You ever heard of a crowd being described as “an ocean of people”? That’s what the third annual Scares That Care Weekend Charity Event was like—an ocean of horror movie and television celebrities and their fans, filmmakers and their fans, authors and their fans, publishers and their customers, haunt professionals and enthusiasts, comic book creators and their fans, paranormal investigators and their fans, make-up and special effects artists and their fans, cosplayers, and everyone else—all descending upon the convention hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, to raise money for burn victims and children and women with cancer.
I was exhausted, but I had no choice but to cast myself into that ocean, to dive into that sea of humanity and hope I wouldn’t drown.
And I didn’t.
For four days, the ocean buoyed me, held me aloft. I floated on the surface, signing books and posing for photographs. I dived into the depths, having late-night conversations with Tom Monteleone or whiskeys with guitarist Matt Hayward. I even got a chance to enjoy something I rarely get to do anymore—go complete and total fanboy when Mary and I got our picture taken with William B. Davis, the actor who portrayed the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files.
To recount everything here would take up several more columns, and we don’t have time for that. It’s mid-November as I write this, and the events I’m chronicling took place in late-July, and we still have to get to the ghost and the heist and all the other stuff between then and now, so instead of giving you a blow-by-blow of the convention, let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments.
Believe it or not, I am a licensed agnostic wedding officiant. Sometimes, when royalty checks are slow to arrive and I need money, I’ll preform a few weddings. On Saturday evening, I had the absolute honor of marrying author Bryan Smith and his fiancé, Jennifer. Bryan met Jennifer on my message board forum, and both are big supporters of Scares That Care, so when they asked me if they could get married there, and if I could perform the ceremony, I was delighted and enthusiastic, as were Joe Ripple and the Board of Directors.
Like Jesus and Pic, Bryan is one of my best friends in this business. I always figured he kinda felt the same way, but Bryan is not the kind of guy who would normally tell you that. Which is why, on the day of his wedding, when he reiterated that he thought of me as one of his best friends in the business, I was incredibly moved. I made an excuse to run to the bar and get another bourbon, but what I really did was go outside and stare at the sky for a few moments—reflecting on the fact that, yes, Jesus and Pic might be gone, but not everyone was dead yet. There were people still here who gave a shit about me, and whom I gave a shit about in return.
That was when I remembered that I still needed to write my officiant speech for Bryan and Jen’s wedding—which was due to take place just a few short hours from then.
I found Mary and we ran upstairs to the hotel room and hid for an hour. During that time, she guarded the door and kept people from finding me while I wrote the wedding speech. I read it verbatim at the ceremony, before the exchange of vows (accompanied on violin by music producer and horror fan Jonathan Yudkin). Here is what I wrote:
Good evening. As you all know, we are gathered here this weekend to raise money for three families who very much need our help. For many of you, this is the third Scares That Care Charity event you have attended, and in doing so, you have become family.
Tonight, two members of our family are going to cement that even further. We are also gathered here this evening to unite Bryan and Jennifer in marriage. They met through a mutual love of our genre, and they are a part of our family, and they have chosen to share this very special moment with not just their immediate family members, but with the rest of you, their extended family, as well. So, thank all of you for being here as we celebrate the love between Bryan and Jennifer with a public and legal joining of two souls who have already been united as one in their hearts.
Although I am not a religious minister, and tonight’s wedding is not a religious ceremony, I would like to begin with a bit of wisdom from the Bible. There is a passage in First Corinthians Chapter 13 that begins “Love is patient, love is kind.” And that is true. Love is patient and love is kind. But love must also be fearless, and strong, and trustworthy.
Love is knowing how your partner takes their coffee, and making it that way for them when they haven’t even asked. Love is a shared Netflix queue. Love is knowing how your partner likes their feet rubbed, and doing so while you binge-watch Ash vs Evil Dead. Love is laughter. Love is talking. But love is also quiet sometimes. Love is listening. Love is communicating through a shared glance or a knowing look. Love is acceptance of our partner’s quirks and foibles and insecurities, and gratitude that they accept our own. Love is calmness.
Love is how we feel about our partner, but love is also how our partner makes us feel about ourselves.
As fans and practitioners of the horror genre, we are sometimes asked “Why do you watch that stuff or read that stuff?” We are asked “Why do you act in those movies or write those books?” Sometimes, liking horror can be a lonely sort of fandom. Detractors of the genre can, knowingly or unknowingly, make us feel bad about our enthusiasm for it, and thus, make us feel bad about ourselves.
But love does not do that. Let me repeat: Love is how we feel about our partner, but love is also how our partner makes us feel about ourselves.
What is love? This is love, right here. These two people. And let us now celebrate that love.
Bryan and Jennifer have written their own vows, which they will recite while exchanging their rings. Do we have the rings?
(Recitation of the wedding vows and exchange of the wedding rings)
We have celebrated your love with this ceremony. Now that I have joined you in marriage, let no man or woman or slasher or demon or giant radioactive monster or inbred mutant cannibal or serial killer or ghost or Cthulhu tear it asunder. I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may absolutely kiss the bride.
So, that was the wedding. Jen looked beautiful and so did Bryan.
That’s one of my favorite memories of the weekend.
My other favorite part of the weekend was Joe Lansdale. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the man’s work. And not just his horror stuff, either. I celebrate and collect the man’s entire bibliography. Over the years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to count him as a friend and mentor of sorts, as well. As it turned out, spending the weekend hanging out with Joe and his wife Karen was pretty much exactly what I needed—even if I didn’t know I needed it at the time. Their company, the shared laughs and conversation, the advice and knowing looks—it lifted my doldrums in a way nothing else could. Somebody (I think it was either Weston Ochse or Jonathan Janz) brought up me taking down Dorchester, which prompted Joe to tell us a riotous story of his own encounter with the publisher years before, which involved money owed and an editor ducking his call and Joe pretending to be Norman Mailer. In moments like that, I wasn’t thinking about my dead friends, or how the tour was coming off the rails, or the money I was starting to hemorrhage. Instead, I just laughed and was happy.
Indeed, at one point, Joe, Karen, Mary and I were driving around Williamsburg in my Jeep. Joe and I were up front. The girls were in the back. Mary told me later that it had been a long time since she’d seen me as relaxed and happy and alive as I’d been during that drive. She said it was nice to see me letting down my guard, and trusting people, and just being me.
And it was.
On Sunday, Joe, Jonathan Janz and I were talking, and the conversation turned to Jesus, and Joe said some wonderful things about him as both a writer and a man. It was the kind of things that Jesus would have loved to have heard—a validation that I know would have meant the world to him. I know they meant the world to me, as well.
Monday morning, Mary, director Mike Lombardo, and myself climbed into my Jeep and started home. I’d be in Pennsylvania for three days. Time enough to hug my boys and tell them I love them. Then I’d be back out on the road. I missed my sons terribly, but all my other troubles seemed to have dissipated. Thanks to John Urbancik, Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, Ron Malfi, Jonathans Janz and Yudkin, Tom Monteleone, Matt Hayward, Armand Rosamilia, and everybody else I’d seen that weekend—especially Joe and Bryan—I was at ease with the venue cancellations and the financial bleed. The physical and psychological toll of constant touring had eased.
I still missed my dead friends, but—I told Mary and Mike as we drove—I had finally made my peace with their deaths. The cows and fires all the other signs? They weren’t Jesus calling out from the other side, warning me of dire things to come. They were just my subconscious, desperate for some link, some contact. But it was alright.
Everything was going to be okay now.
The next day, Jesus let me know that it wasn’t my imagination, and that things weren’t okay.
And this time, there was a witness to verify that I wasn’t going crazy…
To be continued…
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently releasedPressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.