by David Bain
“Homeward Devils,” which kicks off The Castleton Files story collection, was the first novella-length Will Castleton psychic detective story and was, until the publication of Death Sight, for a while the longest Will Castleton story.
In it, during a trip with his girlfriend Samantha to his hometown of Green River, Michigan, Will looks back at himself as a youth, as a rookie cop, and considers the scope of all that’s come to pass since.
I wanted to do all sorts of things with this particular story, but one of my primary goals was to explore why horror writers are so fascinated with nostalgia, with the idyllic past, and with the wonders of childhood and our teenage years.
I was thinking of stories like Stephen King’s IT and “The Body” (filmed as Stand By Me, of course), Robert R. McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, tales that deal overtly with kids facing the horrors of growing up, even as adults in the stories look back. You could also throw Clive Barker’s Thief of Always into the mix along with a number of Peter Straub’s best - Ghost Story, Mystery and The Throat come to mind. Pretty much every horror writer has their twist on this theme - the Duffer Brothers’ wonderful Stranger Things Netflix TV series is almost metafictional commentary on this horror-nostalgia subgenre.
What Will and I discovered, via “Homeward Devils” is that the fears of childhood are the strongest we experience. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, we are significantly more helpless as children than we are as adults, simply because of our size and dependence on others. Secondly, we, as kids, believe in everything. I mean, I know plenty of adults who are still deadly serious about the existence of ghosts, demons and aliens, but I’m pretty sure even they have mostly cured themselves of worrying that there’s a monster in the closet right now. (Well, okay, in any event, I’m ninety-nine percent sure even the most adamant conspiracy theorist at least no longer believe in Santa Claus.)
The other thing I wanted to do, as a writer, was learn a little about Will and confirm a few things about his timeline because I’d kind of written myself into a corner with him. Will started out as a character who I’d just trot out when an editor wanted a story. Will had appeared in ghost and vampire hunter anthologies and had someone wanted a story about someone who hunts undead panda bears, I probably could have cranked out a Castleton about that as well. But I was liking this character too much for that and wanted to get serious about him. Plus his chronology was all over the place - he was appearing as a Green River cop some places, as a U.S. Marshal others, and as a seasons private detective still elsewhere. I needed to get a handle on Will’s timeline, and “Homeward Devils” helped me define and solidify it.
The other thing I wanted, as always, was to surprise myself.
Will always surprises me.
What delights me about this character is that he his psychic abilities never manifest the same way twice, and his opponents can be anything from small-time meth dealers to cosmic horrors beyond normal human comprehension.
I plan on Will Castleton being more or less like Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. He’ll grow older, wiser and more experienced, but I don’t plan on there being a predetermined number of stories about him. Will’s my buddy for life.
Through “Homeward Devils,” DEATH SIGHT and a few other stories, I’m starting to get a handle on his origins, but I’m not sure I ever want there to be an end to his stories!
THE CASTLETON FILES and DEATH SIGHT are both available in print, ebook and audio formats