“I don’t understand. I don’t understand,” the female voice says as we hear the sound of falling snow and a knocked on door being opened. The man who opens the door says, “I was expecting you hours from now.”
And so begins 12 Ghosts, another Aaron Mahnke classic podcast series from Grim & Mild and iHeartMedia
Each episode of the 12-part series features a different tale of woe from a traveler who has come to the inn. The innkeeper, played with disturbing seriousness and warmth by Malcolm McDowell, offers them wine and a chance to get out of the cold and tell their tale. None of the travelers, including the original woman at the door, played by Gina Rickicki, knows how they arrived, but we discover at the end of each tale that each of the tellers has died and is looking for a place to rest and the innkeeper is all too obliging to provide them a room and a curiously ornate key.
The stories are overall more spooky than kooky and are perfect little bits of mystery, murder, and intrigue with dark endings told from the perspective of someone who has died. At the beginning and end of each episode, Anabel tries to understand where she is and what is happening by listening to these tales and talking to the innkeeper who offers her solace and understanding. The star of the show is unquestionably the innkeeper who bookends each tale with kindness and a place for those with sad tales to rest to get away from the biting cold of the falling snow outside in the forest. Each tale is written by a different writer and have a variety of themes often dealing with regret, family, and revenge.
The show is executive produced by Aaron Mahnke under the Grim & Mild imprint and we had a chance to speak with Nicholas Tecosky, the showrunner and writer. Nicholas is the founder of Write Club Atlanta, which is where he recruited most of the writers of the episodes.
Why was the name changed from 12 ghosts of Christmas to just 12 Ghosts?
Nicholas Tecosky: We wanted to appeal to as wide an audience as possible— many of these are indeed Christmas stories, but some live outside of the holiday. They’re all sort of Christmas-adjacent. But I love Christmas!
Are these intended to be morality tales?
Nicholas: Not all of them, but there are definitely a couple that fit that description. Chris Alonzo’s “La Bruja deal Desierto” definitely plays with morality, particularly the perils of being ungrateful during the holiday season.
Why do we feel so good from hearing other people’s tales of sorrow?
Nicholas: I think that there’s a natural inclination to compare ourselves to others, though I’d also like to believe that the angels of our better nature keep us from getting too smug about the misery of our neighbors. We try to give everyone here something of a redemptive arc. I think that— at Christmas especially— we want to see others happy.
Are there any older tales you’re drawing from with this inn at the end of the world and the innkeeper who gives ornate keys to travelers?
Nicholas: We play with a lot of the mythology that surrounds death— Charon, the ferryman across the River Styx, for instance, but there’s also the Innkeeper’s tale itself— though I hesitate to give anything away about the end.
What is it about Christmas that causes such a time for reflection?
Nicholas: It’s the darkest time of the year! We gather inside out of necessity, and I think that in the quiet of our own spaces, we can’t help but reflect on who we are, why we’re here.
These stories seem out of time. Do you have a particular time period for them to be set in?
Nicholas:We wanted these stories to feel timeless— I told my writers to leave out any detail that would tie us too closely to a time period— I wanted the feel of “back then,” because when we think of Christmas, we always tend to look backward to our past. I think that they all delivered; there’s something nostalgic about these tales.
How much direction did you give Malcolm McDowell on striking the perfect balance of soothing and comforting?
Nicholas: Malcolm came right in and shook up the room— he’d read the script and had a great idea of who this man was before sitting down at the microphone. He’s a force of nature that way. My job was just to help guide the actors through the moments. He and Gina Rickicki [Anabel] did all the heavy lifting.
Do we all need “some place to rest a spell”? – PS that episode made me think of the new Twin Peaks series with the sparks coming out of the man.
Nicholas: I certainly need that place. And yeah, I definitely got Twin Peaks vibes. Zoe Cooper is well versed in that sort of storytelling. She’s an excellent writer.
Do you have any favorite ghost stories of your own?
Nicholas: I mean, A Christmas Carol first and foremost, though I’ve always been a fan of A Turn of the Screw, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
Do you think listeners will figure out the ending from the sprinkling of the story clues that are given along the way?
Nicholas: I certainly hope that whether they see the end coming or not, they enjoy the journey along with us!