There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Never Go West: a review of Beyond Stranger Bridgerland: True Paranormal Stories from the west By John E. Olsen

By John E. Olsen

In introducing his second collection of proto-folklore interviews and anecdotes about uncanny incidents,  experiencer John E. Olsen writes, "By the age of 17 I was interviewing and investigating other people's interactions with the paranormal."

Beyond Stranger Bridgerland is slightly larger in geographic scope (and length) than the previous collection, Stranger Bridgerland. But the stories run very much to type: sightings, sensations, zones of panic in the austere mountain West. It can be read in one sitting, though I think the proper dosage is probably one story at breakfast, another at lunch, and one at bedtime. (Provided the bedtime chapter is not about Black-Eyed Children.)

I want to draw the attention of classic horror fiction readers to three stories: "Trolled on Mt. Naomi," "Not My Cousin," and "Ridge Watchers."

The artwork in Beyond Stranger Bridgerland is a step up from Olsen's previous book. The images resemble pen and ink works replicating photos, and give coherence to the landscape. It might be useful for volume three to contain a simple map.

Below are a few brief excerpts conveying flavor.

26 August 2018


1 Intro Grandmas Snowman
....He had his earphones in, listening to music while he worked.  He was moving right along when all the sudden, a creepy feeling came over him. He stopped and looked into the storage room. There, in the corner, was the snowman staring at him.

2 Wagon Train
....The next day I called the American West Center but they had said that there had been no activities going on.  They had no idea what I was talking about. I thanked them and hung up.

3 Old Tools
....My youngest was taking a nap and my 3 year old son was playing quietly in the sitting room.  Suddenly, I realized my 3 year old son was talking to someone. I could hear him talking. I thought he might be talking to himself -- which wouldn't be strange for a 3 year old -- but then I heard a man's voice answer back.

4 Old Rock Church
....They were very upset about something.  At first, I thought it must be coming from another suite but after listening further, it was definitely coming from inside our room.

5 Twin Falls Ghost
....We have loved visiting them but their house always seems a little off to me.
They live in an old farmhouse they restored.  I never said anything to them, but I always felt like I was being watched.

6 Kevin & the Shadow man
....Over time began to sense that the Shadow Man knew we could see him.  One night, around dusk, my friends and I were riding our skateboards when my friend Jason was pushed off his board. We looked in the direction from which he was shoved to see the shadow man running away from us. We chased him only to have him disappear before our eyes.

7 ISU Ghost
...."BANG! BANG! BANG!" the knocking came again. I turned on the light opened the door; no one was there. I was done! In a firm voice I said "I am not leaving, I am not afraid of you! I live here and you will NOT bother me anymore!" I closed the door and went back to bed.

8 Lost Pioneer Boy
....I don't know who that boy was or what he was pointing at but I never hunted in Scare Canyon again.

9 Grandma Ann's Visit
....I said, "Grandma, you passed away."
    She smiled and said "That doesn't mean I can't come visit from time to time."

10 Last Motorcycle
...."You have a beautiful family," he said to me.  I smiled and said, "Thank you." Then he looked back at me, his face turning very serious.  "I had a family once," he continued, "but I don't get to see them anymore since the accident."

11 UFO Snowstorm
....Just as we left Pocatello, the storm made an early arrival.  By the time we had left the freeway and headed past Downy it was a full-on blizzard.  It was becoming increasingly harder to see the road, and I was moving at a snail's pace.  A few hours later we had just reached the area between Swan Lake and Preston, Idaho. This area is nothing but farmland and sage brush with some gullies here and there.  As we traveled slowly South, I could see glowing lights off in the distance. I figured we must be coming up on an accident or a snow plow. As we got closer it became obvious that it was something entirely different.

12 Tincup UFO
....All of a sudden the beam shut off and some of the water that had been suspended in the beam fell back down with a splash.

13 Trolled on MT Naomi
[This chapter is a particular favorite of mine, breaking out of the typical Bigfoot/UFO box and conveying a powerful sense of sylvan Panic.]
....Suddenly I heard a sound that I couldn't place.  It was like a calling whistle. I racked my brain to think of any birds that sounded like that.  I sat up in my bedroll and looked for my headlamp. I was about to give up when I was struck in the chest with a small rock.  I froze and the whistle had stopped. I quickly slipped my boots on as my mind wandered. Birds don't throw rocks and I couldn't imagine what was up here that could throw one.  As I got my last boot on I remembered that my lamp was still on my head and I fumbled to turn it on.

14 Not My Cousin
....As I ran into camp I saw my mom roasting marshmallows on sticks for all the kids.  She demanded to know where I had been. I said I had been following Trevor up the trail but couldn't catch him.  That's when I saw Trevor sitting in a chair roasting a marshmallow. I asked him how he beat me back. Confused he explained how he had hidden under my dad's truck and I had walked right by him. He had never left camp.

15 Ridge Watchers
[There is a remarkable resonance between this anecdote and Fritz Leiber's sublime short story "A Bit of the Dark World."]
....I could see the figure down to about the waist and the rest of the shadow disappeared in the brush. It was enormous! Based on deer I'd seen up on that ridge earlier and brush around it, I guessed this figure was around 15-20 feet tall and it was deep black against the dying light.

16 Pilot Mountain Monster
....The west desert of Utah is filled with old mines. Some are marked on area maps but some aren't. I've explored many mines before that day, but this one felt very different from others I'd been in. The feeling started to change to something closer to dread. I was getting a deep sense that we were not welcome.

17 Skinwalker
....By the time I got home I was in hysterics.  I woke up my Mom and cried for 10 minutes before I could calm down enough to talk.  My mom thought it was just someone playing a prank but I was convinced it was something else.

18 Smiling Man
....I could tell he was a good 6' 5" or taller, bald, and under his hat his face had a pale complexion.  I got about 15 feet from him and I asked if he was ok. He jumped just a little then turned to look at me.  His eyes and face sent shivers through my body. He had bright blue eyes and an unusual smile across his face.

19 Late Night Visitor
....My husband asked if he should call the sheriff.  I told him I didn't know what I would tell him.

20 Halloween in Wellsville
....In the road that ran down the south side of the cemetery was a large moving van.  Lining the road on both sides of the van was about 10-15 people all in dark brown robes with full hoods that covered their heads and faces.

21 Lights Outhouse
....The younger boy spoke up in a quiet squeaky voice. "Did we forget to turn off the lights in the outhouses?"
    It was quiet for a moment and I replied, "There are no lights in them, there isn't even any power up here."

22 Golfing With Bigfoot
....Instantly all the blood left his face and his eyes where the size of dinner plates. He motioned at me to come towards him and then he turned and ran out of the gully at full speed. Without looking around me, I took off after him.

23 Wellsville Mountain Monster
....Sometime during night I woke up, something was very wrong but I didn't know what. I was trying to clear my head when I heard a strange sound.

24 Black Eyed at Midnight
...."You have to invite us in! We're just little girls!" She said this with a forceful tone.

24 Glitches in the Matrix
....After a few moments my wife looked up and said "didn't you already fill that?"

25 Bear Lake
....A settler of the Bear Lake Valley wrote two accounts of unusual events that happened to him while growing up in the area.

26 Hardware Ranch Lost Gold
....Their mules were dying and they were unprepared for such cold weather, so they hid the gold and tried to make it down to Ogden, Utah.  On their way, one of the miners froze to death. Nearly dead the last miner made it to Ogden where he spent the winter recovering.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Never Visit Utah: a review of Stranger Bridgerland: True Paranormal Stories from Northern Utah

Stranger Bridgerland: True Paranormal Stories from Northern Utah by John Olsen


Stranger Bridgerland by John E. Olsen is a pamphlet-length collection of interviews in the weird Fortean vein. They all come from Utah's Cache Valley, and the everydayness of life comes through nicely. People are going on dates, working on road crews or at Arby's, camping and fishing, when their day or night is utterly transformed.

Readers of horror fiction will be at home with this proto-folklore. While terms like "sasquatch" and "UFO" are used as rationalizations by some of Olsen's experiencers, a number of stories recall tales like "Out of the Earth," "The Shining Pyramid," and "Opening the Door" by Arthur Machen.

Stranger Bridgerland is best taken in small doses. Each interview is rich in suggestive detail. I found it useful to Google Map and Google Image the locations mentioned, and this wonderfully contextualized the chapters.

....The unfamiliar female voice called again, this time a little louder.  She sounded as though she had stepped into the foyer right next to the front room.  "Cody!" One of the boys looked at Cody and told him his grandma was calling him. With wide eyes Cody explained that his grandparents were on vacation and they were alone in the house.

....The Stair Monster started to show his displeasure by running from the front room and jumping off the step to land with a big bang in the middle of the room. He did this in the middle of the night. My dad didn't sleep very well because he had to sleep through these loud gymnastics routines.

....After a nice tinfoil dinner and talking by the fire, we decided to go for a night hike.  Not wanting to get lost in the desert, we decided to walk the railroad tracks so it would be easy to find our way back.  We grabbed our jackets and headed west along the tracks. After about 30 minutes, we stopped to listen to a pack of coyotes off in the hills to our right.  Out of nowhere, their yelps cut off and it became deathly quiet. As we stood there wondering what had stopped the coyotes, we heard a faint train whistle out in the distance.

....Just as we rounded a bend in the road, the sky opened up to a big ridge that sloped up to the south (our right), and the lead scout stopped.  He pointed at the hill and asked, "What is that?"

....I was awoken at around 2 am with Tim shaking my shoulder.  Even with the little light there was in the tent I could see his eyes were wide.  I asked, "What's wrong?"
   "Listen," he whispered.

....I fished while working my way up the canyon.  I was mostly crawling through thick brush as I walked about half a mile. I got to an opening and began fishing again when all of a sudden, I had a feeling of pure terror wash over me.  It was as creepy sensation, as if someone had poured cold water down my back. All the hair on my neck stood up. I stopped fishing and looked around. I couldn't see or hear anything. Suddenly, it hit me that there was no noise around me.  The birds and insects that had been singing up until now were dead silent. Even the river seemed muted and I felt a crippling weight in my chest. The fear I was experiencing could only be described as overwhelmingly primal fear.

....Across the river from me was a man standing and looking right at me.  It was not someone I had ever met, or anyone I expected to run into out in the woods.  He looked like an old time trapper, a young man in his late 20's but his face had seen hard times.

....He called out to see if I was okay.  At the sound of his voice I regained the use of my legs and I bolted.  I ran right past Brian and kept on going. I ran past Brian's house and all the way to my own home six blocks away.  Frantically I ran through my back door and up to my room. I turned on the light and sat shaking in my bed. My dad yelled from downstairs to check on me and I said I just come home to sleep.

[Readers of M.R. James' "A Neighbour's Landmark" will find this interview of interest.]

[An "innkeeper's tale."]
....The husband was standing in the hallway looking rather nervous.  He asked if they could check out immediately. Confused, I asked if something was wrong.  He hesitated for a moment then stated he and his wife were on the balcony enjoying the moonlit night when something ran across the parking lot right in front of them.  I told him there wasn't anything to be afraid of. I explained that there are a lot of animals in the woods during this time of year, when we didn't have many guests. Many people that visit are not used to the woods.  I suspected that maybe a bear or mountain lion had scared them. He looked at me and said it wasn't an animal they had ever seen before. I asked him to describe the
animal to me.  He shuffled his feet and said, "It ran on two feet."

....The noise was ten seconds in length, and I could feel it in my chest.  The scream elevated to sound that I can only compare to nails being drug across a chalkboard or like a woman screaming for her life.  The growl/scream had the intensity of a bull horn pointed right at us. I could feel my shirt collar vibrating. I don't think it was the wind, but the harsh vocalization that reverberated through me.

[Recalls "The Shouting" by L. T. C. Rolt and Machen's "Out of the Earth."]
....As I stood there in the dying light, I was about to get back in the truck when I heard something in the brush to my right, just on the other side of the stream. It was children laughing.  It sounded like 2 or 3 young kids laughing at me.

....As our walk brought us closer to him, we stopped to get a good look.  Just then he looked up with a snap of his head. He looked startled to see us and he had a confused, frightened look on this face.  I didn't want to alarm him so I smiled and nodded my head, my wife did a little wave and we started walking again. He did a little wave of his own and with big eyes he watched us walk away.

....As I walked out of the room he looked at me with droopy eyes and said, "If that girl comes here Grandma, don't let her in.  She scares me."

…."You have to invite us in or we can't get in your car.  We are just little children. We aren't going to hurt you or anything.  Just let us in."

....I handed him his bag and he nodded and headed out the door.  At this point I really wanted to see what a Viking drove so I hurried around the counter and to the door looking everywhere…nothing.  There was no vehicle and I couldn't see him. Thinking maybe he had walked towards the mall, I stepped out the door and looked around but couldn't see anything.

....As dusk was descending, we loaded our gear in the trucks and headed for the sheds.  Just as we started driving, the truck in front of me slammed on its brakes and everyone jumped out pointing back at Babbit Shanty Hill.  I looked back and saw that the silver object wasn't silver any more. It had turned a bright orange red color.

....We laughed and chatted for about 15 min when Jen pointed out something coming across the sage brush flat down the trail.  It looked like a tall skinny figure traveling rather fast.

25 August 2018


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft and Simone Weil: Sufferers

More separates Lovecraft from Simone Weil than unites them. Still, the description below of Weil's appeal shares something with Lovecraft's appeal and place.


THE culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live. Mostly it is a matter of tone: it is hardly possible to give credence to ideas uttered in the impersonal tones of sanity. There are certain eras which are too complex, too deafened by contradictory historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writer in suffering—rather than by the standard of an objective truth to which a writer's words correspond. Each of our truths must have a martyr.

....such writers as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Genet—and Simone Weil—have their authority with us precisely because of their air of unhealthiness. Their unhealthiness is their soundness, and is what carries conviction.

....Perhaps there are certain ages which do not need truth as much as they need a deepening of the sense of reality, a widening of the imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the sane view of the world is the true one. But is that what is always wanted, truth? The need for truth is not constant; no more than is the need for repose. An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may better serve the needs of the spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.

....We read writers of such scathing originality for their personal authority, for the example of their seriousness, for their manifest willingness to sacrifice themselves for their truths, and—only piecemeal—for their "views." As the corrupt Alcibiades followed Socrates, unable and unwilling to change his own life, but moved, enriched, and full of love, so the sensitive modern reader pays his respect to a level of spiritual reality which is not, could not, be his own.

....Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint...

From the essay "Simone Weil" by Susan Sontag (1963), collected in: AGAINST INTERPRETATION