Citro Effect

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(HOST) October is the month for scary stories and things that go bump in the night. And that always reminds commentator Philip Baruth of something he likes to call “the Citro effect.”

(BARUTH) Every once in a while I do a writers’ event with master of the supernatural Joe Citro. And every time I do, it gets weird. Why? Well, mostly because that’s Joe’s life, and the weirdness rubs off. Joe writes books about Vermont ghosts and monsters and, you know, things that run through the forest with the body of a man and the head of a pig.

But that’s not really the weird part. The weird part is the way the audience behaves when Joe shows up to do the reading. People are drawn to him. I should say certain people are drawn to him because they need to share some strange story they’ve been carrying around inside for years. They always speak in whispers, these people: “Joe, I-I wanted to tell you, I live in West Addison, and I live off the main road, see, and I got this thing at home in a box . . .”

It’s at that point that I usually go warm up my coffee, because this kind of thing disturbs my dreams. But not Joe. If you’ve never seen him, Joe has this big white beard and these blue-blue eyes in which the pupils are always just a little dilated, so that he looks perpetually terrified. He and this person from the audience will stay locked in conversation for half an hour, like a mind-meld.

I call this “The Citro Effect.” And if it’s a good story, Joe just may wind up at that house out in the woods of West Addison, actually looking inside that box.

Better him than me, that’s all I can say.

So, the last time I’m at one of these events, Joe’s talking about his first horror novel, Lake Monsters. During the Q-and-A Joe runs down some of the more famous Champ sightings, and while he’s doing this, a dark-haired woman near the back is listening very, very intently. When the reading ends, she goes immediately up to Joe, and they go into the mind-meld. Twenty minutes later, when she leaves, she looks oddly relieved.

Later, over another cup of coffee, Joe tells me that this woman, when she was ten years old, actually sort of accidentally fabricated a Champ sighting. She and her little sister were playing in the lake, and, to tease the little sister, the woman swore she’d just seen Champ surface and then dive back below the water. Now, that would have been that except there were two other Champ sightings across the lake that day, and a Japanese documentary crew happened to be in town hunting the monster. So the little sister told the parents, and the parents told some friends, and before the woman knew it she and her sister were being asked to re-create their Champ sighting for the Tokyo Broadcasting Company, which they did.

And now, after walking around with this odd little secret for years, this woman has chosen Joseph A. Citro as the only person qualified to release it into the world.

Joe sips his coffee, and I sip mine. And then I ask him, “Doesn’t this stuff ever get to you a little bit?”

And Joe looks at me with the perpetually terrified blue-blue eyes, and he says, “Naah.”

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. And don’t miss VPR’s Halloween edition of Switchboard – when Joe Citro will be Fran Stoddard’s guest.

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