Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mysterious Disappearances in Ambrose Bierce stories

The tales of journalist and horror writer Ambrose Bierce (1842 -- ?) were often presented as if they were news items, or at least legends supported by diaries and newspaper clippings.  They often ended "up in the air," unsolved, like real events merely glimpsed by lucky (or unlucky) mortals.  Perhaps they weren't all fiction . . .

A recurring theme in Bierce's fiction was unexplained disappearances.  I'm creating this little list to stir up the imagination:  H. Beam Piper's "He Walked Around the Horses" revealed the fate of Benjamin Bathurst, and P. J. Farmer's The Other Log of Phileas Fogg gave its version of the Mary Celeste.  Perhaps someone somewhere will come up with stories or articles explaining what happened to some of these characters.  The fate of Ambrose Bierce himself has provided grist for the mill in tales like "The Third Level" by Jack Finney.

# # # #

1854 -- July -- Orion Williamson, a plantation owner living near Selma, Alabama, crosses a field to speak to the overseer of his land.  The pasture is "level and without a tree, rock, or any natural or artificial object on its surface."  In full view of the plantation overseer, Mrs. Williamson, Armour Wren, a neighbor, Wren's son James, and a dozen slaves, Mr. Williamson vanishes into thin air. ("The Difficulty of Crossing a Field")

1857 -- A family disappears one night from their plantation house north of Manchester, Kentucky.  "Nothing was missing -- except a man, a woman, three girls, a boy, and a babe!"  The plantation is abandoned and the family's home becomes known as "the Spook House."

1859 -- June -- Col. J. C. McArdle and Judge Myron Veigh, caught on a dark night in a storm, try to enter the nearest building, which happens to be the Spook House.  They enter by an unlocked side door, but, opening the same door again, McArdle finds, not the stormy night, but a chamber full of greenish light, containing eight or ten corpses.  Veigh enters and studies the corpses, but the stench makes McArdle faint, falling against the door and slamming it shut on the judge.  "Six weeks later" McArdle awakens in a hotel where he had been carried after the storm.  A search of the mansion reveals no tomb or chamber.  "Judge Veigh had never been heard of since that night." ("The Spook House")

1863 -- "The Spook House" is burned by a retreating column of Civil War soldiers.

1873 -- Philip Eckert, a harmless old recluse, disappears from his house outside Marion, Vermont ("some twenty years" before the story is written in 1893.)  "All was as he might have left it to go to the spring for a bucket of water." ("At Old Man Eckert's")

1873 -- September 3 -- James Burne Worson, a shoemaker from Leamington, England, bets three drinking buddies he can run all the way to Coventry and back, a circuit of forty miles.  He begins the race with his pals following in a wagon.  "Suddenly -- in the very middle of the roadway, not a dozen yards from them, and with their eyes full upon him -- the man seemed to stumble, pitched headlong forward, uttered a terrible cry and vanished!  He did not fall to the earth -- he vanished before touching it."  The men are arrested, but, being of good standing, are released.  Worson is never seen again. ("An Unfinished Race")

1876 -- August 6 -- Col. McArdle pens an account of his misadventure for the Frankfort (Kentucky) Advocate.  ("The Spook House")

1878 -- November 9 -- The family of Christian Ashmore lives on a farm near Quincy, Illinois.  At about nine o'clock on this November night, son Charles takes a bucket to fetch water from the spring.  When he does not return, Mr. Ashmore and his eldest daughter go out searching with a lantern.  Charles' tracks are plain halfway to the stream, then "the trail of the young man had abruptly ended, and all beyond was smooth, unbroken snow." ("Charles Ashmore's Trail")

1878 -- December -- A small group of men decide to spend the night in Philip Eckert's house to dispel rumors of the supernatural, "about five years after" the disappearance of Eckert.  John Holcomb and Wilson Merle arrive at 8:00 PM, but Andrus C. Palmer, a local schoolteacher, does not show.  After an hour's watch, Holcomb and Merle hear someone enter the back door.  Palmer passes through the den, looking frightened or excited, and walks straight out the front door.  The two watchers follow, but Palmer is gone, and there are no footprints in the snow.  "Neither they nor anyone ever again saw or heard of Andrus Palmer!" ("At Old Man Eckert's")

Up to mid-1879 -- "For months afterward" Charles Ashmore's voice is heard by family members and other people near the point of his disappearance.  "All agreed that it seemed to come from a great distance, faintly, yet with entire distinctness of articulation. . . by midsummer it was heard no more." ("Charles Ashmore's Trail")

1893 -- Dr. Hern of Leipsic publishes his "Verschwinden und Seine Theorie," in which he suggests that such disappearing people fall into dimensional bubbles, "holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate objects may fall into the invisible world." ("Science to the Front")

1893 -- Bierce's stories "Some Haunted Houses" and "Mysterious Disappearances" (containing the above accounts) are published.

1913 -- summer -- Ambrose Bierce, seventy-one years old and tired of life, announces he is travelling to Mexico "with a pretty definite purpose. . . not at present disclosable."  He is never seen again. (E. F. Bleiler, "Introduction", in Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce (Dover Books, 1964)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

All's Fair in Love and Book Promotion!

I tried to play fair on my Amazon Kindle page by using a recent photograph of myself on my Author Bio . . . but every picture I took looked either like a sunken-eyed cadaver or that sexual pervert some people think was the Zodiac Killer of California.  (Well, I've been sick).  So, once again, I'm going to cheat and reach way back to my High School Yearbook picture.

It sounds incredible, I know, but that's about the only photo taken of me (that I know of) between Senior year at Bixby High and the present, not counting driver's license, college IDs, and the like.  Because I'm the wind . . . no one sees me come, and no one sees me leave . . .
UPDATE:  I managed to use my Tulsa Community College ID picture on Amazon, small and grainy as that is.  It would never have been on the cover of GQ or Newsweek, but it's closer to the present (notice how I carefully gloss over dates).

Meanwhile, I may just leave my old portrait right here . . .

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Andre Norton Page Returns

Several years ago Geocities ended its free web-site posting, and my old site, "Fiction and Reality," vanished into cyberspace.  I trimmed down and simplified my new site, "The Fantasy World Project," losing, among other things, several pages of book reviews.  Clicking around in the depths of the Web today, however, I found the page devoted to Andre Norton.  Other pages are listed on Google but pull up only a "404 Not Found" error, so before it too vanishes, I believe I'll give the Andre Norton page a new home on my blog, for now at least:

Ms. Norton preferred to be known simply as "A staid old teller of tales."

Reviewed by Mike Winkle

Here's a special area where I'll be reviewing Ms. Norton's books one by one. There are only 150 or thereabouts!

Ride Proud, Rebel!

Historical Novel; Drew Rennie #1

Norton's 1961 novel of the Civil War came as an unexpected Christmas present from some "step-relatives" in Minnesota. As it is very difficult to come across, why bother reviewing it? Perhaps it will spur people into asking publishers to bring it back into print. (In a way I hope that for all my reviews!)

Drew Rennie grows up at Red Springs, a Kentucky estate presided over by his grandfather, Alexander Mattock. His mother fell in love with a Texan named Rennie and bore Drew out of wedlock, so the Mattocks have always treated the youth as a hated outsider -- typical of a Norton protagonist, whether the book is fantasy, science fiction, or historical. The Mattocks have Unionist sympathies, and Drew is quite happy to enlist in the Civil War -- on the Rebel side.

This is all backstory; Drew has been a soldier for years when the novel opens. General Morgan has sent him to scout out a rich Union estate with enough horses and supplies to replenish his men.  Ironically, Red Springs looks ripe for the plucking. While spying out the area, Drew runs across Boyd Barrett, the younger brother of Drew's best friend Sheldon, who was killed in battle. Boyd insists on enlisting, but Drew will have none of it. The younger boy, predictably, starts out on his own the minute Drew is out of sight.

The novel then fast-forwards through the war, with Drew and Boyd -- plus Anse Kirby, a Texan, and various minor characters -- participating, it seems, in nearly every important battle. We see cowardice and bravery, hate and friendship, on both sides. Norton describes vividly the hard riding, the deprivation, the dirt and pain, the swift terror of battle and the slow despair of continuing an endless campaign.

Plenty of characters die, but a few -- a Cherokee scout and Kirby the Texan among them -- simply vanish in the dark of night, no explanation ever found. This makes me wonder if the story isn't based on reality; Norton's dedication mentions "the unpublished memoirs of trooper John Johnson" as a source.

Two animals stand out in this novel: Shawnee, Drew's superior horse, and Hannibal, a well-dispositioned mule that practically hauls the whole Southern army on his back. The horse is shot in combat, and the mule is simple ground into the earth with work. Grim, indeed, in an Andre Norton novel, where animals are often characters as important as the humans.

Finally the war ends. Drew and Boyd return to Red Springs to learn that Alexander Mattock has died. The rest of the family want Drew back -- to mold him into stifling conformity among the local rich folk. Drew wants their conditional acceptance no more than he wanted his grandfather's hatred. Fortuitously, he discovers two important tidbits of information concerning two "missing" characters that point to the far west.

This presumably leads to the sequel, Rebel Spurs, which is so rare even I can't find it. Still, Drew's new direction in life is a good ending. After concentrating largely on Ms. Norton's fantasy and SF, it's nice to learn she can write just as well in other genres. ****

Time Traders Omnibus

SF Novels; Ross Murdock #1 & #2

The appearance of this omnibus volume of the first two Time Trader books is my excuse to add a bit to my comments (given below). First, I notice that The Time Traders has been very slightly updated. In the original version (1958), the fictional future is bereft of space flight, because the attempted landings on the moon crashed and burned. (Thus a concentration on time travel instead.) Having caught up to and passed this future, Ms. Norton simply replaces it with real history, mentioning instead that there were manned landings on the moon -- but the space race simply ground to a halt afterwards. The truth hurts.

The main character of the second novel -- the hero, to use an old-fashioned term -- is not Ross Murdock but a young Apache rancher named Travis Fox, who has tried to bridge the gap between the old ways of his people and the new ways of the whites. He rejected the modern ways when its educational system judged him unfairly, but he enters a very new way when he comes across the time travel project in a desert canyon. Essentially a captive at first, he joins the effort to find another ancient spaceship once the incredible adventure is explained to him.

As mentioned below, the time travelers not only find a ship but accidentally blast off in it. During the trip and on the brief excursions to the alien worlds, a hard-headed competition arises between Travis and Ross Murdock on who is ready to suffer most for the survival of everyone, whether it be in testing alien foodstuffs or exploring ancient ruins. Eventually, like Murdock before him, the tough individualistic personality of Travis Fox softens just enough to become one of this elite time traveling team.

A minor character, Renfry the technician, comes to the fore when the team is trapped aboard the alien vessel. He has an instinctive knack for machines. "You feel the desert out there," he tells Travis. "Well, I feel machines -- I've lived with them for most of my life." Renfry is no fighter or wise man, but he is the one who gets the group home. A machine-savvy hero is a rarity in Andre Norton, and the prominent and technologically "sensitive" character of Renfry is unique.

All in all, Time Traders omnibus is certainly worth ****.

Year of the Unicorn

Fantasy Novel; Witch World #3

"How does one know coming good from coming ill? There are those times in life when one welcomes any change, believing that nothing can be such ashes in the mouth, such dryness of days as the never altering flood of time in a small community where the outside world lies ever beyond gates locked and barred against all change."

So begins Andre Norton's third Witch World novel, our introduction to High Hallack and the Dales, the lands across the sea from the setting of Witch World and Web of the Witch World. Gillan, our narrator, is a ward of Norstead Abbey, the Witch World equivalent of a nunnery. A foundling from a wrecked ship, it is implied that she is of the "witch" race from across the sea. At any rate, like most Norton protagonists, she is a loner, befriended only by certain of the abbey women, like Dame Alousan the herbalist, and the ancient Past-Abbess Malwinna.

The war with Alizon (from Witch World) rages on this side of the ocean as well, and the lords of High Hallack agree to provide brides for the mysterious shape-changing Were-Riders in return for their help. After the end of the war, the Were-Riders come for their brides.

Realizing that a dreary life in the Abbey is not for her, Gillan substitutes herself for one of the more reluctant brides-to-be. She becomes the bride of Herrel, the were-snow-leopard, himself an outcast among the Riders, having had an ordinary human mother. While the other women are ensorcelled to see their new husbands as handsome (and totally human) knights, Gillan's ancestry of "Power" allows her to see through illusions. This irritates the Were-Riders (excepting Herrel) rather out of proportion, and much of the novel consists of their ploys to destroy Gillan's body, mind, soul, or all three. Though she can't believe it at first, Herrel is on her side. Eventually, however, she does believe it . . .

Doubtless many young readers of Year of the Unicorn, in small towns across America and beyond, have echoed Gillan's words quoted above. Fortunately, they do not have to endure such hardships to fight utter boredom; in this twenty-first century world there are so many activities and entertainments, one could never experience them all.

Let us hope the art of reading is not one of the forgotten ones, and that people will always rely on books to take them from their mundane lives into realms of adventure -- books like Year of the Unicorn! ****½

The Crystal Gryphon

Fantasy novel (Witch World); "Gryphon" #1

One of my all-time favorites! The basic fantasy novel, as far as I'm concerned, which shows both "ordinary" existence in the holds of High Hallack and the chaos caused by the coming of war. Kerovan is a sympathetic "outsider", visibly different from "normal" people, and Joisan is a competent, willful young woman. I hate to admit how much The Crystal Gryphon has influenced my own writing. *****

Gryphon in Glory

Fantasy novel (Witch World); "Gryphon" #2

The first sequel to Crystal Gryphon is hard going for most of the book, mainly because Kerovan is such a dork, trying to leave Joisan "for her own good." Only three-fourths of the way through does he realize he can't live without her and vice-versa. We do get to see familiar faces from other Witch World tales, and we are finally treated to a genuine Gryphon (and an anthropomorphic gryphon-man). ***

The Crossroads of Time (1956)

(SF novel; Blake Walker #1)

Norton's alternate universe adventure scoops up art student Blake Walker and sends him from a large city in our world (unnamed but obviously New York) across an array of worlds. As usual with Norton's SF, a complex idea is explained in only a few words:

"Tell me, have you ever heard of the 'possibility worlds' theory of history?"

"I've read some fantasy fiction founded on that. You mean that idea that two complete worlds stem from every momentous historical decision? One in which Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo, say, and our own in which he lost it?"

"Yes. There would be myriad worlds, all influenced by various decisions." (p. 19, ACE edition)

With little more than that, Walker is kidnapped by a renegade possibility traveler and dumped in an Ice Age world where cannibalistic beast-women hunt prey with robotic centipedes. Somehow he accepts and understands these bizarre circumstances, as do the readers. Indeed, like all of Norton's protagonists, Blake Walker is strong-willed and independent, and he survives under conditions that would drive many people insane:

". . . deep inside him he had a new satisfaction. He had been moved about by the agents in the game against Pranj. And in turn he had been fooled by the outlaw. But he had escaped from Pranj. And here, without tools or any real knowledge, he had managed to achieve food and warmth. No thanks to anyone but himself." (p. 73)

Walker also visits an almost familiar Hitler-won-W.W. II world and something that has become a cliché in modern times, an "evil" world (i.e., ordinary household goods are in bottles shaped like demons and gargoyles; human portraits look harsh and sadistic, etc.). For once there is an explanation for the latter: It is a civilization that sprang from the Aztecs, complete with bloodthirsty gods and sacrifices despite its advanced technology.

As one might expect of '50s SF, the majority of characters are male, but a couple of key figures are black, which must have been hard enough to slip in. Particularly interesting is "the Sarge," who runs what's left of New York in the Hilter-wins world. Crossroads of Time is, in short, exciting, fast-moving, and has been much imitated. ****

Quest Crosstime

SF novel; Blake Walker #2

Walker is part of the Crosstime Patrol now, but an evil faction takes over the planet Vroom (!) and tries to destroy or maroon the Patrol. Spends too much time explaining Aztec world, and a third volume is implied (which never appeared). ***½

Daybreak -- 2250 A.D.

SF novel

Also called Star Man's Son, this is a novel set after a nuclear holocaust called the Great Burning. Fors of the Puma Clan is a typical Norton protagonist -- young, now orphaned after the death of his father, and an outcast because he is a mutant, with white hair and the ability to see in the dark. He expects to become one of the Star Men -- the society dedicated to re-learning the ancient sciences -- but only the importance of his father gave him a chance for that. Rebuffed, he leaves to explore the post-apocalyptic world on his own. (But he is not quite alone, for he has a psychic bond with Lura, a "sand cat"). Fors enters a city of empty skyscrapers and rescues Arskane, a young black warrior, from humanoid Rat-Things. Together they try to unite the scattered tribes before the Rat-Things wipe them out one at a time.

This is a fairly early (1952) SF novel for Norton, and a fairly early post-nuclear epic, a good bridge between old stories like Stephen Benet's "By the Waters of Babylon" and later tales like Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey. Back then Norton's characters were gung-ho about relearning lost technical knowledge and going to the stars; her "loss of faith" (to use Rick Brooks' phrase) came later. Arskane, the African-American warrior, is a major character, and his whole nation/society is shown in a positive light. Arskane's queen is a minor but notable presence in the book, as is the warrior's little sister. All in all, an exciting and memorable SF adventure. ****

The Time Traders

SF novel; Ross Murdock #1

Time adventure scoots right along. Somehow the mix of Russian time travelers, ancient astronauts, the Battle-axe People, and Bronze Age traders works, although I liked Crossroads a little better. ***½

Galactic Derelict

SF novel; Ross Murdock #2

The time traveling is brief here -- after transporting an ancient alien spaceship to the present, the energies involved activate the vessel, sending it across the galaxy with Ross Murdock and company along for the ride. Again, somehow Norton mixes sabre-tooth tigers, Native Americans, creaking old robots, and nasty (and friendly) ETs believably. Even better than Time Traders. ****

Witch World

Fantasy novel; Witch World #1

Simon Tregarth, hunted by unidentified agents for an unspecified crime after World War II, flees Earth to another world via an ancient artifact (The Siege Perilous from Arthurian legend). Here he joins up with the Witches of Escarp against the invading Kolder, a race of technically advanced aliens. Again, by simply taking the characters (and the readers) through the amazing events in a serious and realistic way, Norton makes the fantasy and SF events seem believable on their own and when clashing together. Though not my favorite of the series, it is certainly a strong beginning (and a strong influence on my writing). I'd say I enjoyed it more now than I did in my teens. Funny how age makes some books seem better, while others fall away like dead leaves . . . ****

Web of the Witch World

Fantasy novel; Witch World #2

Simon and his new wife (Jaelethe, one of the Witches) battle the Kolder again. Better than I remember; the descriptions of the quasi-medieval world are, as always, excellent, and Norton could describe an advanced race of aliens as well. Few could meld the two, however, as well as the Kolder in Witch World. ****

Here's an excerpt from my old web-page that I couldn't bring myself to delete:


I just received a hand-written note from SF/fantasy writer Andre Norton. This astounded me, because she is approaching her 93rd year, and the most I've heard from her for the past decade is the occasional Easter or Christmas card. Sad to say, after one more novel due out in April from TOR, it sounds like there'll be no more tales from that staid storyteller.

"When you can't do it anymore, it's time to rest. Stop writing books and read them . . . You've come to the bottom of the hill. Maybe there'll be a soft place to sit." -- Manly Wade Wellman, 1975

Andre has written more books and stories than most people will probably ever read -- 200+ volumes. I hope she's found a soft place to sit for a while. She's earned it.

(I barely wrote that entry before the Grand Dame of Fantasy and SF passed away on March 17, 2005. Andre will sorely be missed, but I guarantee she'll never be forgotten.)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Dream I had circa December 2013

Just to keep my writing hand in, I might as well mention the Kolchak: The Night Stalker dream I had around December 2013. It's brief, I swear!

As it was (and is) my favorite TV series, I've had several Kolchakian dreams over the years. This was more like a fragment of a dream. I had my own point-of-view character for once. I was in some huge underground train station/mall/restaurant area, quite expansive. I was walking toward the restaurant plaza when suddenly dozens of people came running past me, screaming. Rather than join them, I fought my way to the plaza.

Carl Kolchak was the only person left in this dining area, among scores of chairs and tables and half-eaten meals. There was a fountain in the center of the plaza, and some small gardens (barely six feet across) with jungle-looking plants and weird rock-and-crystal sculptures in them.

One sculpture was a mass of stone and blue, glassy spheres. Even as I watched, the glass spheres cracked open and tiny bipedal reptiles scrambled out. There were about half a dozen of them, and they all trotted after Kolchak. Naturally, Kolchak ran around the restaurant area yelling "Get 'em off! Get 'em off!" as they tried to jump on him. He finally jumped in the fountain.

"I think they impressed on you," I said helpfully. "You know -- like baby ducks."

Kolchak yelled "Impressed?!?!" as the lizards hopped around the fountain.

"They think you're their mother," I continued.

Carl probably would have said something unprintable to that, but a loud racket attracted my attention to a passageway to the kitchen. Prep tables and refrigerators flew across our range of vision and crashed noisily against the wall.

"And what'll the real mother think of that?" yelled our favorite reporter.

"Um -- not like it," I said.

So Kolchak waded out of the fountain and ran, with the little reptiles bouncing around him, and I followed. As you've probably guessed, this dream was about the Sentry, and said reptilian monster shambled out into the dining plaza, tossing tables out of its way.

So we went running through an underground mall of some sort, shutting doors behind us, but the Sentry smashed through glass store-fronts and steel door-shutters with equal ease. And the baby lizards kept at Kolchak's heels.

Actually, that was pretty much it. We ran through stores and hallways until I woke up. But it was better than my usual type of dream, where I dream I live in the same building where I work!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Well, I have a new book ready for Amazon Kindle.  Tentatively entitled The Eyrie: A Book of Gryphons, it contains legends and speculations about the fantastic bird-beasts interspersed with original stories about the same.

I thought I'd whip this out in record time, because I had several gryphon articles and stories written already.  However, I found many interesting new details about the critters that I felt I must incorporate.  Not an easy task, I'll tell you:  the main reason I wrote these essays and tales was because actual folktales and legends -- and fiction -- concerning the feathered and furred beasts were rare as gryph's teeth.

Historical tid-bits about gryphons certainly vary from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Take this bizarre theory as to the origin of the bird-beasts:

Nineteenth-century naturalist Valentine Ball provided an even less likely origin for gryphons.  First of all, he believed that the high mountains where the lion-birds roosted were the Himalayas.  Building on that, he suggested:

“Taking Photios’s account alone, and excluding from it the word birds, and for feathers reading hair, we have a tolerably accurate description of the hairy black-and-tan coloured Thibetan [sic] mastiffs, which are now, as they were doubtless formerly, the custodians of the Thibetans, their gold-miners as well as others.” [4]

So gryphons were actually dogs?  Well, if you take the description of the gryphon and exclude from it the word eagle, and for lion read cocker spaniel, you could make it sound more canine.  I have my doubts.

The fiction ranges from short stories to one novella.  Here's the shortest of all:


            "Gold!" cried the Gryphon.
            He scooped up coins in a great eagle’s claw and watched their shiny avalanche.
            "And so easy to snatch from fat merchants," the bird-beast continued.  "Even their mightiest swordsmen flee before -- Squawk!"
            Fire swept in an orange storm over his leonine hindquarters.  He flapped away in pain.
            "Gold!" cried the Dragon, stretching out his scaly length.

So prepare yourself for The Eyrie: A Book of Gryphons, flapping to roost soon in Amazon Kindle!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Another vaguely Missing 411-flavored essay:  What lurks in the forest primeval that might snatch away unsuspecting hikers?


Fortean philosopher John Michell, in his book Natural Likeness, notes that many moths have dull, bark-colored wings which blend in with the brown, gray, and shadowed surroundings of a thick forest.  However, these insects flash open their wings when frightened or disturbed, revealing large, round, yellow-ringed spots that resemble staring eyes.  These “eyes”, combined with the moths’ thorax and head, form the illusion of a face, a protective adaptation particularly noticeable in the Eyed Hawkmoth’s “nightmare animal’s face complete with fur and snout.”  This “face” frightens off birds that would otherwise snap up the harmless insects.

It is taken for granted that this is a form of natural mimicry, the moths having evolved to resemble the harsh stare of predatory owls.  However, when attacked or startled, owls open their eyes to reveal bright yellow rings, as if they are mimicking something even more frightful.  Michell writes:  “it is not necessary to conclude that one of these creatures has been designed by natural selection to mimic the other.”  It is possible that owls as well as moths are mimicking something else, the countenance of some “universal symbol of terror,” “the glaring bogey-men” that little children believe lurk in dark woods.

What is this ur-creature that insects and owls imitate?  Something like West Virginia’s “Mothman”, with its vast wingspan and burning, hypnotic gaze?  Or perhaps it is some entirely unknown monster, but one simultaneously ancient and omnipresent, an archetypal terror feared instinctively by birds, animals, and humans alike – the Dark Woods Bogey-Man!

Michell, John.  Natural Likeness:  Faces and Figures in Nature (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979), pp. 52-54.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

If You Go Down to the Woods Today . . .

On my web site (specifically the Missing 411 Annotations page) I promised to display 411-esque items on my blog to forestall crowding.  Sickness, new projects, and other life events slowed that process down criminally.  Now, however, I've stumbled across a pair of complementary reports that definitely dial up the creep factor where it concerns strange events in the woods.

One odd behavior reported in some disappearances is the victim's sudden and inexplicable departure from their course of travel -- a teenage girl turns to look off at something in the trees, then fights her way into the forest at a very difficult and inconvenient spot; a woman pulls over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, steps out of the car (leaving the door open), and simply walks off into the wilderness . . .

One wants to ask these people, "What the #@$% was so interesting?"  Alas, there is no one to answer.

Here, however, are two stories from the early 2000s that may give us a clue.  Curiously, the first, from Ontario, has only an auditory component.  The second, from the "Down East" or "Lost" coast of Maine (found mainly in Washington County) was purely visual in appearance.

The Voice in the Woods

A young man named Tim Marczenko of Dorchester, Ontario, Canada, was shooting basketball hoops one summer evening in 2001 when his father emerged from the house walking their golden retriever.  Tim, 14 years old at the time, watched his father walk the dog down the road into the distance and out of sight.

Suddenly “three digital beeping sounds” came from the woods by their house in the opposite direction from where the father went.  The boy shrugged and continued shooting hoops.  The beeps came again.

A voice called from the trees, “Tim! Come here for a second, I've found something.”  Tim assumed it was his father, and that he'd found a beeper or cell phone.  Yet the voice was very evasive when he asked what was going on, just saying things like, “Just come here, hurry up, I found something.  Follow my voice,” and “Tim come into the woods, I've got to show you something.”

The beeping and the voice's demands continued, and Tim wandered over – only to stop at the edge of the trees.  “I realized that the voice was using only using a certain number of words and phrases,” the youth recalled.  “Almost as if it were automated and only knew how to speak those particular words.”

Then the noises stopped and Dad came back up the road with the dog.  And, of course, he hadn't found any beeping thing or in fact gone into the woods.

“What would have happened to me if I had followed the voice into the forest?” Tim ends.  What, indeed?

Marczenko, Tim, “Forest Voice,” in Sieveking, Paul, editor.  It Happened to Me Vol. 2 (London: Dennis Publishing, 2009), pp. 75-76.

The Fake Family

An English professor at the University of Maine at Machias, Marcus LiBrizzi occasionally sent his students out to collect local folklore.  The stories gathered and published in the volume Dark Woods, Chill Waters differ from a lot of folklore, however, in that most of the accounts supposedly happened to the people interviewed, or at least to a family member or close friend.  Unlike the vagaries of a "ghostly hitchhiker" story, for instance, the who, where, and when were known to the interviewers.

Conversely, LiBrizzi has collected ghost stories from all over the world, but "I can honestly say that nowhere have I found accounts as frightening as those uncovered from the lost coastline of Maine." [p.9]  Here's one to stand with the best (or worse, maybe).

Student interviewer Hanna Dean turned in the story on December 11, 2000.  She collected it from a friend of hers who wishes to be known only as "Sam".  One winter's night Sam woke from a deep sleep.  His "intuition" insisted that something was terribly wrong in the house and that he must leave.  "It was similar to that ominous, premonitory feeling that sometimes alerts us to a house fire or an intruder."  Whatever it was, it was an overwhelming sensation.  Sam threw on his clothes and rushed out the front door into the ice-cold moonlit night.

The "intuition" came again, surprisingly specific:  Sam was sure that he had to get into his car.  He obeyed the impulse, but he did not go anywhere.  He simply sat there, puzzled and worried.

The woods ran up to the edge of Sam's family's property.  As the young man hunched in his cold vehicle, something even more perplexing occurred:  someone or something emerged from the forest.  As the dark figures stepped into the bright moonlight, Sam realized it was his family.  His father, his mother, and his younger sister traipsed out of the woods and stopped at the edge of an open field.  Utterly confused, Sam climbed out of his car.

His family members spotted him and started waving for him to come over.  Sam left his vehicle and started across the yard.  As he approached, however, a new feeling came over him that there was something terribly wrong.  This was not so much a hunch as the fact that his parents and sister did not call to him or start toward him.  They did not utter a sound, but they waved at him to come closer almost frantically.

The fact that none of them spoke a word finally broke the young man's nerve.  He turned and ran back to the house.  He slammed and locked the door behind him.  He turned to run up the stairs as well, but to his shock his father stood at the top of the staircase, demanding to know what was going on.  In a few moments his mother and sister appeared as well.  They had been asleep inside all the while.  Whatever had come out of the woods and beckoned to Sam, it was not his family.

Some have suggested that Sam simply went sleepwalking.  The young man could only retort that he had no history of somnambulism before or after that winter's night.

This event disturbed Sam so much, in fact, that he would not speak of it for years, until student/ collector Hanna Dean wormed it out of him in 2000.  Dean adds, "What I'm wondering is, what would have happened to Sam if he had gone with his 'family' into the woods? . . . I think he is probably better off not knowing."

David Paulides and other who have studied (and even experienced) weird events in forested areas tell their readers to listen to their gut instinct, their sense of uneasiness, their intuition.  Your unconscious mind picks up on details your conscious mind does not, they say, and it will make you feel instinctively that something is wrong and that you should leave.  But what if there is something that can usurp your instinct/intuition, as in Sam's case?  Like Sam, we may be better off not knowing.

LiBrizzi, Marcus.  Dark Woods, Chill Waters:  Ghost Tales from Down East Maine (Camden, ME: Down East Books, 2007), pp. 127-130.