Sunday, October 28, 2018

"The Ultimate Alpha" Cover

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

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.

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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.

1872 -- August 14 -- George J. Reid, 21, lives in Xenia, Ohio, with his parents, two sisters, and a 15 year old male cousin.  On this summer morning he leaves his bedroom, passes through a second room, and emerges into the dining room, where the rest of the family are seated for breakfast.  Instead of sitting with them as usual, George crosses the room diagonally toward a window for reasons unknown.  Before reaching the window, he collapses and stops breathing.

Attempts at resuscitation fail.  The young cousin is sent after a doctor, who reaches the Reid house after only twenty minutes.  The weeping family, however, had given up hope; they had placed the body on the bed in the youth's room and had lain a sheet over it.

The tearful Reids stand in the room between the dining area and the bedroom.  The doctor enters the young man's room.  There is one window and the door to  the middle room -- no other way in or out.  "He saw, too, the outlines of the body under the sheet that had been thrown over it; and the profile was plainly discernible under the face-cloth, clear-cut and sharp."  He lifts the sheet, then yanks it away entirely.  There is nothing under it.

The remaining members of the Reid family all but faint.  The doctor has his hands full for a few minutes, but afterwards he examines the area.  The one window is locked and barred from the inside.  The Reids had occupied the middle room from the time they draped the sheet over the young man to that of the physician's arrival.  There is no way George Reid could have left unobserved -- even if he were still alive.

Various investigators, official and amateur, examine the house and grounds but discover nothing.  "George Reid was dead and 'gone', and that is all that that is known to this day." ("Bodies of the Dead")

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)