Books, Fiction, Humor, Short Stories, Young Adult

The Foolish Monkeys

Once at Benares, the King had a beautiful garden, which was the delight of all who enterd it. In this garden lived a family of monkeys, who were likewise the delight of all who entered the garden, but who were pests to the gardener.

One day, when the gardener was very busy, he thought to himself, “I’ll finally get some use out of those pesky monkeys! I’ll set them to perform a task even they cannot possibly foul up!”

And so the gardener, who was much too busy to water the trees (what on else would a gardener have to do? one wonders) went to the Monkey King and asked him politely  if he and his family could be entrusted to the task.

“Oh, certainly!” said Papa Monkey, taking a bucket of water and passing it down to his wife and sons. “You can certainly rely on us!”
And so the gardener left them to their work. At first, all went smoothly, but then Papa Monkey had a bright idea.

“We must pull up all the trees!” he said. “And we must then examine the roots. For, trees with long roots need much water, while trees with short roots should need hardly any at all!”

And so the monkeys stopped their watering, and pulled up all the trees to examine the roots.

So of course, all the trees then died.

It is not good to trust ANYTHING to a pack of fools.

(Source: Indian Fable.)

Books, Fiction, Short Stories, Urban Legends, Young Adult

The Owls and the Crows

Once, there lived a family of owls next to a family of crows. Now, the owls did not care for the crows, and neither did the Crows care for the owls. They were constantly scheming as to how to get the best of eachother when one day a very wise old crow came to his fellows and said, “I have a plan to finally get rid of those awful owls. First though, you must fall upon me, and pluck a few of my feathers, and poke and prod me as if you wanted to attack and kill me. Then, leave me for dead. I will do the rest.”

And so the crows all fell upon their brother, and poked him, and plucked his feathers, and bloodied him, and battered him about, and left him for dead. And, soon, curious as to what was going on outside their own nest, the so-curious owls cam flying over to examine the poor, battered crow.

“Oh, thank heavens!” exclaimed the Crow. “My people have cast me out, and I have no where else to turn! could you not find it in your hearts to allow a poor, beaten, defenseless crow such as myself to warm himself and heal in your nest? After all, I am no longer cared for by my own kind.”

The owls all had a special meeting, and decided that this would be a good thing to do. So they allowed the crow to move himself into their nest, and recuperate, and grow the feathers he had lost back, slowly but surely.

Soon, the icy winds of winter began to blow across the forest, and Mr. Crow could be seen gathering kindling around the nest of the owls. The owls asked him, “Mr. Crow, why are you doing that?”

To which he replied, “Eh? Oh, well, I am simply gathering wood to make a barrier between ourselves and the cold, cold wind.”

Mr. Crow’s feathers had healed well enough for him to take flight. As soon as he could do so, he went and stole a firebrand from some peasant’s fireplace, and, returning to the nest of the owls, set fire to the wooden barrier he had himself erected.

The owls were smothered by the heavy black smoke, and all of them died.

And the moral of this story is: NEVER TRUST A RENEGADE.

Books, Contactees, Cults, Ghosts, Holographic Universe, Mystic, New Age, Sightings, Spiritism, Ultraterrestrials, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

Swedenborg’s Death

Can a man know when he is going to die? Apparently, visionary Emmanuel Swedenborg, who began his career as a scientist and ended it as a medium for spirits, did, in fact know.

To understand this, one must understand that Swedenborg began his career as a hard scientist, seeking knowledge of the physical world for seven years, before being caught up in mystic fervor. He had out-of-the-body travels to distant planets, and conversed with “angels” and other spirits who informed him of wisdom and cosmic workings.

Swedenborg was apparently so well-informed about the workings of the invisible world that he knew the date of his own death.

When minister John Wesley wrote to Swedenborg requesting a visit, the seer announced to him that, were he to come at the time he suggested, it would be far too late, for he himself was scheduled to die on the 29th of March, 1772.

And do you know what? He certainly did.

Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fortean, Ghosts, Hardboiled, Hauntings, Monsters, Spiritism, Urban Legends, Vampires, Weird

For Love of the Dead (Unfinished)

(Working on a little monograph about two famous necrophiles. Also, about why we scrupulously hold onto our memories of the dead: dead celebs, family, friends, etc. It will be very short, but I hope to publish as a small book.)

Once, when I was a young boy, a thing I saw on television effected me very deeply. If you were a very sensitive or socially-concerned person, you might say that it scarred me for life. Made me the person I have become, or at least partly.

I came home from an extended afternoon of play and turned on the television to a new program called “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”, and it was hosted by a craggy-looking, scary television actor named Jack Palance. He introducede each reenacted segment in an ominous eerie voice I can’t soon forget.

One segment focused on a bizarre ritual. The ritual involved a number of people (I got the impression, as young as I was, that the thing took place lon, long ago) stepping forward to kiss the hand of a woman seated in a chair, adorned in what I took to be a robe and crown-like affair.

The camera pulled back to reveal that the seated woman was a grinning, ghoulish death’s head, a skeleton. She was a dead thing exhumed from her grave, clothed and sat up so that people could be, presumably, forced to come forwad and kiss her skeletal fingers.

I was, amazingly enough, not horrified. I was fascinated, enraptured really; the program transported me to another world, opened a new window into another, more sinister reality I could only as-of-yet guessed at through vague circumstances and hints, dreams and portents that cam to me too young to consciously remember or understand.

Do men love the dead? I must have wondered. It would be decades before I would explore the possibilities behind such a love in my novel Buried, which I based upon the sordid history of Otto Carl Tanzler. Here, I surmised that death could be the final act in an evolutionary chain; that the living body could be a cocoon for the soul, and that, when released, they dead became something else, utterly seperated from as much as connected to our humanity.

Ghastly films like Faces of Death would, several years later, grow to fascinate me. They would feed my appetite for the morbid, for the ghoulish and darker aspects of an existence, bring a feeling which was a mixture of haunted beauty and grave rapture. I was hooked as a child, a horror miscreant.

But death is no mere fantasy. Around me, year after year, relatives and friends began to pass, some from age, some from suicide, one even from murder. I wondered at this strange state of death, this ominous final chapter of life which waited, perched precariously like a vulture on a hanging , craggy cliff, and which, no matter how often one pushed the thought away with the ephemera of cultural distractiona nd workaday reality, could visit one, on the road. In the shower. In a public place. Even, as it were in the middle of one’s sleep.

Now I lay me down to sleep…

My first funeral took place in a funeral parlor down the street. My grandmother took me, and the woman laid out in the casket was a complete stranger to me, an old woman from another era, another time.

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t comprehend. Here, then, was Death, a first glimpse for a boy that would go on to do more than his fair share of obsessing over it.
It is puzzling that some men cannot, as it were, let go of the objects of their adoration, but must pursue them to the grave, and even beyond.

We do not mean, in this simple monograph, to relate the exhaustive history of every obscure psychopath with a “taste for corpses,” (as one notorious necrophile was quoted as telling the judge at his trial). Our little book is not a fixation on Messuers Bundy, Dahmer, or Lucas, since we hav written about such men before,a nd we do not find an especial filip of true love in their obsessions. Instead, they seem to have been motivated by their own callow need for control, instead of a true fixation upon the sepulchral angels that beckon other, truer necrophiles. Perhaps we are wrong in this, but it is our decision.

We are, instead, merely going to relate the histories of certain men whose rare deeds, vile and bizarre as they were, truly mark them as being special even amongst the teeming ranks of deviants. For whatever reason, these men hold a special place in the pantheon of our fixations, forever bringing us back to the more unsavory speculations as to how they developed their own personal tendency to “love the dead”? No deep-seated inadequacy could account for it, surely.

The dead are another race. Another order of being. Spiritualists claim to be in contact with them, albeit in their discorporated essence. Does this traffic with the departed also amount to a necrotic romance, an amorous affiliation with the atrophied?

There are those who fetishize the ceremnets of the grave, who bring to appaling life the pale lustre of the departed–as they envision them to be in their heated imagingings. An entire industry of gothic chic romanticizes death, and movies and television programs, particularly those having to do with the fictional form of the vampire (who, initially, was never a suave romantic but a bloodsucking freak that stank abominably of the charnel house) have done incredibly well traditionally.

There is something about the crossing over, the shuffling off of the mortal coil, the possibility of the mutated, hungry form left behind (in the words of one anonymous author, “…the living was food for the dead.”) that entrances any who dare leave a lingering eye over the phantom forms of their former friends and fellow men.
A necropolis. A “City of the dead.” So many boneyards reeling up to the pale grey sky.

At a local cemetary, a massive family tomb rests on a hill, accesible by a steep little drive past benches and resting spots for weary visitors. The place could almost be a palatial mansion for the departed, a stone edifice erected for the final, equalizing sleep that can unite even warring factions of a large clan together, for eternity.

This necro-elegance overlooks a grave yard where other, more dismal stones sink into the earth like marble bugs, their weathered surfaces worn away until finally, nothing can be ascertained as to who rests beneath them, of whom they once signified. Lost, perhaps, to the elements, to time, their identity could only be captured by a medium, by a witch or by God Himself.

Some of them were infants. Cholera and mysterious illness took them out of the harsh, bright, and undeniably cruel world before they even had a chance to toddle. Others were profligates, wastrels, sinners of every stripe–suicides, murderers, the worst sorts of scoundrels.

Still others were unremarkable.

I have walked the dips and rises, these craggy lanes of the local necropolis, and felt the eerie calm sink into my bones. It is at this particular boneyard I suppose I will one day be interred, as per my instructions. It is reasonably close to the neighborhoods where I grew up, where all my grandparents once lived, where I first saw that television program that so impressed me.
Death comes. And we “cross over.”

But, what of those who cannot let go?
Beneath the streets of Palermo, Siciliy lie the Capuchin Catacombs, a grim, forbidding stretch of medieval tunnels beneath a monastery. Protected for centuries and watched over by the brothers of the holy order, these tunnels contain the earthly remains of prominent citizens who died hundreds of years ago. Their mumified remains, still resplendent in medieval finery, stare grotesquely from their places on the wall, where their biological remains rest frozen forever, the victims of their own fascination with the animate phenomenon of their earthly station.

It is not difficult, passing the monstrous visages of such macabre relics, to see them as the denizens of some alien race, to divest them of the humanity that they so ardently sought to preserve by having themselves interred here. What did they seek? The same preservation the Aegyptian sought with his arcane rituals of mummification? Is the life, then, wrapped up in the body?

Perhaps only our own notions of it. It is difficult enough to conceive that one day the sacred breath of life will leave us, we’ll fall down, and be forever still.

Instead, to swear off this incalculable horror, we invent tales of the supernatural, pay obeisance to one and many gods, dress our dead in silk finery and send them out in lavish, expensive funerals when cremation would have been so much more efficient and cost-effective. Why? What seekest we in such pomp and circumstance? Is it the idea that we can preserve a semblance of the life that was, to be carried over into the mystery of the life which is to be?

When famed outlaws Bonnie and Clyde were unceremoniously dispatched by Texas Rangers, the “death car” was crowded around by spectators eager to steal some trophy, or even dip handkerchiefs into the copious blood. Ditto the James Dean death car (which, by the way, was reputedly cursed), which had many pieces twisted and pried from it.

Why? What are people trying to capture? What is it we want to preserve?

Books, Murder, Weird, Young Adult

Kissing the Bones

I well remember 1982 because it is the year I discovered the television program Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, which was hosted by actor Jack Palance.

I remember having come home from play, parked my behind in front of an old-fashioned tube television, and stared in grossed-out awe and a slimy, subtle feeling of creepiness as the story of Jeremy Bentham (who was embalmed, stuffed with hay, fitted with a wax replica of his severed head, and put on display in England for over a century) unfolded before me. I had never seen anything quite like it.

Of course, the TV Guide had promised just such a tale with a black and white illustration of the morbid cadaver boxed into its “Auto-Icon” (as Bentham called the display case for his earthly remains).
A similar tale from the same episode (I think) involved this:

In the Portuguese city of Coimbra, in 1360, a rather unforgiving King commanded his nobles to come forward and kiss the hand…of a skeleton.

The grotesque ritual was reenacted for revenge. The King, of course, had already had his revenge upon the assassins of the great lady; he had had them imprisoned, and then had their hearts torn from their chests.

It had only been five years, after all, since his father King Alfonso, had had the young woman beheaded. The woman, Ines de Castro, was an attendant upon his son’s wife who had caught the boy’s amorous fancy. The King, fearing the woman might upset the delicate balance of things, saw fit to do away with her.

Prince Pedro was obliged to keep his feelings to himself until his father died. However, after ascending to the throne, he promised himself to make right the sins of the past. He had the skeletal remains of his beloved Ines exhumed, and commanded that the rest of the court bow before her, touch their lips to her rotten old bone, and give them a kiss.

Books, Fortean, Hardboiled, Occult Music, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

Gloomy Sunday

Can the effect from a piece of music drive people to actually commit suicide? That seems to be the argument made by those who believe, for instance, that music by heavy metal bands like Judas Priest or Ozzy Osbourne has been the cause of young people killing themselves. Although these artists have always been vindicated by the courts, the furor over music lyrics (especially today’s explicit rap lyrics) continues to rage on.

The argument actually reaches backward in time to Hungary in the 1930’s, a time of political and economic repression, and the rise of fascism. One man, Rezső Seress, took a plunge from a circus high wire, thus ending his career before it ever got started.

In bitterness, he retired from the world of the circus permanently…but not from show business. To make ends meet, he began to ply his trade as a musician and pianist in a breathtakingly cold piano bar that was known, universally, as the coldest in all of central Europe.

It was here that he made the acquaintance of poet László Jávor, who was pining over the young woman who had just called off their engagement. The poet had composed an elegy that depicted a suicidal man speaking to the soul of his departed love, asking her to attend his impending funeral.

The lyrics fit perfectly with Seress’ black-as-molasses piano music. Together, they wove a morbid spell.

Released on primitive 78 rpm record, the album quickly became popular…with the suicidal. Notes found at the scene of hangings and other ghastly forms of self-killing contained references from the lyrics. All in all, over a dozen such deaths in Hungary were attributed, later, to the influence of “Gloomy Sunday.”

And it was much the same elsewhere, where a kind of urban legend began to swirl about the “cursed recording,” the terrible, bleak song that was driving people to kill themselves. Thus, the song was suppressed for decades. A cover by Billie Holiday (with different lyrics but telling the same general story) was banned by the BBC, as detrimental to wartime morale.

Satanist Anton LaVey once claimed that, during his time as a crime photographer, they came across many suicides where “Gloomy Sunday” was still spinning on the Victrola when they arrived.

The final ironic note? Rezső Seress himself committed suicide. Initially, he jumped from a window. Surviving that, he strangled himself with piano wire while recovering in a hospital.

You know, life imitating art and all that.

(Note: We would like to have quoted from the lyrics of this song, but even though it is almost undoubtedly listed as being in the public domain, we aren’t certain about permissions due to the legality and ownership of translations, etc. Call us overly cautious; at least we aren’t suicidal.)

(Source: Urban folklore.)

Books, Hardboiled, Humor, Short Stories, Urban Legends, Young Adult

Sam Bass Snares the Detective

Once, Sam Bass and his gang caught wind of the fact that a notorious detective was on their trail. The detective might have been a Pinkerton, or he might not have, the story doesn’t relate.

At any rate, Sam was driving his wagon one day, carefully hidden beneath a low hood, like an old peasant woman. He might have been a strange sight, but to the young man stranded (due to losing a wheel block on his own carriage), the sight of Sam coming along that road must have been mighty welcome.

Sam asked the man, politely enough, what he was doing all the way out here in the woods. The man answered, “I’ve come to seek out and kill Sam Bass.”

Sam shook his head, smiled. Then said, “And would you know Sam Bass if you saw him?”

To which the detective replied simply, “No.”

Sam cracked a huge grin, leaned over, pulled down his hood, and said, “Well, you’re riding with him right now!”
The detective suddenly lost a great deal of his bluster and courage. He began to whine and weep, begging for his life on behalf of his wife and child.

Sam, being the big-hearted desperado that he was, let th eman off with just a warning never to show his face around those parts again.

And the bold detective never did.

(Source: Popular American folklore.)