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:

WINTER 2005

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:


EASY COME . . .

            "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?

THE DARK WOODS BOGEY-MAN


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.

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

Stories:

"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": deathlings.com #10, Summer/Fall 2003.

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

Articles

"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 Amazon.com, 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!