"....There are aspects of the Paranormal I intentionally avoid and always suggest others avoid. If you go looking for the darker side of the paranormal, you may find it. But opening a door, when you have no idea who or what is on the other side of it, should frighten you—my suggestion will always be not to play with fire."
-- from the author's introduction
"Ed, why do you keep asking me where it went?"
--from Chapter 4 Hunting Monsters
By John Olsen
For the last five years my late-summer/early-autumn tradition has been to read the latest book by John Olsen.
My Stranger Bridgerland review is here.
Beyond Stranger Bridgerland, here.
Stranger West, here.
Stranger U.S., here.
John's uniqueness is that his books only contain stories that he has found for himself via email, personal interviews, and site visits. Another appealing fact is that most of his stories (including those about his own youth) happen in the "Bridgerland" region of the Western US.
This August, Olsen published Beyond Stranger U.S: True Paranormal stories from across North America. Like previous volumes in the series, it is of modest length, but well organized. A standout feature of the book is original artwork by Kate Walker, sketches that are alone worth the purchase price.
Whether or not these tales relate something that "really happened" or not, their direct style and brevity, their plain-spoken yet uncanny power, are effortless and very appealing.
Below are excerpts from a few chapters that struck me and raised the gooseflesh.
* * *
1. My Mothers story
Olsen recounts an anecdote from his mom about their family home, which has given the Olsen family a lifetime of odd experiences. "....she could hear a woman crying uncontrollably," Olsen reports.
....What I find interesting about this is I know my mother has hearing difficulties, and if she could hear it, it was certainly loud.
* * *
2 Appalachian Trail Ghost
....When we got to a nice spot in the late afternoon, we set up camp. We made a nice dinner and sat by the fire. It was getting late so we went to bed in the tent. In the middle of the night, I woke with a start. I lay there in my sleeping bag, not sure what had woken me up. I was a bit disoriented. As I lay in my sleeping bag trying to go back to sleep, I began to hear footsteps. I could hear heavy boots walking around our camp. I was so terrified, I had no idea who might be at our campsite. The footsteps walked around our tent and stopped.
....I was just about to say, "let's go to bed" when the sound of footsteps started. I heard them coming up the trail towards our camp. I grabbed Jason's hand and arm hard. We both looked into the dark towards the sound, but we couldn't see anything. The footsteps walked right up to the edge of the firelight and stopped. We stared for the longest time, but nothing happened. Just as I was about to look away I started to see something strange. The outline of a man began to form in the light. Almost like the man was growing out of the smoke of the fire. Then the dark form walked forward into the firelight. It was a tall man with long dirty hair and an old weather-worn face. He had a gray wide brim hat and a long scruffy beard. His shirt was pale under a dirty coat. He had old-style pants and heavy boots. As he stood there, I was fixated on him. He walked almost to the fire, then he hunched down on his heels and looked into the fire.
I had a horrible feeling of dread and fear sweep over me in waves like the heat coming off the fire. After a moment, he looked up from the fire and right at me. A horrible, toothless smile came to his face. Then just like that, he vanished into the smoke and was gone.
....We packed up our things and we hiked out that night.
* * *
3 Black Eyes in Moose Jaw
....As soon as he finished talking that deep chill came over me again and I started to get a dreadful fight-or-flight sensation. Who was this kid? What was he doing out at 3 AM? Why am I so terrified right now?
...."I'm sorry you are sad Alesha, but we can help. Just let us in," he said calmly. Another wave of terror rushed through me as I realized they knew my name. I hadn't given my name to these kids, and I didn't know them.
...."Alesha, we can stop Greg from ever hurting you again. Just take us back home with you."
* * *
4 Hunting Monsters
....As I cleared the brush, I came into the canyon bottom, and it was a deep round bowl shape. As I took my first steps out of the brush into the quaking aspen trees, a deep sense of fear washed over me. It hit me like a rush of wind and seemed to penetrate right into my core. It was a warm day, and till now, I was fighting not to overheat as I hiked, but this feeling made me much colder than I should have been. I stopped to assess my situation. It was about 100 yards to the trees' edge before I was out and on the next ridge. It was a tight group of quaking aspen with three big old pines near the middle. My gut was telling me I should backtrack and walk around this area, but there was a well-worn trail right through the middle, so I brushed the feeling off. I told myself I would head quietly but quickly through and save myself the effort of walking around.
....I had taken about ten steps into the trees when I heard it. It was that deep metallic hum we had heard on the hills earlier in the morning.
....Everything seemed much darker than it had a moment before as if a huge cloud had blocked the sun.
....Directly in front of me, about 35 yards, was a large pine tree, and from behind it, something had stepped out into my path. It was about 8 feet tall and shaped like a large man, but it wasn't anything like any person I’d ever seen. It was a shiny black, almost like oil. I could see where the head was, but the only detail other than the shimmery deep black color was two enormous red/orange eyes. The eyes were almond-shaped, and the red/orange color was a mixture of bright brake lights and those of a cat's eye caught in a high beam light. The eyes seemed to glow from deep within. The deep black of its shape was a moving fuzz at the edges, almost like snow on an old TV set, just along the creature's outline. It didn't seem to have legs, it was almost like it was being poured into the ground.
* * *
5 Quake Lake Ghosts
....It was early evening when we passed West Yellowstone, and my Dad decided to head north. He wanted to see Quake Lake. When we got to the lake, it was around 7 pm.
....Dad told us about what happened the night of the slide. He talked about the people who had lost their lives that night and how scary it must have been.
....There was a large bright light in the trees.
....Over the years, we didn’t share this with many people. It seemed like a gift to have seen the orbs, or whatever they were. To this day, I believe it had something to do with the people who died there, but I don’t really know.
* * *
6 Alaska Sasquatch
....I had heard a lot about Sasquatch growing up, but thought of it mostly as an old wife’s tale or just a Native legend. I didn't know it was really a real living breathing creature. Late one night, I would find out just how wrong I was.
* * *
8 The Warning
....I thanked her and walked away. This is when I finally realized what was actually happening at my house, and to my kids! I instantly knew I needed to stop ghost hunting. When I got home, I put all of my equipment in storage until I could sell it, and then I contacted my Priest.
* * *
9 Lake Powell Lights
....it had gotten dark, and there was no moon. I had to sit at the front of the boat and point which way to go. Lake Powell is a very large lake that sits at the bottom of Utah and runs into Arizona. It’s known for its gigantic, towering rock faces. Some of these steep walls jet off the main lake into long maze-like canyons. It's easy to get lost back in these narrow waterways in the daytime, and so you can imagine how much easier it is to get turned around at night.
....The area where Lake Powell is located is well known for Native American pictographs and strange visions in the desert.
* * *
10 My Night on Route 666
Teresa and her high school friend have a bizarre late night road encounter.
..... I’ve learned that this section of road is now called Route 491 (the name was changed to avoid the stigma of the number 666). However, it is still considered one of the scariest 200 miles sections of road in the world. What Teresa and her friend Jill experienced late one night on Route 666 is strange, but definitely not unheard of, along this ominous highway.
* * *
11 It Was Not My Brother
....Just as I walked into the store I got lightheaded and disorientated for a moment. I was in my mid 20's, and in great shape, so it took me by surprise. I sat down on a chair near the front of the store for a few moments and got my bearings.
....As my head started to clear, I looked around and noticed the store seemed different than it had when I visited just a week earlier. The registers were on the right side of the store, but I remember them being on the left. I shook off my feelings of discomfort and started to focus again on the task at hand. I got up slowly and walked back to the medicine aisle. I was briefly frustrated again, it was taking me a minute to find what I needed because the aisle was not in the same spot as the last time I had visited. As I scanned over the medicine bottles, I noticed someone approaching me on my right. I glanced over towards the person standing next to me, then back to the meds. Suddenly, the realization hit me, and I turned around to see that the man that was shopping next to me was my brother Sam.
....He whipped around and stared at me with an irritated, almost evil look. Then he poked me firmly in the chest with his finger, and a low growl he said, "I don't know you. Now get the hell out of my face!"
....The cashier was a haggard-looking lady, probably in her 50's. She gave me the total, and I handed her cash from my wallet. I thanked her and looked up at her as I grabbed my bag to leave. Without another word, she just snarled at me like a dog. I was completely perplexed.
* * *
12 UFO over Cart Creek
....I began to realize that this wasn't a fire, but I was still confused about what might be producing this type of bright red light just under the canyon's rim. Something came into view and I instinctively slammed on my brakes! I quickly skidded to a halt. About 200 yards from my car, was a big craft. It was shaped like a smooth walnut round on the top and bottom, but it had a visible seam around the edge. It was glowing red, like molten metal. I stepped out of my car, amazed at the sight. As I stood there, staring. I could tell the craft was massive in size. It slowly floated up and out of the tree line. Then it moved slowly from the left of my view to the right without a sound.
* * *
13 Woman in Blue
....One Saturday in August, I was working the closing shift. It was a hot, muggy night. I moved slower than usual as I cleaned up the kitchen. My coworker Tammy was cleaning up the front area. She finished up about the same time as me. She helped take out trash and we locked up. When I finally got my Buick started and headed down the road, it was around 12:30 am.
The area I grew up in was very rural, and the road I took to get home was a curvy two-lane that didn’t see much traffic even in the middle of the day. At night it is dead quiet. I might see one other car on the road during my fifteen-mile drive home at night. I was about halfway home and I headed around one of the bends in the road. Just as I rounded the turn, I nearly jumped out of my skin. There was a woman standing in the middle of the road. I slammed on my breaks and slid to a stop. The woman appeared to be young, maybe in her early 20’s. She had dark hair and was wearing an old-style light blue dress and a white hat. I recognized the style of dress from very old pictures in my family's photo album.
....My dad looked shocked as I spoke, then he told me the story he had heard as a teen. Growing up in the area, my dad said he had heard the story of a young couple who had driven off the road in that area in the 1920’s. Both of them died when their car hit a tree. Legend has it that a few people have seen the woman's ghost in a blue dress pointing out the accident. My dad hadn't even thought about the story since high school. Confused, I finally just went to bed and fell asleep.
* * *
....I was an early morning driver who delivered the uniforms to various businesses. I would start at about 5 am and work till noon.
....No one had complained about my route, so I took my regular shortcut to my next stop. I moved to the entrance of the first subdivision heading west. As I approached my turn, I got a strange feeling and a cold sensation seemed to immediately fill the entire cab of my truck. I reached my turn and started my left-hand turn. As the truck turned, it felt like I was being dipped in ice-cold water. As I finished my turn, I could literally see my breath in front of me. I was scared to death by this overwhelming feeling hanging in the air.
I pressed my gas pedal to get back up to speed. I take this drive three times a week. I know it like the back of my hand, but something today was different; something was wrong. All of a sudden, I didn't recognize anything on the street. It was 6:30 am and the sun hadn’t completely come up. There was a lit little light, but not much. I stared in awe...what used to be typical two-story houses built in the 80s and 90s were now round-top igloo-shaped houses. They were all the same size dome-shaped gray houses with two windows and strange vehicles in the driveway. I slowed down to look, and I had a sick, lost feeling in my stomach. I was confused and anxious.
Had I turned down the wrong street? Had I missed my turn? Where in the hell was I?
....I got about 100 feet down the road and stopped. I was sitting in front of one of the dome houses, and it had a light turned on. Someone was peeking out the window at me. I looked at the vehicle in the driveway. It was so strange, and it looked like a big jeep or hummer with a plexiglass bubble around it. It almost felt like an encapsulated lunar lander, out of a 50’s space movie.
* * *
15 Mujer en Verde (The Woman in Green)
....“My mother told me her grandmother had told her of the Cihuateteo. They were the spirits of women who died in childbirth. Not all women who die in childbirth turn to Cihuateteo. However, some women are so distraught in death they become malevolent spirits. Some old cultures compare them to male warriors who died in violent battles because childbirth was, in some civilizations, considered the same as a battle. She told me that Cihuateteo comes back to walk the earth, trying to steal small children from their mothers.”
* * *
17 Upstate Monster
Moving from New York City to a small farmhouse in the country was a big shock for me. One thing that really bothered me at first was trying to sleep with no ambient city noise. It was way too quiet for me, and when there were sounds, they were the sounds of birds and animals, not the buzz of the city. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well for a couple of weeks.
....I was listening to the sound of a raccoon rustling through our moving boxes, trying to get in the garbage. I was about to get up and chase it off when a loud crash came from the tree line. At the sound, the Racoon quickly scurried off, I heard it run around the house.
....I sat quietly listening and soon realized all the normal sounds of the forest had stopped. There was an eerie stillness surrounding the house. I listened, waiting for the familiar sounds to come back. The next thing I heard was one of the trees bending and creaking as if it was holding a considerable amount of weight. I slipped out of bed and quietly moved to the window. Our bedroom was on the second floor, and our window faced out the back of the house towards the forest. It was a light night with the moon almost full. I scanned the scene around the backyard. At first, I couldn't see anything, but then some movement caught my eye. A large dark figure was standing at the edge of the trees. It was an enormous black figure. Based on the trees and things nearby, it was standing almost 12 feet tall. The shadow was skinny, gangly, and all black. It was standing just behind the brush with a long slender black arm pushing a large limb out of the way so it could look at the house.
...."What are you doing?! I told you not to go near those woods." Travis looked at me with a confused face and then scowled. "The man wanted us to follow him!" I got down to Travis's level and asked him, "What man?!" He turned and pointed into the woods. "The Tall man we wanted to play with us."
* * *
The men and women Olson interviews are pursuing everyday lives when they have their experiences. These are working class people, mostly on the way to or from their job, or out camping or hunting. Others are simply trying to get some sleep at night, including Olsen's own mother in the story that opens the collection.
I think this everydayness is why I find his pieces so interesting.
28 October 2021
“There is another world, but it is inside this one.”