Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Alan Loewen vs. The Oak Fairy: A True Story

In a previous post that I titled Ranger Loewen vs The Night People: A True Story, I began a series of posts concerning some of the odd experiences I have personally accumulated over my 60 years. Over the next few weeks, I hope to regale you with tales of "ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night" and you will either discover either the subtle reasons why I have become a writer of the darkly numinous or simply why I don't own nice things.

However, though I mark each title with the words "A True Story," I would encourage you to treat them all with agnosticism. These are, after all, nothing more than subjective experiences and I will never ask another human being to accept them as fact. I may be, after all, barking mad.
 Or I may have experienced some things that if you think too hard about them might be somewhat unsettling.
I was trudging along the wooded crest of the Blue Mountains in south-central Pennsylvania following the little-known and little-used Darlington Trail. The pouring rain had soaked me to the bone. All I felt was sheer torment. I walked with head down, concentrating on each agonizing step.

It was my second trip in the pouring rain carrying supplies to the four adults and ten young Cub and Boy Scouts who were hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was their support man and they needed the provisions I was ferrying back and forth from the van in the parking lot on Miller's Gap Road to the shelter where they were staying. It was one agonizing mile each way, and I would walk four miles through rough terrain before my mission was completed.

My back muscles were in full spasm and had been for several days from an unfortunate misstep I took before the date of the hike. My swollen ankles ached. My blistered feet burned. The rain on my face, streamed down my glasses, blurring my vision.

The one-mile trip took a full hour each way as with sheer force of will I slowly put one foot in front of the other. My senses were consumed in the pain and the sound of countless raindrops on countless leaves. My pride refused to allow me to ask for help. Anyway, the group had just completed a brutal section of the trail, and I felt it cruel to ask them to expend further energy that they did not have, especially as several of them were dealing with their own physical limitations. As for me, it had been months that I had expended so much energy in so short a time, and I was ashamed at the physical condition in which I found myself.

At the end of the first trip to the shelter, I had downed a Voltaren, a prescription anti-inflammatory medicine for back and muscle pain, but it felt as if I had taken nothing more than a sugar pill. As I took my second and final trip to the shelter, I was debating how I could disguise my pain from the group, and I honestly wondered how I could even make it back to the parking lot.

"Hullo," I heard. The voice was young, soft, feminine, and spoken with a slight trace of lisp. I jumped with a sharp intake of breath, jerked out of my preoccupation with my pain and gawked at the child who stood at the trailside. Walking as I had in my exhaustion with my eyes focused on my own feet, if she had remained quiet, I would have walked right by her never knowing she was there.

I stared open-mouthed. She stood next to a large oak tree, one hand caressing its rough trunk. Deeply tanned with Caucasian features, her long black hair lay flat with rainwater that streamed down her face and body. Her eyes, preternaturally bright and inquisitive, were as brown as her skin. She looked to be no older than eight or nine years old, a mythological sylph made flesh.

Incredibly, she was also nude.

My first emotion was one of complete despair. Here I stood in the middle of a deep wood with a naked, prepubescent girl and with no witnesses to testify to my stumbling innocently into a questionable situation. I could already hear the gossip rending years of what was a flawless reputation.

The second immediate emotion was one of anger toward this girl-child's parents. How could they be so foolish as to let their daughter run sky-clad through the Pennsylvania woods? Did they even know? Did they even care?

The child spoke again. "Are you hurt?" She seemed to be as unaware of her own questionable circumstances as Eve must have been on her first morning of creation.

"I am in a lot of pain," I heard myself say. She continued leaning against the tree, calmly and carelessly drawing random patterns in the muddy forest loam with the big toe of her left foot.

I sighed. "Sweetheart," I said in my best "talk-down-to-them-so-they-can-understand-you" voice, "it's very dangerous to be in the woods all alone. There are bad people who might want to hurt you. And there are mosquitoes and bugs." I nodded at a three-leaved plant standing near the trail-side. "Do you get ivy poisoning?" I asked.

She said nothing but shook her head in the negative.

I smiled at her as best I could in my suffering. "I really think you should go home right now. Where is your home? Are you lost? "

She did not answer. With a slow and graceful turn, she spun on the heel of her right foot and disappeared into the tree.

I know that strange sounds were coming out of my mouth for a good minute as I stared at where the child had been and the seamless tree trunk into which she had disappeared. I shook from the shock and with stumbling steps, I hurriedly made my way as fast as I could from the tree.

Two hours later, on the final pain-filled trip back to the van, I made a wide berth around the tree, staring at it with genuine trepidation. The tree stood impassively, with no elfin changeling leaning against its trunk.

What had happened here?

Is it possible that I experienced an avatar of that limited sentience that all religions say is one of the properties of nature, what some call the genius loci, the spirit of the place? Could the nymphs and naiads of legend and myth have some form of reality after all?

Highly unlikely in spite of what others may say.

I think it more likely that my strange visitor was a hallucination, a pure creation of a mind reaching the limit of its physical endurance. Admittedly, it was a hallucination of incredible clarity and realism. Still, I think it more likely that my mind created a temporary diversion to break free of the pain in which it found itself with no immediate hope of relief. Is it possible that in my determination to reach the exhausted hiking group that depended on my faithfulness to keep them comfortable, my mind, possibly aided by a dose of strong painkiller coupled with the sensory overload of constant rainfall on leaves, intruded with an intense waking dream so as to acquire a few moments of respite? 

Whatever the cause--and I strongly lean toward the theory of temporary insanity--I view the encounter as a simple transient experience and nothing more. It does not change my worldview nor my personality or sense of purpose, but I shall regard it as one of the numinous encounters so prevalent in the human adventure and look back on it with a shrug of the shoulders and a puzzled shake of the head.

Would you like to sample a little of my dark fantasy? Here's a nice place to start for the paperback. The eBook can be purchased here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sadly, There Is A Used Bookstore That Will Never See Me Again :-(

Today as I drove through a small town just north of me, a used bookstore that I have patronized for 19 years came into view and though my time was short, I had money and a need so I pulled into the parking lot and stepped inside.

I have no idea who the person was who waited on me, but it was not the elderly couple that have been behind the counter in times past. Also, I was the only patron in the store and the woman was clearly bored out of her mind.

But I explained my need to her and the titles and authors of the two books that I was looking for and I made it clear I was all...

Fortunately, the SF and fantasy section was alphabetized and they did not have the book I craved. 

The other book was in the comparative religions section.

She showed me three huge bookshelves with books two deep, a hodgepodge of barely related titles and subjects with no recognizable order. There must have been a thousand of them. She waved her hand, boredom on her face. "It's probably in there somewhere."

"Sorry, I said, "but I'm coming back from a business trip and I'm on a schedule. Could you help me scan just the first rows and help me find the title? It's very common. I'm certain you have it."

She turned and walked away and said over her shoulder. "It's in there somewhere. You might want to come back some other day."

Nope. I'm not.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ranger Loewen vs The Night People: A True Story

Forest Glade by Sketchling

From September 1974 until August 1976, I worked in the security field and loved every minute of it. In the school season, I was a security guard for the now-defunct Philadelphia College of Bible. In the summers, I worked as a park ranger for Caledonia State Park in south-central Pennsylvania.

In both positions, I worked what was known as the graveyard shifts, those long hours between sunset and sunrise where the rest of the world slept. Like a ghost of a memory, I would patrol the halls of the college or the wooded glades of the park, the perfect job for an individual who believed in the magic of the night and relished the solitude where one was free to think.

Caledonia is one of Pennsylvania’s most beautiful recreational areas containing 1,125 acres of camping grounds, picnic areas, playing fields, and hiking trails. The three consecutive summers I worked the night shift, I worked alone. My job was to maintain order, assist campers with nighttime urgencies, and keep trespassers off the grounds. Though rare events, it was not unusual for people to try to have a late-night picnic in a pavilion, try to jump the gate of the pool for a moonlit swim, have a beer party with a group of friends, or, worst of all, vandalize the property out of sheer perversity.

After a few weeks of wandering the woods and areas at night, my night vision improved dramatically, and I learned how I could move silently to surprise trespassers. I became adept at the rare occasion when I would have to sneak up on some teens partying in the wee hours of the morning, appearing out of the darkness without the need of my flashlight to tip them off to my presence.

One night I was patrolling the grounds, using only the bright summer starlight as my sole source of illumination. I would wend my way through a small copse of trees where the darkness was complete and using the star-illuminated fields visible through the tree trunks, I could steer my course without stumbling.

I made my way to where a large stream cut its way through the picnic grounds, and that is when I heard them.

A large group of people was partying nearby. I could hear them plainly, and they were gaily chatting, and their laughter was loud and almost continuous. I could listen to individual words and could make out different speakers. Above the general chatter, I could easily make out a deep, male voice speaking above the others, while a young girl giggled continuously.

The sound came from a dark grove of trees near the stream, but what surprised me was the partygoers had no lights of any type. Usually, a flashlight beam would break through the darkness, or a small campfire would flicker. Sometimes the burning end of a cigarette would reveal their location.

But this party was being held in total darkness.

No matter. They were trespassers, and a stern warning and an escort to the exit would end the encounter as I stopped all others.

Staying in the shadows, I crept up on the partygoers who by their ongoing chatter and laughter made it clear they had not seen me.

Carefully moving to stand behind a large tree, I spun around it to surprise the trespassers, turning on my bright 6-cell flashlight to illuminate the scene.

There was nobody there.

However, I immediately saw my error. From the sounds of the celebration, the party was about 20 yards further downstream under another dark stand of trees, and they had not seen the flash of my light as the lively conversation and laughter continued unabated.

Whoever they were, they were having a wonderful time and, I confess, I was somewhat jealous. Studying for the ministry and the son of a pastor as well, my life was ordered and sane and well-behaved. There was no nocturnal starlit partying for me.

Again, I made my way down the stream, staying in the shadows. Again, the pause behind a large tree trunk, the sudden spin around it, the flash of my light…

And, still, nothing.

But this time, aside from the typical night sounds of the park and the gurgling of the stream, the party had stopped in mid-frolic.

With mouth open in surprise, I stared at the bare ground before me from which seconds before, I had distinctly heard a large group of people loudly enjoying each other’s company.

I turned the light off to listen. I heard no sounds from the party.

Suddenly, behind me, a voice shouted, “HEY!”

With a yell, I spun around, flicking on my heavy flashlight and ready to swing it as a weapon.

There was nobody behind me.

Unnerved, I quickly left the area.

It took a few more nighttime adventures before I finally realized what had transpired. The stream that ran through the picnic grounds flows very fast and, like most mountain streams, is exceptionally rocky. If the water level is high, the rocks are submerged, and the water flows over them without any disturbance. Too low, and the water flows sluggishly around them in silence. Yet, at just the right level, the water cascades over the rocks making an overwhelming sound of gurgling and splashing, and for an individual who is using his ears to navigate the dark woods, one’s brain interprets the various sounds as speech and laughter. And mixed all together, it sounds just like a group of people relishing each other’s company.

And yet…

The romantic part of me would so very much like to believe there is another numinous world of nighttime mystery where inhabitants of another world break into ours for a time of celebration, interrupting their bacchanal only to mock the sad, lumbering human stumbling by as he fulfills his obligations.

In the three summers I worked at Caledonia when the water level and other conditions were just right, I could still hear the invisible partiers celebrating. I would smile and continue on my patrol, but I confess that the sheer sound of their joy made me envious. A deeper part of me made me wish that they would be gracious and let a lowly human join them.

But I remember the old tales.

If I had joined their festivities, mayhap I would not be here to share this story with you? Perhaps, my voice would have been added to the others to lure other park rangers away from their duties? 

I suspect their reticence to invite a creature created from dirt to take part in their celebrations may have been my salvation.

Or my greatest tragedy.

I will leave you, Gentle Reader, to make that decision.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ethereal Tales: The Fine Art of Legacy

Ethereal Tales is no longer in print, but from its first issue in October, 2008 until it stopped publication in September, 2011, editor Teresa M. Ford gave many an inspiring writer the ability to cut their teeth on writing dark and Gothic fantasy and confirmed the artistry of a number of seasoned authors.

Though I had been published many times before, Ms. Ford was the editor that demonstrated the patience needed for me to learn the finer tones of submission and editing. The contributor copies she sent me are some of my most prized possessions and I shared magazine space with many other accomplished writers: Eric S. Brown, Michael A. Kechula, Sarah Deckard, Vonnie Winslow Crist, James Rawbone, and countless others.

My own bibliography in Ethereal Tales began in Issue # 3 with My Pretty Pony which was also featured on the Ethereal Tales Audio Book narrated by John Snell. Other stories quickly followed: The City of Sarkomand: A Guide for the Traveler, Chapter 32 (Issue #4), The Vampire Mice of the U&G: A Tale From The Universe The Next Door Over (Issue #5), A Fairy Tale (Issue #7), Greengate (Issue #9), and in the final issue, I penned Storyteller in honor of Teresa, herself. My final contribution to the legacy of Ethereal Tales came in February, 2014, when Morpheus Tales, a British  independent magazine of weird fiction, published an issue in honor of Ethereal Tales. Unable to let such an opportunity slide by, I submitted In The Father's Image, which was published in the special issue.

By the bye, you can still purchase back copies of Ethereal Tales at Teresa Ford's online store, Cute N Creepy, which is located here. The Ethereal Tales Special Edition published by Morpheus Press can be purchased here.

My short relationship with Ethereal Tales was a potent one. As already mentioned, the art of submission and editing for publication are skills writers have to learn on top of how to craft a good story. The experience of being published "across the pond" was a badly needed affirmation that my writing could cross cultural and international boundaries. To learn how others reacted to my writing was a lesson in itself.

No writer stands by him or herself. We all stand on the legacy created by other writers who influenced us with their own work as well as those editors who took the time to comment and critique and, yes, even reject our best work.

Ethereal Tales and all those involved in its history form an important part of my story as a storyteller. In my present and in my future writings, you will easily hear faint echoes of the impact the short-lived zine had on my voice and professionalism. 

It's certainly time for me to express my grateful appreciation and acknowledge one more giant upon whose shoulders I stand.

For Teresa Ford and all those who helped forge the literary legacy of Ethereal Tales, thank you.

I will try to do you proud.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Can I Help Your Social or Community Organization? Here's How.

On August 22nd, I am going to be delivering my seminar on how to write your memoirs at Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public, but I would be delighted to present my two-hour seminar to your church, library, community organization, senior citizens group, VFW, or any other social organization.

It's two hours delivered with humor and a lot of audience involvement and I walk you step by step through the 100% painless process of promoting and organizing the event.

And if you want to open the event to the general public, I even write your advertising copy!

And, yes, your organization can easily afford me. Inspiring people to write their life story is a mission for me so contact me and let's set up a date.

Write to me at AT gmail DOT com.

(I also do magic shows for audiences up to 70 people ;-)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monster Movies? Yes!

I've always been a huge fan of horror films especially dealing with monsters. I'm not much into psychokillers (I'm a counselor by profession and psychopaths bore me) or ghosts, though there are exceptions as you will see below. Also, I'm not into psychological horror where it turns out the protagonist has been crazy all along. Though some of the films listed below do have a high body count, I find excessive gore mostly boring as the grossout is the coward's way to show they don't really have a story.

So, here are my 35 favorite monster movies sorted by year with the name of the director(s) included. I would encourage you to find them on Netflix or another streaming media site and enjoy them.

Honorable Mention:

Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt (2011)
John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness (1994)
Andrew Lemen's independently created The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

How many have you seen?