"Memento Mori": The true story behind the short story...
The real-life experience that inspired my fictionalized paranormal tale.
This past Wednesday my friendand I launched a brand new Substack magazine for Christian speculative fiction!
My first contribution was the paranormal short story “Memento Mori,” which you can read here:
Attentive readers familiar with “weird fiction” could probably guess that when I was writing “Memento Mori” I took inspiration from The Twilight Zone and from the short fiction of Ray Bradbury.
But the initial inspiration for this spooky story was an incident that actually happened to me while I was working in the Biological Anthropology Lab at the American Museum of Natural History!
Now, before you ask, no I did NOT encounter any spirits or disembodied voices like my protagonist Ryan. But the Skull Room is a real place in the museum’s anthropology collections!
As an intern in the Anthropology Division, one of my tasks was to help catalogue the cranial collection. Many of the skulls (along with other human skeletal remains) were to be returned to the indigenous peoples to whom they rightfully belonged. The Curator of Biological Anthropology needed a record of which specimens were to be CT scanned and digitized before repatriation.
For me, this entailed spending several hours a day in the Skull Room over a period of weeks. I catalogued many dozens of skulls in this time, and such an intimate encounter with mortality got me meditating on the Medieval admonition memento mori, “Remember, you will die.”
Catholic practice includes praying for the deceased, that their souls may be swiftly purified from their sins and brought into God’s loving presence. Although Catholics remember the souls of all the faithful in a special way on the feast of All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), we are encouraged to pray for the dead on any day of the year.
In the closing scene of “Memento Mori,” Ryan silently recites a common and beloved prayer for the Holy Souls:
V. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. R. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.
V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
One day, after cataloguing numerous cranial specimens, I made for the door of the Skull Room and found it inexplicably stuck—I couldn’t open it!
Seemingly trapped inside that unsettling room, alone with the skulls of thousands of departed humans, I began to panic. Luckily, I still had the presence of mind to use my cell phone and call the lab supervisor. She quickly came and got me out.
Ever since that incident, I’ve been working on the short story. I feel that some of the effective short stories are those based on the author’s own experiences. I hope that “Memento Mori” is successful in that regard.
If you’ve read “Memento Mori” please let me know what you thought! I’m still learning the craft of short fiction and I value constructive feedback from my readers.
And don’t forget to subscribe tofor more Christian themed speculative fiction!
Until we meet again, “the Road goes ever on . . .”
Thanks for reading Pageturning: Thomas Salerno's Author Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.