Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tales of the Heebie-Jeebies.

I wasn't much of a student as a kid, but I was a real library geek. Growing up, I lived very near the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, possibly the best public library on Long Island at that time. When I was eight or so, I strayed from the kiddie wing into the main, “adult” area, and the first section I dug into, appropriately enough, was the 001 shelves, containing books on supernatural and paranormal phenomena.

Any volume about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, ghosts or UFO’s was destined for a two-week visit (or, ahem, longer) to my home, and certainly would be toted to St. Pius to show friends. I even did science fair projects based on these spurious subjects, and accordingly never saw so much as a runner-up prize. That always went to those stupid potato clocks. I wish I still had my clay model of Nessie's neck and humps drifting through a cardboard loch, past a painstakingly-recreated Urquhart Castle. My, what an odd boy.

The single most influential book of my formative years, hands down, was The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel. Ostensibly a book about a strange flying creature that appeared in Point Pleasant, West Virginia for a thirteen-month-long stretch of sightings, Keel wove his "winged weirdie" tale with dark elements of curiously interrelating phenomena, including UFO’s, telepathy, Men in Black and, naturally, extreme paranoia. Nearly choked with anecdotes, almost every page held some nugget that, if even only somewhat accurate, was stunning to me, an eye-opening account of the world around me not being what it seems. Of course, at such a young age, I did not pick up on much of Keel’s tongue-in-cheek wit, though that only gave me more to savor whenever I revisited the book, as I have many times over the years. I sometimes wonder what my worldview would be today if I had not encountered the book. Certainly I was not even close to understanding the world as it appeared, much less its tenebrous undertones. Keel himself has said that children should not be introduced to this genre.

That said, I have become (as you may have surmised from my grumpy sidebar profile) quite the skeptic as I’ve grown older. Although I maintain an interest, I take everything I hear in this vein with a 50 lb. sack of kosher salt. I can’t even listen to Art Bell while I’m driving, for fear that my strenuous eye-rolling will land me in a ditch. I have, however, had my share of peculiar experiences, and some of them are even related to The Mothman Prophecies. In the book, there are many cases of people being interfered with by unknown entities (MiB, for instance). People who were acquaintances of Keel’s were called by someone claiming to be him and told to lay off the UFO stuff. Some eyewitnesses were warned even before telling anyone of what they'd seen. Homes were ransacked with valuables ignored, but notes or objects pertaining to paranormal investigation taken or destroyed. Phone lines were tapped, and odd calls received with voices reciting strings of numbers or speaking gibberish. In one instance, Keel even discovered that his impersonator had set up a phone number one digit off from his own and was taking messages meant for him.

Strangely, a similar, milder sort of tomfoolery has happened to me, and to others I know who have read the book. For one thing, the book has disappeared from several Long Island libraries when I’ve tried to locate it. Sure, maybe some like-minded person swiped it, but my brother told me a story about our neighbor taking the book out of the POB library, keeping it overdue, and then having it stolen by some strange characters while hanging out with friends in some woods. (I won’t tell the story because I probably have the details wrong, but as I recall the story was pretty darn weird.)

Once I found the book at the Hicksville library and took it out. This was back in the day when there were cards in the backs of books showing when it had been checked out. I looked at the card and saw that the book had been checked out six months apart--every April and October, within a week or so--for over a decade. My check-out fell right into the pattern.

One time, I picked up the book to read the chapter about eerie phone calls, and the phone rang. I answered to find no one responding. I went back to the book and the phone rang again, and again no answer. I decided to set the book aside. About an hour later I resumed reading, and immediately upon picking up the book my silent friend rang once more. I stopped reading for the night.

Our pal The Feeb recommended the book to a friend, who was recovering after breaking his back in a diving accident. During the time he was reading it, one night his father called to him, saying he had a phone call from a friend he hadn’t heard from in a while. When he answered the phone, an unfamiliar voice spoke.

“Have you touched base?”
“Have you broken premise?”
“Who is this?”
“5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” Click.

Check out this link to a Google cache of a Fortean Times story by Rick Moran, who followed up on Keel's book with his own trip to Point Pleasant. (I used the cache because the actual link requires registration.) It's an interesting read, but the last segment (when he returns to New York to discover that he is now the target of some mysterious, possibly malicious mischief) is downright scary. Incidentally, the severely bastardized movie version with Richard Gere was okay, but far from the definitive version dreamed of by me and other nerds of my ilk.

(Oh, and I once gave an obligatory speech before my sixth grade class about the job I hoped to hold one day--"paranormal investigator." Although expected and deserved, the dispassionate stares of my peers were especially piercing that day.)

Keeping in the same territory, there was a story from some book about the paranormal that haunted me as a youth. The story told of a Minnesota woman who noticed an image of a hand that appeared on her television while it was not turned on (and not even plugged in, so the story goes). This occurred on Christmas Eve in 1968, and since she and her family were opening presents, a camera was at the ready and she snapped a shot of the image as it faded away. Reportedly, the hand had appeared the previous Christmas as well. This picture fascinated me. Was it real? What could it mean? I recalled the story a few years ago, and set about trying to locate the picture. I thought it might have been included in a book by Frank Edwards, though he specialized in UFO's. One day I was browsing through the occult section of Cameron’s Used Books in downtown Portland when I remembered my quest. The first thing I pulled from the shelf was an issue of Occult from October 1975. It was unusual to see a magazine on their bookshelves, as they normally reside in the enormous section of old magazines on the other side of the shop. I flipped through the pages and stopped right here:

What the hell are the odds of that?! Also weird is that the article (by Brad Steiger, a familiar name in this field) ignores the situation of the photo and instead concentrates almost entirely on analyzing the lines on the palm of the enigmatic hand, arriving at precisely squat. Although the circumstance and authenticity of this picture may be impossible to study at this date, I confess it still gives me a chill. (Check out a closer view here.)

Now I'd like to tell you a story from a trip to Newport a few years ago. Donna and I had a fantastic oceanfront balcony from which we enjoyed a stormy Pacific view. That night we sat and listened to music, drank, played cards, and now and then we’d stand at the rail to look out over the black waves and white crests, relishing the breeze. At some point we both noticed a line of six stars, odd in that that sky was utterly black, undetectably meeting the inky sea, and no other stars were visible. As we watched, it almost seemed as though these stars were moving slightly, but we figured the booze may have had something to do with that. After peering up at the tiny dots of white light for a minute or so, suddenly the light farthest to the left dipped dramatically, with the other lights following it as if on a string. The first light then rapidly u-turned straight up into the sky, still leading the others, and rose and rose and then they all disappeared. Donna and I looked at each other with our mouths agape. It was one of those moments that just about knocked you sober in an instant. We spoke excitedly about what we had seen and continued to stare out into the night hoping to see it again.

After a while, Donna crashed and I watched TV, but I could barely concentrate on the screen. I kept going back to the balcony and peering out into the blackness, wondering. At about three a.m., I saw another line of lights, again with barely perceptible movement. I stared and stared… and finally realized they were seabirds, lit against the absolute blackness by a large klieg light on top of the resort. We hadn’t noticed that light above us because there was nothing out there to reflect it, except of course the occasional line of birds. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but at least now I could sleep. If I had gone to bed earlier, I would today have a UFO story which no one could really refute. I'm glad I didn't.

Now that I've told a story demonstrating how deceptive one's own perceptions can be, here’s another story, which I have copied and slightly altered from another site of my writings. It is a true story, in that what I have written is my experience. Exactly what the hell was going on, I have no idea.

The Honeymooners

So I live in upstate NY, in a little dark hole of a nightmare called Cortland. It is said to have one of the highest incest rates in the country, although that rumor was probably started by the students of the SUNY school there. I have seen some truly peculiar specimens there, tho--the guy with the bleached blond mullet who hangs out around the laundromat wearing mascara and a halter top, the guy we called Gordon cuz his face was covered in fleshy knobs like a gourd (possibly the result of neurofibromatosis or whatever--you know, Elephant Man's disease), the sad cases of people so profoundly retarded they can barely cross the street by themselves (and yet there they were, out and about without a trace of supervision). Even the ordinary citizens are often ugly and surly and generally unpleasant. The place would be full of townies even if there was no college there... there'd just be no students to "appreciate" them.

The town is just south of Syracuse, and I swear winter lasts from mid-October to around mid-May. It is unremittingly dreary during this time, as much because of the people as the weather. The houses and buildings are drab, with the only businesses of note lining Main Street. There's at least a dozen bars, but only one movie theater in walking distance. Alcoholism, for townies and students alike, is the hobby of choice, cuz when there's a perpetual foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground, there's little else you feel like doing in your spare time but drink yourself into unconsciousness.

So, I live on a side street of Main, and my girlfriend, Kerri, lives on the street behind and parallel to mine. Since there's no way of crossing over in the rear, we have to walk around the block to get to each other's houses, which we regularly do at all hours. Even this short jaunt is perilous, due to the layer of ice that always crusts the shattered sidewalks. Every student has stories of injuring themselves while attempting to rush to class, and the comical sight of some poor dope trying desperately (and hopelessly) to upright himself from a flailing ice dance is a familiar one.

One night, for reasons lost to me now, Kerri and I decide to leave her house and go to mine. It is very late, even for a college town, four a.m. or so. The streets are deserted, and it is as usual bitterly cold. The wind is often so rotten it leaves you totally raw, your face stinging like you've been slapped repeatedly in the cheeks with a ping pong paddle.

I walk down the stairs of Kerri's house, out the front door and down the walk. She, naturally, has assured me she'll be down in a minute, and foolishly taking her at her word, I wait outside in the painful cold. It is incredibly dark, with few streetlamps lining the somewhat isolated lane. The street always feels like it’s been forgotten--no one seems to live on it, although there are always cars parked about. I see the occasional student during the day and that's about it. Tonight, however, is different.

As I stand near on the walkway leading from the house to the sidewalk, I notice two figures at the far end of the block. At first I thought they were carrying something, just because one of the figures seems... oversized, I guess you could say. They are moving so slowly it takes me a moment to decide if they are moving at all. As they make their idle approach, I see why the one figure appears so large--it is wearing a full wedding dress, with veil. The accompanying figure, I can now see, is wearing a tuxedo. They are still so far away that I cannot see their faces, but they continue toward me, shuffling over the warped and slippery sidewalk. The sight of them in the sparse light is so eerie (quickly verging, in fact, on terrifying), I consider running back into the house, but then Kerri is behind me and asks if I'm ready. I whisperingly point out the couple. She looks and says simply, “Let’s go.”

We hurry in the same direction that the bizarre couple is travelling (as that is the best way to my house), excitedly chattering about how creepy they look, are they just students playing a prank, etc. As we walk, we keep an over-the-shoulder eye on the shambling pair. They never give the impression of talking to one another, and in fact seem as if they are both sleepwalking. Kerri and I quickly turn the corner, giving them one last look as they approach her house. We take a few steps, then stop. I say, "This is ridiculous, we have to go back just to satisfy ourselves that there's nothing supernatural about it." She agrees and we turn and go back, mere seconds after turning the corner...

But they're gone.

I later learned that there are many areas in Cortland, especially around Main Street, that are considered haunted. I'm not saying I believe, you understand...

So what have you seen?


Blogger Morris said...

Neat stories!

God got me a frisbee! That's probably the closest I've come to something like that!

Thu Jul 20, 12:23:00 AM 2006  
Blogger MO'SH said...

Your speech at Pius was awesome! I remember listening to it on stage wishing I had written it. I don't even remember what my speech was; I probably wanted to be a Frank Buck or something...

Thu Jul 20, 09:24:00 AM 2006  
Blogger the feeb said...

i forgot about the have you toched base thing. creepy.
i do remember how freaked out you were after seeing the bride and groom. i believe.

Fri Jul 21, 10:50:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Dave Drew said...

Hey Paul, My oldest son (Dave too, not junior) went to Cortland and had a similar experience. Please send me an E-mail. We need to talk.
Dave Drew

Sat Jul 22, 05:29:00 AM 2006  
Blogger MO'SH said...

I remember how freaked out I was when I saw the bride and groom. Wait...who are we talking about?

Tue Jul 25, 11:34:00 AM 2006  

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