Sunday, April 15, 2018

We all know it's a vast wasteland . . . but I've a lot of time on my hands, so I thought, why not list, not merely my favorite TV programs, but my favorite episodes thereof? In more-or-less chronological order:

The Twilight Zone: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" -- They wouldn't let Rod Serling write scripts attacking bigotry, racism, and other issues on "normal" programs, but once he disguised them as fantasy and SF, he slipped them by the network bigwigs. A UFO is seen over Maple Street, USA, and all the power goes out -- except for a few choice people. Are they spies for the invaders? Paranoia mounts, erupting into mob violence -- which the real aliens counted on all the time!

Jonny Quest: "Terror Island" -- Hey! A killer crab the size of an M1 tank! A freaky, squealing giant spider! Roger "Race" Bannon demonstrates that he could have beaten North Vietnam single-handed! An Asian mad scientist who gets wiped out by Godzilla's ugly cousin! And JADE! What else do you need?!

The Avengers: "The Positive-Negative Man" -- The Avengers began as a take-off on the spy-craze of the '60s, but I think TPNM is one of the best science fiction episodes ever made. It took a concept that's been bandied about since the 1930s (projected power -- electricity reaching homes, cars, airplanes, etc. from towers, just like radio waves) and took it in a totally new direction. The Positive-Negative Man himself, silent and shiny-gray, accompanied by ominous generator hums and electric crackling, capable of knocking people through brick walls with a touch of his finger, is one of the small screen's most memorable "monsters". Then there are John Steed and Emma Peel at their best, exchanging witty lines of dialog.

The Prisoner: "Hammer Into Anvil" -- When the newest Number 2 tortures a woman to the point of suicide, Number 6 shifts his campaign from trying to escape to destroying Number 2. He flashes Morse code out to the empty sea, writes gobblety-gook messages in code, and speaks spy-type "messages" into the ears of Village personnel, all in full view of the hidden cameras. The paranoid Number 2 eventually comes to believe Number 6 was sent to spy on him, and that the Village staff are helping 6! It's interesting to think that The Prisoner (so-called) could outsmart the whole Village if he was fighting for someone else (or their memory); had he put this much effort into his escapes, he would been back in London after a week. The only thing missing from "Hammer Into Anvil" is Rover, the living balloon thingy, but, hey, you can't have everything!

Star Trek: "Balance of Terror" -- Sure, it was a WW II submarine movie translated to outer space, but "Balance" is probably the best "battle among the stars" episode ever. After a hundred years of uneasy peace, the Romulans (never before seen by humans) are trying to sneak across the Neutral Zone using their latest invention, the cloaking device. Only the Enterprise is available to stop them before the situation escalates into a galactic war. Rather than just phaser-ing off in all directions, the captains and officers on both sides try to outthink their opponents, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. And no wonder that one guy is suspicious of Spock -- the Romulan commander looks just like Spock's father!

Monty Python: "Full Frontal Nudity" -- Not what you think, really! This episode features the Colonel, the stuffy military officer who hates all things silly. It contains the infamous "Parrot Sketch," as well as "Hell's Grannies," and the hymn that essentially became the show's theme song ("England's Mountains Green"). The only slow part is some bit with hermits living on a mountainside. Otherwise it is the quintessential Python show. Except that it's too silly.

Kolchak: the Night Stalker: "The Ripper" -- Robert Bloch's most famous short story was "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," in which we learn that the infamous London killer has become immortal by making blood sacrifices to "the dark gods." In later years Bloch complained that other writers, movies, and TV shows were stealing his concept of an immortal Jack stalking the world. But the Ripper has become "immortal" on his own, a dark apotheosis like Vlad the Impaler forever with us as Dracula, or like all the clones, cryogenically frozen bodies, and saved brains of Hitler. While Bloch's Ripper was a chameleon who hid among us, trying not to draw attention, Kolchak's Saucy Jack is a blatant, over-the-top super-villain who parades around in front of God and the world in Victorian finery and wades through armies of cops sent to stop him. He's as arrogant and in-your-face in his own way as Freddy Krueger, yet he doesn't receive a word of dialogue. "The Ripper" has the most amazing cops vs. monster fights of the series -- outdoing the two TV movies as well, in my opinion, and possibly outdoing any other hand-to-hand battles ever staged for the small screen. At the end there's possibly the oddest hero-confronting-villain bit of all time -- Kolchak hiding in the Ripper's closet, a scene terrifying and hilarious at the same time.

Connections: "The Trigger Effect" -- James Burke's show started off with a bang, using the 1965 New England power blackout to show how dependent we have become on technology. And he piles it on: If the power went out permanently, what would you do? Flee the city? Do you have enough gas? Can you beat the streaming millions? If you reach the country, could you find shelter? Food? If you staked out land, doesn't someone probably own it already? If farmhouses are the only shelter, will you take one by force? Burke goes on and on about what a delicate mechanism our modern society is. Really makes you think.

Sherlock Holmes: "A Scandal in Bohemia" -- The first and best episode of the Grenada series. Jeremy Brett made everyone forget Basil Rathbone. At last Dr. Watson is shown to be fairly intelligent and capable. And in Irene Adler, we are introduced to "the Woman", a "villain" who stalemates Holmes and comes as close to stealing his heart as any female. (And in various Holmes pastiches, she does, but that's another story.)

Unsolved Mysteries: "Dennis DePew" -- which begins with the curious adventure of Mr. and Mrs. Thornton on their Sunday drive. They see a mysterious van seemingly wherever they go -- and its driver, who dumps a blood-covered sheet behind an abandoned school.  (The beginning of this episode rather obviously inspired the opening scenes of the movie Jeeper Creepers.)  We find out the driver is one Dennis DePew, who had just killed his wife, and the update shows him with his new wife, watching his own segment on Unsolved Mysteries! He flees, gets chased by the cops, runs a roadblock, and, after a pitched gun battle, he shoots himself. A Hitchcockian beginning, a nasty villain, a sequel that folds the show itself into the plot, a police chase and gunfight as good as any fictional cop show, and eye-for-an-eye closure to what had been a -- well -- an unsolved mystery!

Batman: the Animated Series: "Heart of Ice" -- This, the third episode of B:TAS to be aired, introduced Victor Fries, aka Mr. Freeze, formerly a very minor villain, and made of him an epic, tragic figure. Freeze, who looks like something out of an old issue of AMAZING STORIES, is cold, calculating, and terrifying when out for revenge on the man who put his wife in a coma. However, he is driven by his love for his wife, and in future appearances he goes to any length to cure her. One might make parallels between Bruce Wayne and the Joker, but I think Fries, with his tragic origin story, is an even closer "shadow" of Batman.

The X-Files: "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" -- Just the teaser to this one made me think I was in for one of the great audio/visual experiences of my life, and I was right: A young couple driving down a country road is abducted by Grays -- who are themselves attacked by a monstrous Cyclopean creature from a second spaceship! This episode was like the whole series rolled into 46 minutes -- conspiracies, hoaxes, abductions, Men-in-Black, a shaggy monster, an alien autopsy, all seen from the point of view of a writer, Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Riley), who has the uneviable job of trying to make sense of it all. It's also the most "Keelian" episode of any show I've ever seen; you'd have to know a bit about John Keel's UFO books to understand what I mean. It's too bad Fox Mulder seems to be unfamiliar with Operation Trojan Horse; he comes off looking like a raving lunatic by the end. There's even a cameo by The Amazing Yappi (from "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"). And, like the UFO buff in "Jose Chung . . .", I often find myself shouting, "You can't hide the truth forever! Roswell! Roswell!"

The Wonderful World of Disney: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” First aired October 26, 1955, Uncle Walt’s Halloween episode consisted of an animated life of Washington Irving, followed by “Sleepy Hollow,” excerpted from 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I now own nearly all the works of Washington Irving, an interest sparked by this annual showing. “Sleepy Hollow” itself, narrated by ol’ crooner Bing Crosby, is delightfully creepy (yet quite funny), and that unsettling ending (did the Headless Horseman get Ichabod Crane or not?) followed me into slumber on those distant October nights. The episode ends with the Headless Horseman rearing maniacally on his black horse, as Bing Crosby announces, “Ooooh – I’m getting out of here!” That’s where the original movie ends, but on TV, there follows a flash of Walt himself saying, “Uh-oh! I’m getting outta here, too!” and dodging out of the frame.

The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: “Sharks” was the first episode of “Undersea” and possibly the most memorable. I don’t know how it was packaged in Europe, but in the USA the documentary was narrated by Rod Serling, with a framing sequence showing Serling walking through a museum, talking about those ancient carnivorous proto-fish. He passes along a fiberglass model of a Great White seemingly the size of a city bus as he touches upon the subject of the prehistoric monster shark Megalodon, and the framing bit ends with Serling hauling up a fossil Meg tooth and setting it up against the dummy shark’s smile. The black, obsidian-shiny tooth looks like Mt. Everest behind a row of white hills . . .

The episode itself is great; I never tired of seeing Capt. Cousteau and the Calypso sailing the seas, exploring, charting, and measuring. Cousteau and company made science fun and interesting, and who can forget those eerie, beautiful underwater shots? Education with an environmental message for the masses. Then there were the subjects of this episode: enough views of massing, frenzy-feeding sharks to give Peter Benchley nightmares!

All Creatures Great and Small: “Nothing Like Experience”: This is one of those episodes that contain the whole series in a nutshell. Siegfried gives a soliloquy on the unbreakable spirit of the Yorkshire farmers, represented in this show by the Dalbys, who survive tragedy after tragedy as the series progresses. And we see their opposite, Mr. Cranford, a miserable old man who tries out an insurance scam on James Herriot.

James takes his future wife Helen Alderson on another disastrous date, yet Helen always seems to have a good time. Siegfried pulls his usual ploy of accusing James of bad habits of which he (Siegfried) is guiltier, and for once James gets to rub the elder Farnon’s nose in his own good-natured but annoying hypocrisy. And of course, for the fortean viewer, there is that notorious Hooded Entity, the Ghost of Raynes Abbey, aka Tristan Farnon! The only thing missing is Tricky Woo.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Little About Myself

Now that I have a coveted Author's Page on Amazon, I'd better get to work entertaining and educating readers with my blog, "A Wondrous Portal Opened Wide."  I might introduce myself with a few personal statistics, as I did years ago on my web-page, "The Fantasy World Project."

Publishing History


"Typo": Fantasy Book #23, March, 1987.
---- Reprinted in Cthulhu's Heirs (Chaosium, 1994), edited by Thomas M. K. Stratman.

". . . a solid effort about a retiring librarian who stumbles upon a dark secret lurking in the bowels of Miskatonic University's new library computer network." -- Joseph K. Cherkes, Haunts #28 (Summer/Fall 1994)

"Wolfhead": Tales of the Witch World 3 (TOR, 1990), edited by Andre Norton.
"Old As You Feel": Amazing Stories 68:7, October 1993.
"Landscapes": Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine #21, Fall 1993.
"Future History": Pirate Writings 2:3, Summer 1995.
"Toon-Boy": Going Postal (Space & Time, 1998),edited by Gerard Houarner.
"The Humblest Things": Would That it Were 2:2, April-June 2001.
"Victims": #10, Summer/Fall 2003.

"This story grabbed us by the throat and didn't let go until the very end." -- Editorial, #10.

"The Autumn Beast": Here & Now #5/6, Spring 2005.
"Drabble #2 (An Embarrassment of Rippers)": Farthing SF, Fantasy and Horror #1, July 2005.
"Drabble #3 (Their Voices Are Heard)": Farthing #1, July 2005.
"Life-Form": Flashshot August 18, 2006.
"The Book of Cain": Bound for Evil (Dead Letter Press, 2008), edited by Tom English.
"Mental": Glimmerglass Vol. 1 (Bookemon, 2009), edited by John Small.
"Curious Adventure of the Jersey Devil": Panverse 2 (Panverse Publishing, 2010), edited by Dario Ciriello.
"Sudoku Tako": Journal of Eschatology (December 2010).
"Mimsy": Necrotic Tissue 14 (April 2011).
"In Your Own Back Yard": Journal of Unlikely Entomology no. 4 (Nov. 2012).
"Electronic Voice Phenomena": Speclit, July 5, 2014.
"Revisionist": Speclit, July 31, 2014.
"Origins": Gods with Fur (FurPlanet Productions, 2016), edited by Fred Patten.
"A Wondrous Portal Opened Wide": Illumen no. 26 (Winter 2017).
"Hoodies and Horses": Dogs of War (FurPlanet Productions, 2017), edited by Fred Patten.
"After the Matilda Briggs Went Down": Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (July 2017).


"The Cthulhu Mythos": Scream Factory #7 - #9, Summer 1991 - Summer 1992.
"The Lost Notebook of Diedrich Knickerbocker": The Unspeakable Oath #11, Fall 1994.
"Charles Fort":  The Unspeakable Oath #14/15, 1997.
"Charles Fort's X and Y":  Ibid.
"Formidable Visitants": Dragon Magazine #252, October 1998.
"Hoodwinks": Anomalist #10, March 2002.
"H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds": The First Line 7:1, Spring 2005.

-- Since the end of 2017, however, I confess that most of my efforts have gone to creating Kindle books.  Eventually, though, I will graduate to hard copy books, then, as Amelia Earhart might say, the sky's the limit!

A Few of my Favorite Things

Favorite Movie: Apollo 13.
Favorite Author: Andre Norton (by sheer numbers!)
Favorite Book: The Wild by Whitley Strieber.
Favorite Short Story: "Kaleidoscope", "The Fog-Horn," "The Crowd," "A Sound of Thunder," or "Mars is Heaven!", but it's definitely by Ray Bradbury.
Favorite Poem: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by Robert Browning.
Favorite Vignette: "I Can't Claim That" by Manly Wade Wellman.
Favorite TV Show: Kolchak: the Night Stalker
Favorite Album: Fantasy Film Worlds of Bernard Herrmann.
Favorite Song: "Radar Love" by Golden Earring.
Favorite Magazine (single issue): Fortean Times no. 40 (Summer 1983).
Favorite Magazine (in general): the late Uncle Forry's Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Favorite Radio Program: Thistle & Shamrock on National Public Radio.
Favorite Map: Indians of North America from National Geographic, December 1972.
Favorite objet d'art: the Kitsune (White Fox) statuette that came from someplace called Wony, Ltd., in Italy.
Favorite Cartoon Short: that epic meeting between Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, "Operation: Rabbit".
Favorite Comic Strip: From kindergarten to the present day, I'd still say Peanuts by Charles Schulz.
Favorite Comic[s]: Marvel Premiere 45-46, containing the quintessential Man-Wolf tale.
Favorite Mythical Creature: the Gryphon!


One item that might start fading away, however, is my old web-page, which has mutated and changed over the years, but which is at its core the same site I constructed for my HTML class in 2000.  I'll have to figure out how to re-present the material from "Fantasy World Project" on "Wondrous Portal" -- the material I want to keep, that is.  A few lesser comments and items may just go out to cyber-pasture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The E-Books Are Coming

The genie is out of the bottle.  There can be no turning back.  I slowly but surely learned how to prepare an e-book for, and now that one is done, more are sure to follow.

The Adventures of Hawkmoth and Luna

Coming in a matter of weeks, for instance, will be Dragonfly Woman, a full-fledged novel, in which we learn what really happened to aviator Amelia Earhart on her round-the-world flight in 1937:

            Amelia clambered up the vine and gasped.  A lionlike form lay stretched out on the fuselage.  Wings as long as the Electra’s – or at least a Vega’s – rose from its back.  The monster lifted its eaglelike head, and its ears snapped erect in interest.
            She had never seen such a beast before, yet she knew its name.
            “A gryphon,” she gasped.
            The gryphon studied her with red-gold eyes.  It made garbled noises like a parrot, punctuated with an occasional clack of beak.
            Something hit the mile-long lianas above AE’s head.  Tendrils snapped in her hands.  She grabbed a heart-shaped leaf, which tore.  She fell.
            A second gryphon clung to the vines like a cat up a telegraph pole.  It watched her drop with a disinterested expression then it sprang away.
            Amelia’s foot hit a tendril.  She spun in the air and grabbed at braided creepers.  They left the palms of her hands tingling as if she had slapped a brick wall with all her might.  She remembered a hundred pulp magazines in which heroes jumped from buildings and deftly caught branches or flagpoles.
            Note to self:  Cancel my subscription to Argosy.
            Feathers eclipsed the morning light.  Iron-hard shackles clamped around her upper arms.  Her descent stopped with muscle-spraining suddenness.
            Gray wings beat explosively to either side.  She touched one “shackle” and felt bony bird claws.
            Another eagle head twisted down to look at her.

            “My guardian angel,” gasped Amelia.

More works wait their turn in the queue.  I'm staying up late every night now, editing, reviewing, proofreading, tweaking and then doing it all again.  Well, that's pretty how much I envisioned my life would run, so . . . On we go!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Dream I Had on June 17, 2009


Ten years ago I posted often on the Werewolf Cafe Forum.  I faded away from the Forum, and my personal thread was dropped.  Yesterday, however, I discovered a years-old "snapshot" of the Cafe on an archive site similar to the Wayback Machine.  For some reason I described a bizarre -- but fun -- dream I had in June, 2009.  Reading over it -- I think it's worth posting again!


Just to write something I'll outline the goofy dream I had last night.  I was the tired-est (most tired?) I've been in a long time, staying up to 1:00 am to do homework and online-quizzes, and this night taking our accounting class's first harrowing timed test.

I went home, sat on the floor to put some books on the lowest bookshelf, and nearly fell asleep there.  Barely made my way to the couch . . .

And I dreamed that I was some sort of petty thief, breaking into the main offices of a zoo to steal their take (I have no idea if that would be worth the trouble in real life).  The zoo offices were an endless maze of corridors, offices, doors, and even the entrances to the back-sides of the animal enclosures.  I had my swag, but I was totally lost.

Suddenly zookeepers or attendants came running down a hall.  One seized me by the shoulders.  "The White Tiger's escaped!  Don't just stand there -- look for it!  And whatever you do, DON'T TELL ANYBODY IT'S OUT or there'll be a panic!"

Then he ran on.  I continued looking for a way out.  I opened doors at random, and, wouldn't you know it, the white tiger was behind one.  So I ran and slammed a few doors behind me.

I somehow ended up behind the animal enclosures.  I opened a door and found a snow leopard's enclosure.  For some reason (perhaps because a friend of mine identifies with snow leopards) I was totally unafraid of it.

I opened another door and stepped out into another enclosure that was dark and apparently deserted.  I thought I could sneak out this way.

But then lights flashed on, and I saw that dozens of people lined the rail of the enclosure.  And a loudspeaker announced, "And now, Zookeeper Smith presents the White Tiger Cubs!"

Sure enough, here came 4 or 5 white tiger cubs gamboling in from stage left.  I held one up and people clapped.  One weisenheimer in the audience asked, "Where's the cubs' mother?"

Fortunately, the snow leopard leapt into the compound.  I stroked its fluffy fur and said, "Here she is!"

"That's not a tiger!" yelled the weisenheimer.

"Uh . . . They're adopted."  (Seriously, I said this in my dream.)


This is longer than I thought, so I'll break it in two.  So anyway I was rubbing the snow leopard's fluffy fur, when it crouched, head low in that feline about-to-pounce stance.  You've seen zoo enclosures, with a mesa-like living area, then the deep gully or moat, then the wall and railing for the people.  Well, this gully was only a few feet wide, and the railing was only a couple of feet high.  No wonder the White Tiger escaped, I thought.

Now the snow leopard jumped out as well, and the crowd parted for it.  I must have taken my faux role as zookeeper seriously, because I jumped out myself and ran after it.

I ran out the zoo gate and down the street.  On my right a safari truck full of zoo personnel roared by, leaving me in their dust.  On my left, Doc Savage, Man of Bronze, caught up with me and passed me.  (I had just moved my Doc Savage paperbacks from one bookshelf to another -- oh, never mind.)

Suddenly it occurred to me:  I had been trying to escape the zoo, myself.  So I kept running . . . and veered off down another road.

Now another vehicle passed.  This was a grimy old jeep full of the most cliched, typecast Southern rednecks you could imagine, wearing overalls and dirty T-shirts, their vehicle bristling with shotguns and rifles.  One of these fine gentlemen looked back at me and yelled, "Lookie there -- another one of them long-haired hippie Commies!"  Whereupon the jeep started in on a long U-turn.


This is the last chunk, really.  Anyway, they plainly meant me, so I dashed down a side street while they were turning.  The jeep was really slow, or I was faster now, because I managed to get by a few properties and jump under a long hedge before they turned the corner.  I pulled myself through the hedge into a yard -- actually a muddy garden -- and I lay stomach down, parallel to the hedge.

But the jeep stopped beside that hedge and honked the horn.  Then these bright outdoor lights flared on the eaves of the house sitting on the property.

"Hey, Bobby Ray!  Fetch yore shotgun and come on!"

Somehow I had chosen the yard of one of the rednecks' cronies to hide in.

(Kind of odd:  Usually my dreams take place in dim light.  If I try to flip on a light, the bulb won't work.  In fact, I'll do that in a dream to determine if I'm asleep or not.  The zookeeper's truck, however, had blindingly bright lights.  The redneck's headlights were dim and yellow, but the outdoor lights of the house were again blindingly bright.  Go and figure.)

Anyway, the cliched rednecks were piling out of their jeep, and ol' Bobby Ray was opening his front door, no doubt with firepower of his own.  With those glaring stadium lights, I couldn't imagine them missing me, down in the mud though I was.

Then, through the leaves and branches of the hedge, I saw the white tiger and the snow leopard padding up the street.  They sent out a telepathic message:  "Come with us."

I might have, but I was sure the gun-toting rednecks would see me.  And the tiger was pretty fierce-looking.  So I stayed in the mud.

The tiger stepped closer and snarled.  "Come with us or I will have to drag you along!"

Well, I didn't want tiger fangs sinking into my arm.  So I dragged myself back through the hedge and started down the street, flanked by the two big cats.

Then I woke up.  I didn't say it was a story -- just an interesting dream!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Long Walk

Once a decade or so, I try to purge a few magazines.  I have thousands of books already; I don’t need magazines stacking up too.  So I looked over my oldest science magazines, figuring that their articles would be the most dated and most easily culled.

One of the oldest issues I have is Scientific American from November 1992.  There are actually several items here that are interesting, enough to make this issue a “keeper”, such as an article on the “Cambrian explosion” of life-forms about 600 million years ago, and another examining the relationships between Native American languages.

But I want to look at one tiny sidebar story that, again, is a randomly found item that curves toward the “Missing 411” series.

Actually, the subject is sort of peripheral to the 411 stories, but many discussions of the subject mention it:  the shoes, with severed human feet in them, washing ashore in British Columbia and Washington state:

The article in Scientific American is not quite so grotesque:  It appears that, on May 27, 1990, a freighter was caught in a powerful gale in the northeastern Pacific, and five shipping containers of Nike shoes, containing 80,000 tennis shoes altogether, were lost overboard.

And in early 1991, a decade and a half before the severed feet phenomenon began, the sneakers started washing ashore in British Columbia and Washington state.

Curtis B. Ebbesmeyer, who worked at a marine instruments company, and W. James Ingraham, Jr., of the National Maritime Fisheries Service, thought this made a great opportunity to study currents.  However, said Ebbesmeyer, “I tried to find the scientists who were tracking down the shoes, but nobody was.”  So Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham, with the help of a “network of beachcombers,” did it themselves.

About 1300 of the waterlogged shoes were recovered.  Using computers to backtrack the drift, Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham found out something interesting:  That the shoes washed ashore in British Columbia and Washington was itself something of an anomaly.

It seems that in most years the waters of the tropical Pacific would have been warmer, and the currents flowing north through the Salish Sea (the waterways around British Columbia) would have been faster and more powerful.  Under normal circumstances the shoes should have drifted to Alaska before coming ashore.

Perhaps, being weighed down with flesh and bone, the mystery shoes of recent years were heavy enough to beach farther south.  Or perhaps beachcombers in Alaska should be on the lookout for the grisly artifacts.

Powell, Corey S., “Flotsam Footwear,” Scientific American Vol.267 no. 5 (Nov. 1992), p. 26.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Loren Coleman's Mothman: Evil Incarnate, which includes a sizable Appendix by Michael D. Winkle, "The Mothman Annotations," is to be released on December 15, 2017.  There's still time to pre-order:

Mothman: Evil Incarnate

AUTOGRAPHED - Mothman, Evil Incarnate: The Unauthorized Companion to The Mothman Prophecies by Loren Coleman (2017)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tales to Make Your Skin Crawl

Folklorist Henry W. Shoemaker, in an article called "Central Pennsylvania Legends," passes on a strange story he heard from an old man named Henry Rau, in Penn's Creek, Snyder County. It seems that in April of 1864 a farmer named Jake Sansom shot a male panther (mountain lion) as it raided his chicken coop. "He took the hide, which was a very fine one and very dark in color, and stuffed it with straw and leaves. We did not know of taxidermists or glass eyes in those days, so the completed job looked rather uncanny with the great empty eye sockets."

Mr. Sansom set the stuffed hide on the ridgepole of his woodshed. The cougar's mate lurked in the area for months thereafter.

That August there was a revival meeting held near New Berlin. Jake and his sons rode off in their wagon, leaving Mrs. Sansom and the crippled Sansom daughter to mind the house.

As if awaiting this opportunity, the female cougar invaded the farm, killed half a dozen hunting dogs, and hauled the stuffed skin of its mate down from the woodshed. She dragged the hide into the forest as the women watched.

Henry Rau emerged from his house to investigate the commotion. Mrs. Sansom told him what happened, and Rau gathered several men to chase the mountain lion. The Sansom men, on their way home, joined them. The panther's trail led to a pine forest on the slopes of Jack's Mountains. The hunters reached a spring and found, not one, but two cougars.

"When the larger brute wheeled, we noticed it had very imperfect eyes. We recognized it as the animated form of the stuffed carcass that for six months had been fastened to the ridgepole of old Jake's woodshed . . . I who had faced death at Malvern Hill and Chancellorsville allowed the two brutes to get away from me, without turning a finger to prevent it."

The men retreated. The whole neighborhood talked about the cougar dragging off its stuffed mate, "but our part of the adventure we kept dark." [1] A wise move.

In an article entitled "The Werwolf in Pennsylvania," Mr. Shoemaker briefly notes a similar story he heard in 1927, "of 'spook wolves' (stuffed wolves which went out at night and hunted)." Despite the title of his article, Shoemaker remarks that "These revived wolves could hardly be werwolves." [2] Still, there might be a connection.

Whoever heard of animal furs coming to life? Well, the Inuits of Greenland speak of artificial creatures called tupilaksTupilaks are often simply animal hides into which human and animal bones have been thrown. An angakok (shaman) brings the Frankensteinish thing to life with sorcery.

 A tupilak doesn't even have to be made from the hide of a single animal, or from skins of a single species. The Smithsonian publication Greenland Mummies displays a native drawing of a tupilak as a dog with a human head. On the same page is a photo of an Inuit carving; this tupilak has the head and upper body of a bear and the lower torso and legs of a man. [3]

Lawrence Millman's A Kayak Full of Ghosts carries the legend of a woman becoming a tupilak for revenge. There were once two hunters, Papik and Ailaq. Ailaq would harvest many seals, while Papik often came home with nothing. Jealous, Papik murdered Ailaq during a hunt. Ailaq's mother swore revenge. "The woman went down to the sea. She took along her bearskin rug and draped it over her entire body and let the incoming tide sweep her away." Later a group of hunters out on the ice saw "a she-bear twice the size of a house, with burning coals for eyes and sharp knives for claws." The bear invaded Papik's village, mangled the killer in his hut, and dragged him away "by his own intestines."
The bear lay down. When the people approached it, they found only a bear skin and human bones. [4]

* * * *

Suppose no one thinks to stuff a living animal skin to resemble a cougar, wolf, or bear? What would we have then? An animated fur rug? Strangely enough, there are stories of such things.

Manly Wade Wellman, the American fantasy writer famous for his tales of John the minstrel, created a pantheon of bizarre creatures for his Appalachian story-cycle, including "the Flat":

It lay on the ground like a broad, black, short-furred carpet rug. It humped and then flattened, the way a measuring worm moves. [5]

The Wellman book Worse Things Waiting contains an account called "Up Under the Roof," which he says "is as close to autobiography as I have ever come." If so, it would appear that Wellman's boyhood was haunted by a creature similar to the Flat.

Wellman was the only child in a large, crowded household, and his relatives seemed to resent his youthfulness. He was forced to sleep in a high, dusty, uncomfortable garret. In the summer of his twelfth year he started hearing something between the ceiling and the peak of the roof.

Years afterward, I was to see through a microscope the plodding of an amoeba. The thing up under the roof sounded as an amoeba looks, a mass that stretches out a thin, loose portion of itself, then rolls and flows all of its substance into that portion, and so creeps along.

The humping, flowing noise returned every night, to Wellman's dismay: "I was certain that it crouched there, almost within reach of me, that it gloated and hungered, and that it turned over in its dark sub-personal awareness the problem of when and how to come and take hold of me." [6] The one time he explored the area up under the roof he found nothing, but it appears another young boy had a run-in with an entity like the Flat, in Ireland, as described in Diarmuid MacManus' book Between Two Worlds (1977).

"Mr. George Hallet, a prominent professional man in the old city of Limerick, had a very queer experience when he was a youngster," during a summer holiday at Mount Temple House, several miles outside that city. Twelve-year-old Hallet slept in a bedroom on the second floor, next to a room full of old furniture and junk. He had no rug in his room.

Hallet had developed a habit of sleepwalking, but he always woke after taking only a few steps, whereupon he would scramble back into bed. One night he found himself at the opposite end of the narrow room. It was so dark he had to feel his way back.

However, he had not gone half way when one bare foot, put gingerly down as he felt his way, just touched something that was very soft and furry but by the feel of it flat like a rug. He stopped at once in alarm with his foot still poised, just touching the hairs of the "rug" . . . The next moment, in spite of himself, he lost his balance and his bare foot came down solidly on the thing he was so anxious to avoid, whereupon it let out a deafening, reverberating and blood-curdling scream and the fur, though still flat, seemed to come to life under his foot.

Hallet jumped into bed and pulled his blanket over his head, waiting through long, agonizing hours until the sun rose. Adult members of the household searched the room but found nothing. [7]

(I wonder if it is significant that both accounts of "Flats" concern boys aged twelve, and that they take place during the summer, in old houses where the layout of the building is important [to show how the boys were isolated near old junk]. The stories are even close chronologically: Wellman would have been twelve in 1915, and MacManus' 1977 book claims that Hallet's encounter occurred "fifty-five to sixty years ago," or between 1917 and 1922.)

* * * *

There is, in the folklore of North America, a bizarre critter called the Rumtifusel, an entity that resembles nothing so much as a flat, furry skin with a fine, rich texture like a mink coat. Sometimes an unsuspecting person investigates the Rumtifusel: "With a lightning-fast flick of its blanket-like body the Rumtifusel completely envelops its victim." [8] Off the coast of Chile, according to Jorge Luis Borges, fishermen must beware of "the Hide." The Hide resembles a stretched-out cow hide. "Its edges are furnished with numberless eyes, and . . . whenever persons or animals enter the water, the Hide rises to the surface and engulfs them with an irresistible force." [9]

Many legends of shape-shifters mention belts or hides of fur used to incite the change. The Norse warriors called "Berserks", for example, were thought to become wolves or bears in battle; the name "Berserk" means "bear shirt," referring to the furred skin believed to become an actual pelt when they transformed.

Some legends are a little blurry as to whether characters actually transform or simply wear quasi-living suits. The Selkies of Ireland, for instance, are described as people who slip on sealskins to become water-dwellers. Many stories speak of a man hiding the sealskin and taking a Selkie as a wife -- until she finds the skin again. The Navajos of the American West speak of "Skinwalkers." William Morgan's famous anthropological paper "Human-Wolves among the Navaho" lists many tales of Skinwalkers. A Navajo named Kejoji claimed to have seen one in his hogan one night as a young man. "The witch was after my mother. He was looking at her. He was in a mountain lion skin." [10] Another Navajo, Hajogo, told Morgan:

[S]ome older men put on skins at night, a wolf skin or a lion skin . . . I have always looked for tracks but I haven't ever found a wolf track or a lion track. (What kind of tracks would one of those men make?) They would be big, like a big paw. . . How do you think they work the tail? (I guess they just let it hang down.) No. They stuff clothes in it and then it stands out. [11]

These excerpts make it sound like the Skinwalkers are merely evil men dressed as animals. Other Navajo stories indicate that they take on wholly animal form.

* * * *

Perhaps certain costumes made of animal skins are "alive", conferring upon their wearers the senses and powers of the original beasts. Perhaps there is a spectrum of were-ness here: A would-be werewolf might start out with a costume that mimics an animal -- eventually he or she absorbs its power, or vice-versa. A new stage might be transforming with the aid of the skin. Finally, a full lycanthrope might appear, able to change without the pelt.

But what if a living skin is cast aside, or its master is killed? Such an entity might not accept life as a groping rug, humping and sliding like a hairy amoeba. More likely it would seek another human host. Perhaps Messrs. Wellman and Hallet just missed becoming Skinwalkers. Perhaps victims of the Hide and the Rumptifusel are not so much devoured as hijacked.

So if you ever hike down a forest trail and see an expensive-looking fur coat, all by itself, draped over a stump -- well, you shouldn't take what isn't yours. It just might take you, instead.


1. Shoemaker, Henry W. "Central Pennsylvania Legends," in George Korson, ed., Pennsylvania Songs and Legends. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1949), pp. 195-202.

2. --. "Neighbors: The Werwolf in Pennsylvania," in New York Folklore Quarterly 7:2 (Summer, 1951), p. 155.

3. Hansen, Jens Peder, et alGreenland Mummies. (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), p. 63.

4. Millman, Lawrence. Kayak Full of Ghosts. (Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1987), pp. 161-162.

5. Wellman, Manly Wade. Who Fears the Devil? (London: Star Books, 1975 [1963]), p. 98.

6. --. Worse Things Waiting. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Carcosa, 1973), pp. 4-8.

7. MacManus, Diarmuid A. Between Two Worlds. (Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe, 1977), pp. 16-18.

8. Tryon, Henry H. Fearsome Critters. (Cornwall, NY: Idlewild Press, 1939), p. 35.

9. Borges, Jorge Luis, and Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Book of Imaginary Beings. (New York: Avon, 1969 [1967]), p. 100.

10. Morgan, William. "Human-Wolves among the Navaho." Yale University Publications in Anthropology No. 11 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1936), p. 29.

11. Ibid., pp. 12-13.