Friday, October 8, 2010

Frightay Nights: Roses for Poe with Kelly Creagh [Guest Post]

On January 19th, 2009, during the dark hours of a freezing, snowy morning, I became one of the few to witness the Poe Toaster.

For those of you who are Poe fans, or for those of you who have read my debut novel, Nevermore, you’ll know that I’m referring to the man who appears in a locked cemetery during the early morning hours of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. To this day, no one knows how this stranger gets in or how he exits. But every year it’s the same. The Toaster appears out of nowhere, cloaked in black and shrouded in mystery. Stooping before Edgar’s grave, he leaves three red roses and half a bottle of cognac, toasting the writer before vanishing into the night.

      When I first heard about the Poe Toaster back in 2005, I knew I wanted to include him in my story. The following year, I took my first trip to Baltimore, the city where Poe is buried. On my last day in the city, I paid a final visit to Edgar’s grave and offered my own tribute. Taking my cue from the Poe Toaster, I left three roses, which I had taken from the dozen my mother had bought to celebrate my twenty-fourth birthday.

      As we left the graveyard, I remember looking back at Edgar’s grave, unaware of how much things would change within the next few years. And equally unaware that I would one day return to bear witness to the rite myself.

      For remembrance sake, I wrapped the roses that my mother had given me in green floral paper and took them with me on the plane. They were still fresh and beautiful when we arrived in Louisville later that afternoon, with huge, tea-cup sized antique-yellow blossoms tipped in a wine red hue.

      Bundling the stems together with twine, I hung the flowers upside down in a clear and open portion of my closet later that night. My hope was that, in a week or so, the blossoms would dry, and I would be able to preserve them.

      I went to sleep. Hours later, however, around three in the morning, I awoke to a very strange sensation. A heavy smell permeated my room. Thick and oppressive, it was an aroma that I recognized immediately.
It was the smell of flowers. Dead flowers.

      If you have ever left fresh lilies or roses sitting several days too long in their vase, then you know the scent that I mean. I’m talking about that unmistakable and pungent odor of decay. Sticky sweet and slightly bitter, it’s the type of scent that usually hits you only when you remove the flowers from their vase in order to toss them into the trash. It was this exact smell that had somehow pervaded my entire room.

      I remember sitting upright in bed. I stayed still for a very long time, watching and waiting, checking each of my senses to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. Through the darkness, I stared at my closet door. I somehow knew that it must be the nine roses I had brought home from Baltimore.

      The rational side of my brain attempted to argue with this idea. How could that be? They were fresh this morning. Flowers couldn’t decay over night, could they?

      The smell seemed to grow stronger, gathering itself into an outright stench. I became increasingly frightened as well as nauseated. My fear escalated quickly into panic. I was, after all, alone in my house.
Kelly, I said to myself in my mind, trying my best to remain calm. If you don’t want to see something really weird, get out of your room. Now.

      Don’t ask me why I thought this. Be it a dream or a hallucination or the supernatural, it was as though my entire being was telling me that If I did not want to experience what was scheduled to happen next, then I should leave my room—immediately. So I got up. Calmly, I padded out of my bedroom, my eyes locked on the closed closet door as I made my escape. I went straight into the living room where the air seemed instantly lighter. The difference in atmosphere astounded me. It was as if I had walked out of a musky dungeon and into an open field.

      I sat down on the futon, wide-eyed and with my heart fluttering in my chest. I wondered about the whole experience and listened for any sound that might come from my room. I heard nothing. But I was far too rattled to go back to sleep. So I did what any other cowardly knee-knocker in my position would have. I popped Happy Gilmore into the DVD player and tried very hard not to dial my mother’s phone number.
Eventually, well after the movie ended, I did fall asleep. When I awoke the next morning, it was with enough bravery to re-enter my room. The intense smell had since vanished. I opened my closet door and inspected the roses. They were still fresh, the petals supple and as soft and pliable as felt. I sniffed the blooms, rewarded with a very subtle scent more chemical in essence than floral.

      Needless to say, I threw the flowers out.

      Looking back, I almost wish I would have had stayed in my room that night to see what would havened, if anything. And I sometimes regret getting rid of those roses. Though I did not keep the flowers, I did hold on to the memory of that moment and that very distinct smell, locking them both away within one of the many skeleton-key drawers of my mind.

      It is from this experience that my character, Reynolds, draws his signature smell.

      And if you think about it, given what you find out about Reynolds in the story and his ties to the “Poe Toaster,” it seems fitting, doesn’t it?


Kelly is the author of Nevermore, which debuted at the end of August.  Catch her at kellycreagh.com, her blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.  Find Nevermore at Amazon, Book Depo, or Changing Hands.

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