Max Booth III is the head ghoul of Ghoulish Books, an indie press and a horror bookstore based in San Antonio, TX. He edits the magazine GHOULISH TALES and hosts the GHOULISH podcast. He writes books and movies and loves dogs so much it makes his heart hurt. Learn more about him at www.fuckmaxbooth.com.
Last August was undeniably the worst month of my life (so far!). I am going to tell you a little about it now, because it ties into my Why Didn’t You Just Leave story, which is titled “AITA for setting my dad’s trailer on fire?” Like a lot of my fiction, it’s loosely based on something real I unfortunately experienced.
My family all lives in Northwest Indiana. Since 2011, I have lived in San Antonio, which is a good 18-hour drive from anyone related to me by blood. In early August 2022, my parents were hit by a drunk driver. My mom was killed from the accident, and my dad left the hospital with minimal injuries. I spent the first week of her death still in Texas, where I struggled to write the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write: an obituary.
I then drove down there with my dachshund Frank and stayed in my dad’s trailer until mid-September.
For as long as I can remember, my parents have always been hoarders, and this trailer was no exception. They’d moved into it a couple years ago, so I never personally stepped foot into the place until after my mom died, but it was like strolling into my childhood home. The trailer was a disaster. I managed to describe it pretty much perfectly in my WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST LEAVE story, which is about someone in the same situation as the one I found myself in last year. Here is an (unedited!) excerpt describing the character’s father’s trailer:
“Anything you might imagine was in there. Trash, yes, so much trash, but also mountains of clothes. I never knew my parents owned so many clothes. It was impossible to determine which clothes were clean and which were dirty, as everything was piled together on the carpet. Some of the clothes were still wrapped in plastic—especially certain jackets and flannels. Things my mom had bought on Amazon with no intention of opening. The kitchen was littered with dirty dishes, but dishes dirty from what? And from how long ago? The possible answers plagued me. Beyond trash and clothes, I found so many electronic gadgets that it feels almost cartoonish trying to list them here. Things my dad convinced himself he needed to buy, then immediately discarded for the simplicity of playing a game on his cell phone. So many abandoned chargers and cords and vaping paraphernalia. Shit he bought and then promptly forgot about. Not to mention the boxes of random trash. I am being serious here when I tell you, while cleaning out my dad’s trailer, I came upon cardboard boxes full of opened, moldy food. Sometimes with this food I would also uncover incredibly important documents such as birth certificates, wedding certificates, and tax information. Mysteriously, some of the boxes also contained forks and steak knives, as well as loose discs for computer games from the late 1990s.”
Amongst the trash and forgotten electronics, in the living room, there was the chair my mother had spent most of her final years in. And it is this chair that my story focuses on.
My experience last August was terrible and will haunt me for the rest of my life. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. I am sure I will continue exploring that month from hell in many more stories and books to come. Before I knocked out “AITA for setting my dad’s trailer on fire?”, I hadn’t written much of anything in months, and the deadline for the anthology was quickly approaching. I knew I wanted to write something about the time I spent in my dad’s trailer, because the premise of the anthology—exploring why people do not leave a certain haunting in horror fiction—felt absolutely perfect for the circumstances I faced attempting to clean the trailer while dealing with daily setbacks, both tangible and emotional. I struggled to write this story for the longest time, and it wasn’t until the idea hit me to turn it into an AITA (Am I the Asshole?) that things finally kicked into gear, and I ended up deleting everything I’d previously written and wrote something completely new within one day, on the day of the deadline. The first draft exceeded 7,000 words, but I managed to trim it down to 5,500 before sending it in.
Therapeutic? I think so, yes. Aren’t all forms of writing therapeutic, in their own way? I didn’t always think that, but lately it feels more and more true. Especially as I embrace topics and themes and memories I’d otherwise prefer to keep buried and forgotten.
Why Didn't You Just Leave, Kickstarting now
Max's short story, "AITA for setting my dad's trailer on fire?" is part of Why Didn't You Just Leave, an anthology of haunted house stories by top horror authors. The anthology has a few more days left on Kickstarter (it ends July 31).