Sunday, September 22, 2013

Other Other-worldly Creatures

I think I mentioned, many, many posts ago, that ghosts are not the only thing that pull my interest. I'm interested in all manner of strange things including the type of stories that fall under cryptozoology, or, as my non-believer friends put it, nonsense.

To that end, though, I will watch Destination Truth, MonsterQuest, and River Monsters. When I'm really lucky, I'll stumble across a cryptozoology piece being presented on the Smithsonian or History Channel. That's like hitting the jackpot for me. And it happened just last week.

Did anyone else see the hour-long show devoted to mermaids??? I'm still slightly freaked out about it, and also slightly jazzed. Because I LOVE this stuff.

The show featured footage and photographs, some of them obvious hoaxes, and others clearly inexplicable. The guest on the show was a former marine biologist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) who had apparently come across the body of a being that could only be called a mermaid while working off the coast of South Africa. Although these half-human, half-fish beings are usually depicted in stories and movies as beautiful females with long, flowing hair and very comely features, the mermaids being discussed on this show had very little to do with the customary image, other than the tails. (And whoever dreamed up Abe Sapien for Hellboy must have seen some of this!)

If you are curious about seeing a creature that looks half alien, half fish, and makes underwater sounds that are even eerier than whale song, you might want to go to YouTube and look up things like "Mermaids The Body Found" or "Mermaids Cell Phone Video." The footage on these beings not only startled me, they still pop into mind even a week later, they're so strange.

And also glorious. For all the nonbelievers who refuse to admit even the possibility of other species whose existence we have not yet proven (mermaids, the yeti, the big black dog of England, etc), I can't help feeling that refusing to keep an open mind in this direction somehow makes the world a smaller and less wondrous place. And it also brings to mind that patent office administrator who announced back at the dawn of the twentieth century that patents were no longer needed because everything had already been invented.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Art Imitates Life, Life Imitates Art, and Like That

 A good friend of mine recently read my book Haunted and one of the first things she said to me was, "How much of what was in that book was based on what happened in your house?" It was a good question and one that, funnily enough, never occurred to me.

Everyone who knows me also knows that I grew up in a haunted house on the north side of Chicago. It's in my biography. It's in my profile for this blog. I'm sure it's in several other places including one or two interviews, so I would consider it to be common knowledge. The house where I spent my formative years was haunted.

When my friend asked me the question, I was surprised. Surprised that she had thought to ask that, and also surprised that I hadn't thought of that myself. So here's what I told her: Some of the details included in the haunting Cassie experiences are based on my own reality. I know what it's like to feel something cold sweep through a room. I have heard furniture shifting in other rooms when I was the only one home. I know all about a "witching hour," as Michael rather inaccurately calls it, starting at a particular time and also ending at a particular time. Yes, my house had all that, and more.

The funny thing, though, is (and I hope this isn't a spoiler if you haven't read the book, yet) the scenes where Cassie always pauses before she opens her bedroom door, feeling as if she's going to run smack-dab into someone who has been standing just on the other side, are based on feelings I have in my current house. Only in this case, it's not the bedroom but the bathroom. I can't count how many times I've paused in opening the bathroom door because I can't help feeling that someone or something is waiting for me to do just that.

The extent of the paranormal events that Cassie experiences is not something I am familiar with, however. To come up with that I just needed to run through my personal checklist of things that would totally terrify me and then write them into the story. I certainly have no wish to run into a dead young man who is covered in blood, waiting for me outside my bedroom door. (And if you haven't read the book yet, that sentence is not much of a spoiler. But if you haven't read the book yet, well, why not????)

I will say, however, that when I am working on a ghost story, any ghost story, this house comes to life even though I am the only one in it. I'm talking about inexplicable bangs down  in the kitchen, floors shifting in the hall just around the corner from my open door, the sounds of footsteps, and almost always, the sounds of someone coming into the house. No one is ever there, but the noises are plainly audible nonetheless. Good thing I write during the day!

Speaking of writing, I am spending serious time trying to recapture fear and dread in the follow up to Haunted, titled Dead Voices. It may not be quite as frightening -and according to some readers, they found Cassie's story to be pretty frightening- but it will at least be strange and eerie and involve Cassie and Michael once again getting involved with those who have already departed earthly life. The really scary thing for me is figuring out how to get this book up and running before Haunted is a year old, but that's my problem! I do hope, though, that when it hits, you all find it as entertaining and chilling as the first.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

All In the Family, Part 2 -OR- I Come By This Honestly

 Ghosts stories are nothing new in my family, so let's go farther afield, shall we?

The other week at my sister's family dinner, the subject of ghosts came up. Then my maternal uncle got to talking about stories he had heard at his grandfather's knee when still a little boy, back in the Philippines. Anyone who has ever read anything about my ancestral country knows that it has its own particular brand of strange.

For instance, the paranormal reality show (and no, for me that is not an oxymoron) Destination Truth once did a piece on the hanging coffins of Baguio, a mountainous area in the Philippines. No fooling. The people up in that neck of the woods bury their dead by placing them in coffins and then hanging them in stacks from the roofs of very remote caves located beneath the island. The investigators on the show got some interesting EVP's on their recorders and also had some experiences with the wrath of the spirits that guard the area.

And then there was the mananangal attack that actually made international news back in the '90s. I remember that because my supervisor at the time asked me if I believed in the creature. Up until that point, I had never even heard of it, so she showed me the news article. The mananangal is an unearthly beast that passes itself off as a beautiful woman during the day, but at night becomes a flying blood-sucker that attacks pregnant women. As if that isn't bad enough, it also separates itself from its legs when it goes out on these nightly sorties, so the horrified mother-to-be has the added nastiness factor of being attacked by the top half of the monster. 

I kid you not, this was actually in a Chicago-area newspaper. Apparently an entire village was under attack and there had been numerous assaults by this creature. I never did find out if they caught it. I guess American newspapers can only go so far when including stories of unheard-of monsters from far-away places.

That aside, my uncle told me a tale about a monster in his own village. Bottom line: this thing is a shape-shifter. It looks human, can shift into the form of an animal, and can also slip under locked doors in the form of a mist. And it, too, likes to prey upon pregnant women. 

When my uncle was a boy, such an attack happened on a woman in his village. The men of the village missed the man-beast at the hut and set out to hunt him down. Apparently, according to my uncle, they were able to catch the critter when he disappeared into some trees (mind you, this is in the dead of night and we're talking remote here, so finding someone who slips into the jungle isn't easy). The beast changed itself into animal form, this time as a pig, but made the mistake of leaving his shoes on, so he was captured. How many pigs wear shoes, right? They put him in the village jail but when they came to find him in the morning, the cell was locked and empty. So that must have been due to the mist thing.

The whole story, on the surface, sounds pretty funny, I grant that. Sitting in the evening, though, listening to a man, an engineer by profession though now retired, tell this tale with the fervency of belief, will shake one's reality if just for a moment.

A paternal aunt of mine in the Philippines keeps inviting me to come over for a visit. She says she has knowledge of an island that is teeming with supernatural phenomena and would love to take me there to explore. Maternal uncle, paternal aunt - I get this from both sides of my family!

So now I wonder: could my writing career ever make me enough so that I can take the trip and then write it off as research? But then I also wonder, do I really want to come up against a mananangal or a shape-shifter?