Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On a Country Road

Now a glimpse of my next book of true-life mysteries and strangeness, I Heard of That, Two:

The 1970s show Kolchak:  The Night Stalker, about a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who constantly stumbles across monsters in modern-day Chicago, is my all-time favorite TV series.  Most critics agree that the episode “Horror of the Heights,” scripted by Hammer Films alumnus Jimmy Sangster, is the best of the series.  In it a Hindu demon called the Rakshasa, a hairy, toothy, humanoid flesh-eater, preys upon the elderly Jewish inhabitants of a Chicago neighborhood.  Not satisfied with a simple shape-shifting spirit, Sangster kept his monster to one form – but it can telepathically project images into its victims’ minds, who see someone they know and trust instead of a fanged and clawed predator, and who walk happily into its shaggy outstretched arms.

The closing lines of "Horror in the Heights" always remind me of this account from that early volume published by the Society for Psychical Research, Phantasms of the Living.  The story came from John Rouse of Croydon (a borough of London).  Rouse worked for Cockerells, a coal-distribution company, but he was also a member of a group “which met to investigate spiritualistic phenomena” (which sounds a little Kolchakian in itself).  A “Mrs. W.” was part of this group, “between whom and himself a strong sympathy existed.”

In the spring of 1873 Rouse traveled to Norwich on business.  At about 11:00 PM he decided to take a walk in a rural area on the edge of town.

“It was in the brightest moonlight, about full moon, I should think, with hardly a cloud in the sky,” Rouse recalled.  He mounted the summit of a hill and could see far across the land in the silvery lunar light.  The only moving object for miles was a human figure on the road ahead, which was walking his way.  As the two drew closer to one another, the coal representative decided it must be a country woman hiking to Norwich with eggs and other produce to sell at the market.  Rouse continues:  “The next moment I began to fear that, the time and place being so lonely, the woman would be afraid to pass me.  I, therefore, under this feeling, got as near as possible to one side of the road, thus giving her all the width on the other side to pass; but, to my astonishment, she also left the middle of the road, and took the same side as myself, as if determined to meet me face to face.  I then walked into the middle of the road, thinking I would avoid her, but to my surprise, the woman did the same.”

Though the figure was a woman, it was no farmwife:  "I could plainly see that the figure before me was a well-dressed lady in evening dress, without bonnet or shawl.  I could see some ornament or flower in her hair, gold bracelets on her bare arms, rings on her fingers, and could hear the rustle of her dress.”  No matter where he walked on the road, she shifted to match him, as if intending to crash right into him.

Mr. Rouse suddenly recognized the woman as Mrs. W. from London.  He was not overly shocked; he assumed that some business had brought her to Norwich as it had himself.  The two late night pedestrians came within five feet of each other.

“She held out her hand to me, and I could see her face and lips move as if about to speak to me.  I was in the act of taking her hand to greet her, but had not touched her, when some iron hurdles which formed the fencing of the cattle market, rang as if they were being struck with an iron bar.  This startled me, and unconsciously I turned round to see what made the noise.  I could see nothing, and instantly turned again to Mrs. W. but she was gone.” [Sidgwick, pp. 366-367]

Mr. Rouse sensed something strange was going on.  He walked swiftly back to Norwich and spent a sleepless night in his hotel room.  The next day he made inquiries about Mrs. W. and was informed that the woman was quite well, and had been in London that night among friends.

Misdirection that pulls one’s attention from a strange sight is not unknown in fortean tales.  “We have found in a number of instances that, while mobs of monster-chasers were combing one forest or swamp, UFOs were engaged in covert activities only a few miles away,” notes John Keel. [Keel, p. 129]  In folklore there is the old saw that a Leprechaun is under your power unless it can get you to look away.

I keep thinking of The Night Stalker episode, though.  We learn in “Horror in the Heights” that only a crossbow bolt blessed by a priest can kill a Rakshasa, and there are apparently “Rakshasa hunters” roaming the world watching for the ravenous demons.  Perhaps the "clanging noise" at the fence was a crossbow bolt ricocheting off the iron hurdles, fired by a nearby Rakshasa slayer, and the creature itself vanished "like the cowards they are."

I hope Mr. Rouse counted his blessings.  As Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin) finishes up in “Horror”:  “And if you happen to be walking along a lonely country road one night and you see your favorite aunt coming towards you . . . Good luck to you, too!”

Keel, John A.  Strange Creatures from Time and Space (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1970).

Sidgwick, Eleanor, et. al, eds.  Phantasms of the Living (University Books: New Hyde Park, NY, 1962 [1886]).

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Tommy Bowman Won't Let Himself Be Forgotten

One of my hobbies in recent years has been the annotating and expanding of David Paulides' Missing 411 books.  Accompanying the cases of missing people in rural areas (and now cities), Paulides notes, are strange coincidences, such as people missing in different areas having nearly identical names and/or appearances, people somehow managing to avoid numerous closed-circuit cameras on their way to their destinies, and people vanishing in areas with "Devil" or other alarming words in their names.

I don't have any personal experience with a missing person case, but I suffered through a bizarre coincidence (if it was a coincidence) many years ago.

It happened in 1979 or '80, probably during the summer vacation from school.  I was riding my ten-speed bike through the semi-rural countryside near Bixby, Oklahoma, a small town about ten miles south of Tulsa. The land (back then, at least) consisted mainly of pastures, fields of grain, and patches of forest.  Paved roads divided the area into squares one mile on each side.

I pedaled and coasted along one mile-long strip of road and halted at an intersection.  As I balanced atop my bike, panting heavily (I don't think I've ever actually been in shape), I noticed the telephone pole next to the STOP sign.

A haze of staples, thumbtacks, and nails covered the lower six feet of the tar-coated pole, all that remained of posters and notices of the past.  Several notices still defied the elements and clung to the wood, and one in particular caught my eye.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THIS BOY? read two-inch-high letters.  Intrigued, I edged my bike onto the shoulder of the road.

A faded photo had been reproduced beneath the heading.  The Xerox machines available at Quik-Trip and other convenience stores of that time were less than perfect, but I could make out the features of a young, excited-looking, freckle-faced boy.

"Tommy Bowman," began the next line.

A simple, common-sounding name.  It seemed familiar.  I sidled my bike off the shoulder onto the grass.

"Tommy Bowman, aged 8."

Then it hit me:  Tommy Bowman?  The Devil's Gate Reservoir Tommy Bowman?

"Tommy Bowman, aged 8, disappeared March 23, 1957, from near Altadena, California."

I would have let loose a foul oath, but I was gobsmacked.  Thomas Eldon Bowman, one of the children who disappeared in the area around Devil's Gate Reservoir in southern California in the late '50s/early '60s -- an area dubbed "The Forest of Disappearing Children" by Brad Steiger and other authors.  I was really into historical mysteries, and my favorite subject was mysterious disappearances -- and one of my favorite missing person tales was Devil's Gate Reservoir.

. . . What was a missing person poster for Tommy Bowman, who disappeared in 1957, 1500 miles from Bixby, doing thumbtacked to a telephone pole in Bixby in the summer of 1980?  What were the chances that I would have braked beside it and noticed it out of all other phone poles with fliers and posters stuck to them?  If the entire population of Bixby, OK, had come marching by that pole, would any of them recognized the name?

I gave what I call a "thousand yard plus three feet" stare.  I scanned my surroundings.  There was nothing around for a mile but empty roads and fields, but I focused my eyes only a few feet away, as if someone was going to be standing there saying "Ha-ha!  Made ya look!"  I've done that a few times in my life, when I've run into coincidences so amazing, I was sure someone set it up (even if it had to do with private thoughts I'd never told anyone).

"$1000 will be paid by Mary and Eldon Bowman to the first person with information reuniting Tommy with us."  I removed the thumbtacks from the phone pole and snatched the poster.  I didn't expect to collect the reward, but this weird little artifact was going into my permanent record.  To this day it resides in my file cabinet, in the manila folder marked "Mysterious Disappearances."

Tommy and several other missing people from the Altadena area now form a "cluster" in the book Missing 411:  Western United States by David Paulides.  In recent years it has been suggested that California serial killer Mack Ray Edwards may have killed Tommy -- or was Edwards an example of The Convenient Madman?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I Heard of That Somewhere is Out!

A hundred years ago, a young boy went out to the well to fetch a bucket of water and never came back. His family went to look for him; they found his tracks in the snow, but these ended in mid-stride as if he'd stepped off a cliff. The boy called for help as if from a distance, but he was never seen again.

You know, I heard of that somewhere. It happened in Indiana - or Alabama - or Wales.
In bustling, modern New York City a man dressed in Victorian clothing materialized in the middle of Times Square during the rush hour. He was immediately hit by a cab and killed. All the papers found on him were dated from the 1870s. An inquisitive police chief dug back through old records and found that a man by the same name had left home for a walk one night in 1876 and had never returned. At least, I heard of that somewhere.

Before Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, or Zodiac, Jack the Ripper stalked London, killing women by ones and twos. For over a century detectives and researchers tried to learn his identity, and he was finally revealed to be the same man who built the horrible "Murder Castle" at the Chicago World's Fair. Or he was a high-ranking member of the Freemasons who rode around the dingy alleys of East London in a royal coach. Or he was Queen Victoria's grandson. Well, I heard of that somewhere.

We've all heard of mysteries historical and paranormal; we've all discussed "true" tales at parties, around campfires, and at other informal gatherings. We are all fascinated by strange, scary, and inexplicable events, yet when we collect them and pass them on, we forget basic facts concerning them.

Even serious researchers into the paranormal suffer from this dichotomy. If the stories are true, they imply that the laws of nature don't always agree with scientists' theories, that we share this world with unknown creatures, spirits, and intelligences, and that powerful forces are at play in the universe - powers that might someday be harnessed by humanity. They might spark several paradign shifts in science and philosophy, if the phenomena behind them could be studied. Yet many writers and self-proclaimed experts can't seem to locate basic texts and first-person accounts on anomalies, relying instead on second- or third-hand versions from tabloids, YA and juvenile books, or mass-market publications meant only to entertain the general public.

In I Heard of That Somewhere author Michael D. Winkle traces famous and not-so-famous rumors, tall tales and urban legends to their origins, or as close as is feasible. Some old stories fade into fiction or hoax (though not as many as you might think). Others spread out in unexpected directions, bringing us to new, equally intriguing stories. Some actually become stranger the farther we search. And a few actually happened the way you heard of - somewhere.

Available at Troy Taylor's American Hauntings Ink: I Heard of That Somewhere

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It's kind of ironic I'm a writer -- and that I own more books than anyone I know (about 5000 volumes) -- because I'm also the world's slowest reader. A long bout of unemployment didn't help. You'd think it would be the perfect opportunity to pursue my literary career, but I was too worried to write much -- or read -- for many months. Over the course of one year I started in on five novels -- and I gave up on all of them halfway through. There didn't seem much point, and besides, how could I waste time on something as frivolous as reading when I needed to find a job?. The next year I started five more novels that I never finished, though I did eventually read (and finish) other books.

I recently joined Goodreads. Goodreads asks you to list up to 20 books when you join and rate them with their "five-star" system. Writing an actual review is optional. I listed 20 of my favorite books, but the list seemed rather empty with just titles and stars, so I decided to provide reviews.

For most of them, I realized, I couldn't even give a short synopsis of the plots. I, who usually memorized every detail of anything I read in case I wrote a sequel, had forgotten the plots of my favorite novels. My worry had not only stunned my ability to concentrate on books, it had eroded even my memories of already-finished books. That was it! I have a need to read!

I started today. What to start with, out of 5000 books (and 1200-plus magazines, 1200-plus comic books, and hundreds of articles, Xerox copies, pamphlets, etc.)? As we're approaching Christmas, I decided on "A Christmas Carol."

I can't tell you how much better I feel after reading just the introduction and the first few pages of "Stave One." Aside from being a good-natured and optimistic narrative to begin with, "Carol" has reminded me what magic can be performed with the proper words, like the description of Ebenezer Scrooge, only a few paragraphs in:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas."

Now it's time to read more of this ghost story for Christmas. Then on to a few of the other 4,999 volumes on my groaning shelves.

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"

Friday, November 23, 2018

A WIld Wolfenoot to You!

Well, tonight is Wolfenoot, the holiday invented by a 7-year-old boy, during which the Spirit of the Wolf lopes across the land hiding presents for everyone -- especially people who have been kind to dogs.  Naturally I have to post something wolf-related:

In 1970 biologist L. David Mech published The Wolf, the definitive study of the canid carnivores . . . and for decades thereafter he tried to buy up all copies, because the conclusions he arrived at concerning alphas and pack relationships were flawed, because he was studying wolves living in limited environments defined by Man.

In 2003, however, Mech and Luigi Boitani of the University of Rome edited Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, the real definitive study.

A chapter of Wolves is called "Wolf Interactions with Non-Prey."  In other words, what happens when other predators and large animals collide with wolves.  I call it the "Wolves Vs." chapter.  For instance, cougars and wolves will occasionally attack and even kill each other, but normally cougars climb to higher altitudes to hunt (thus "mountain" lions).

Grizzly bears, as you might guess, can cause wolves a lot of trouble.  A naturalist observed a young bear in 1944 who apparently wanted to be a wolf-fighter when he grew up.  A mother grizzly and her three yearlings were trying for a pack's meat-caches.  "The darkest yearling seemed to enjoy the fight, for he would dash at the wolves with great vigor, and was sometimes off by himself, waging a lone battle."

Tigers run into wolves in Asia and Siberia.  They do not normally interact.  A naturalist named L. I. Makovkin knew of only two cases in which a tiger had killed a wolf.  "In neither case did the tiger consume the wolf."

"You do not respond to reason -- so now you will know fear" -- Shere Khan

I was shocked by the hyena section.  There are only a few spots on earth, in Eurasia, where hyenas ever run into wolves, and usually -- the hyenas win.

Maybe the wolves should practice on something smaller.  Like Arctic Foxes.  "In one instance, wolves spent considerable time and effort trying to fend off an Arctic Fox at a fresh muskox kill."  Wait -- they couldn't protect their meat from ONE Arctic Fox?

How about a bird?  Can a wolf pack beat a bird?

"The birds would dive at a wolf's head or tail, and the wolf would duck and then leap at them.  Sometimes the ravens chased the wolves, flying just above their heads, and once, a raven waddled to a resting wolf, pecked its tail, and jumped aside as the wolf snapped at it . . . the bird allowed it within a foot before arising.  Then it landed a few feet beyond the wolf and repeated the prank." [p. 270]

Nice of it to let the wolf think it had a chance . . . All in all, a disappointing showing from Team Wolf!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"Endangered Species" is Almost Here!

Endangered Species, the first volume in the Fanzine trilogy, will be ready for Amazon Kindle soon!

A novel made of the stories, editorials, letters of comment and essays from an amateur magazine, Endangered Species encompasses aspects of fantasy, horror, humor and action-thriller.  But why take my word for it?  Chester W. Monday, Editor of OMNIBUS, the fanzine in question, has this to say about Endangered Species: Fanzine Volume One:

I had no idea putting together an amateur magazine could become so strenuous.  I was doing better than my writers, however.  Gwen ended up being chased by a giant raccoon -- with a chainsaw:
"The Poulan motor growled behind us.  Lee all but long-jumped down the hall.  I paused at the entrance.  I had to see.
"The chainsaw paddle vanished as its wielder twisted to ram the door.  The half-splintered barrier crashed inwards.
"And reality ceased to have meaning for me.  Yes, I’d read 'Endangered Species.'  Several times, in fact.  Yes, I believed every word of it.  But seeing a six-foot-tall raccoon, wearing a muzzle/hockey mask and greasy overalls and hauling around a smoke-spewing black and yellow chainsaw – that was the Nope Express leaving the station for Nopeville, Nope Dakota."
Damon found himself caught up in the 'Possum Apocalypse:

"The horn blared again.  Something dropped from the hood to the road.  I saw it only in silhouette, but the steam-engine hiss told me it was another opossum.
"I kept to the guardrail to avoid the blinding headlights.  Down the road, beyond the Jeep, Randall exploded out of the underbrush.  Son of a bitch if there wasn’t a naked-tailed marsupial clinging to his leg.
“'’Possum Apocalypse!' he screamed.  He smacked the offending animal with his battery lamp and finally shook it off.
I paused to kick away the critter from the Jeep’s hood.  Yet another gray ‘possum dropped onto the vehicle’s roof from the clawlike branches of a cottonwood.
“'When you’re right, you’re right!' I cried."
Brandy woke up one fine spring morning to discover she had been transformed into a Himalayan snow leopard:

"I drew my right hand close.  I made a fist – half a fist, at least.  I found black pads nearly hidden in fluffy white fur, and the tips of sharp yellow nails.  The mitten did have a thumb, like a fat tick with its own little fishhook of a claw.
"I twisted over and pushed myself up with my mittened hands.  I looked back along my right side.  An expanse of slush gray and ivory white fur.  A thick haunch and a double-jointed leg.  A curve of black-white tail, more thickly furred at the tip than at the base.
"I wheezed with a scrape like a cross-cut saw.  I tried moving my foot.  A white hind paw kicked at the pink rug."
. . . And now whoever, whatever is behind these bizarre events has focused its attention on me!  My imaginary childhood playmate has returned from Limbo to help me, but I don't find that very reassuring:

"I didn’t recognize the voice.  I was still asleep enough that this didn’t bother me.
"'Come on, Mate, we haven’t much time!'
"I was pulled to a sitting position on the couch.  I even felt a couple of pats to the cheek.  I opened my eyes angrily.
"I focused on a muzzled face of the palest tan, with whiskers and a harelip, big brown shiny eyes, and long, donkeylike ears that poked up through the brim of an Australian ranger hat.
"A chocolate-brown paw clamped over my mouth just as I tried to scream.  The marsupial had quite a grip – yes, my rude awakener was Mr. Kangaroo, unseen lo, these many years."
All this and more awaits you in Endangered Species: Fanzine Volume One.  If we survive long enough to publish it!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"The Ultimate Alpha" Cover

This anthology in New Zealand wanted stories -- but they didn't offer any money.  So why did I send them a story?  They didn't offer money -- but they did offer a free cover for your next book.  They accepted my story, and now, even though I haven't completely polished up Endangered Species: Fanzine Volume One, I have a cover for The Ultimate Alpha: Fanzine Volume Two.  Now I must make sure the book is worthy of its cover art!