five true stories that can help kick-start your demented imagination:

1)      The Disturbed Life of Asylum Patient Rhoda Derry
The story of Rhoda Derry is a quintessential source of inspiration for the horror writer. It is superbly surreal and incredibly gothic, from its 19th century time period to its spiritualistic and demonic content.

As a teenager, Rhoda fell in love with a young boy named Charles Phenix. A relationship was not on the cards, sadly, as Charles’ mother, Nancy, did not want him to be with Rhoda because the Derry family had been deeply associated with witchcraft for decades. Rhoda developed a fear of witches as a result. Her mental state began to spiral and she started to claim that she heard voices and could see ‘Old Scratch’, her interpretation of the devil. She also had haunting visions of Nancy Phenix.
Rhoda’s family sent her to an almshouse, a type of accommodation for the poor, where she became increasingly violent. Upon seeing ‘Old Scratch’, she scratched at her eyes with long, filthy fingernails until she went blind. The almshouse staff, believing that Rhoda was a serious danger to other patients.

2)      112Dirtbag – The Unsolved Murder of Maura Murray
While not particularly spooky or supernatural, this true story is downright sickening.
On February 9th 2004, nursing student Maura Murray crashed her car on Route 112 in Haverhill, New Hampshire. Beforehand, she had emailed her university tutors that she was taking a week off due to a family emergency. Strange thing is, there was no family emergency. After her crashed car was found, she was reported missing and hasn’t been found since. Her father is adamant that she was abducted and murdered.

Now here’s where things get weird. On February 8th 2012, one day before the eighth anniversary of Murray’s disappearance, a video was uploaded to YouTube. The video shows an old man in a dimly-lit room laughing manically to the camera. He then stops, looks dead into the lens, and winks. The words ‘Happy anniversary’ appear on the screen. What links this video to Murray’s disappearance is the name of the channel: ‘112dirtbag’. 112 was the number of the road she crashed her car, and in an interview Maura’s father said that he believes Maura was kidnapped by “some dirtbags”. The video has since been removed, and the case remains to be solved.

3)      The Death of Elisa Lam – What Happened in That Hotel?
A video surfaced on the internet on February 13th 2013 after police detectives released it in the hopes that someone would recognise her and help find her. It is the last known footage of Elisa Lam. In the four-minute video, she is seen walking into an elevator, studying the buttons without pressing any, and then cowering in the corner before frantically peeking out into the hallway. Then, she steps out and slowly walks out of frame while making meaningless motions in the air with her hands. The doors close. And the video ends.

On February 19th, her naked corpse was found inside a pressurised water tank located on the rooftop of the hotel. It was ruled as an accidental drowning by a coroner, but many people have been skeptical of this explanation. Some theorise that a man was following her, others say that she was under the influence of drugs or was having a mental breakdown (she suffered from bipolar disorder). But then there are those who suggest that she had been possessed by a ghost, or perhaps had been brainwashed by aliens. The real cause of her death remains unknown.

4)      Rita Swift’s Undeveloped Roll of Film
This creepy true story is a classic example of the past coming back to haunt us. In 1997, Rita Swift discovered an undeveloped roll of film in the guest room of her new house. A note was attached, saying “Taken in our backyard, 1969”. She got them developed, mainly out of curiosity. There were 19 pictures on the film strip; the first 16 seemed perfectly fine, but the last three images were what really stood out.

Weirdly, the quality of the images significantly differed from the rest, seeming as if they were taken with a pinhole camera instead of an SLR. But that’s not the only reason why these photos were particularly concerning. The images depict a Native American tribe carrying out a ritual in the house’s backyard. The first photo is of three natives dancing in a pool of water, the second shows them surrounding a large animal, and in the third we see a large bonfire and all the natives dancing around it in a circle.

5)      Chloe and the Haunted Slave Plantation
We have saved the most frightening story for last. It is the legend of Chloe, a 19th century slave who was desperate for freedom.
Chloe would listen through doors and windows in order to gain as much information as she could that would help her escape from her plantation. But she was later caught red-handed, and had her ear cut off as a result. She didn’t stop there, though. As an act of revenge against her oppressors, she baked a poisonous cake for Judge Clarke Woodruff, the owner of the Plantation. Clarke’s wife and two daughters ate it instead. Chloe was later hung from a tree as punishment.

Skip forward to 1992, where a photographer took a series of images on site of Myrtle’s Plantation, the same plantation Chloe worked at. In one of the photos taken, a black silhouette is seen standing under a tree, listening by the door.

Do you know any true scary stories? Feel inspired to write horror fiction after reading this article? Let us know!

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