Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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FREE short story introducing Bane Messenger, Bounty Hunter, the protagonist of the Western series An Adventure of the Old West! Get YOURS now:




A prequel to the series An Adventure of the Old West, this action-packed short story introduces Bane Messenger, a Union veteran of the Civil War, who teams with former Confederate commander, Colonel Jake Miller, to become a bounty hunter. On the trail of a vicious outlaw wanted for kidnapping and murder during a series of robberies, Bane hones his tracking, reconnaissance, and fighting skills. His final showdown with his deadly quarry will show him just how good he is with a gun and launch his career as a man who makes his living bringing killers to justice, dead or alive.

Rainy Days

Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman

Jim and Charlotte Kirk sat in the recliner on their front porch, watching life parade by, beyond their expansive, manicured lawn. On a nearby patio table, a radio played popular music.
Retired, they were content to be observers of life, rather than participants. They lived in Flat Range, a small Kansas town. They knew and liked most of the townsfolk, and they were well liked in return. However, they preferred their own company and, now that their only daughter, Julie, born late in their lives, was on her own, attending college in California, they seldom went anywhere, other than to run errands, see an occasional movie or play, or have dinner out once or twice a month. Homebodies, each of them had developed a fulfilling hobby. Jim gardened. Charlotte was an amateur meteorologist.
It calls for rain today,” she observed.
The sky was bright and blue, without a cloud in sight. In Kansas, though, unexpected weather was the rule, rather than the exception. “If you don’t like the weather,” Charlotte was fond of repeating, “just wait a few minutes; it’ll change.”
I wish it would rain. The heat and humidity are terrible.”
Charlotte smiled. “Why don’t you go inside?” The air conditioner was running, as it had, night and day, for the past two months, and the interior of their house was comfortably cool.
He put his wrinkled, age-spotted hand upon hers. “I’d rather sit out here, with you.”
She smiled. “The gardenias are lovely,” she said.
Thanks.” Jim enjoyed beautifying their yard. It was more than merely a matter of having something enjoyable to do, although that was part of it. Planting flowers, shrubs, and trees and weeding, watering, mulching, trimming, pruning, and fertilizing the many decorative plants, flowering shrubs, and bright blossoms made him feel as if he were still making an important contribution to life. It made him feel as if his were still a meaningful existence. It made him feel as if he were still in control, to some extent, at least, of his own affairs.
Charlotte understood what gardening meant to Jim, without his having to put it into words, for which Jim was grateful. Expressing the motives for his hobby would have been embarrassing, and it would have taken some of the joy out of it. Art, whether it involved gardening or some other sort of organized aesthetic activity, shouldn’t have to be justified, validated, or explained. It was its own justification. Jim had thought this long before he’d heard of the philosophical position known as “art for art’s sake.”
He believed that he understood why Charlotte enjoyed meteorology, too. There was no need for her to ruin her enjoyment of observing the weather by defending her passion to him. Like most natural objects and phenomena (including gardens), the weather was rich in emotional and psychological symbolism. Over the ages, atmospheric conditions had come to be associated with divine judgment, fertility, doom and destruction, hope, passion, and a host of other events and feelings.
Even a single event, such as rain, was multivalent in its meanings. Depending upon the context, rain could symbolize a cleansing, a rejuvenation of life, birth, refreshment, grief, anger, or passion. Thunder could suggest enlightenment, sudden change, an inner revelation, anger, denial, or something dramatic or emphatic. Likewise, lightning could suggest revelation or anger, but it could also intimate the start of something new, serve as a warning of danger, or express something that moved with extreme speed. A storm, which could unite all these elements, might represent lashing out in anger, a powerful emotional outburst, a long-standing emotional conflict that had come to a head, or an overwhelming experience. A tornado might imply self-destruction, a life-changing experience, or the appearance of something unforeseeable and uncontrollable.1
Charlotte’s interest in the weather reflected her interest in the world around her, Jim thought. It represented her passion for both existence as such and the spiritual aspects of life. Weather, as a whole, represented being-itself, as existence was seen from within, from the emotional vantagepoint unique to the human spectator. Animals didn’t associate anything with the weather, except, perhaps, momentary fear that passed, unremembered, with the passing of the storm.
Someone had once suggested that human behavior was mostly a matter of habit, or “addictions,” to one area of interest or another. Upon first hearing this radical-sounding notion, Jim had dismissed it as laughable. On a deeper level, however, he had apparently mulled it over for some time, and he’d finally come to understand that there was more to the idea, perhaps, than had first been apparent to him, although, of course, there were significant differences between an addiction and another habitual behavior, such as the pursuit of a hobby.
The habits that governed people’s behavior could be negative, as in drunkenness, drug addiction, or uncontrollable gambling. They could also be positive, as in gardening, amateur meteorology, or the many other hobbies by which people more or less constructively passed the time of day. The trick, Jim thought, was to acquire or develop an interest in something that was big enough in scope that it could nurture and sustain one’s passion over a period of years.
Some sought entertainment in movies, others in books, and still others in sports. Some dedicated their leisure hours to one of the arts, such as writing, music, painting, or sculpture. These might all be characterized as “addictive behaviors,” except that they were controllable, rather than uncontrollable, and they were constructive, even creative, rather than destructive. Likewise, they focused on external objects, rather than upon the self. Therefore, they allowed personal growth rather than resulting in psychological stagnation. An addiction left one hollow and hungry, whereas a hobby was satisfying and fulfilling. An addiction was demonic, in the sense that it was destructive, whereas a hobby was divine, in the sense that it was constructive or creative.
One aspect of Charlotte’s love affair with the world’s weather was her research of what she called “strange rain.” She’d first come across the topic of unusual atmospheric conditions in the works of Charles Fort. He’d reported rains of frogs, snakes, blood, fish, and other mysterious objects, usually in very localized areas, and in various parts of the world. Intrigued, Charlotte had kept files concerning her own research. Most recently, she’d read of the fall of what the article’s writer called “blood rain,” which sometimes included the precipitation of flesh.
According to the article, rain was alleged to have fallen in many colors, including red, which was sometimes referred to as “blood rain.” In a few instances, the red rain had actually been collected and subjected to chemical analysis that proved that the liquid that had fallen from the sky really was blood. Scientists had various explanations for the strange rains of blood and flesh. According to one account, they derived from a bird that had been torn apart in a violent wind. Another explanation was that a large flock of buzzards dropped their bloody meals as they flew over several acres.2 Another elucidation, recounted in one of Charles Fort’s books, attributed rains of flesh and blood to tornado activity.
According to the most recent article that Charlotte had read on the subject, a malodorous “shower of blood, muscle, and fat” fell in a field near Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1841. Upon investigating the incident, a doctor speculated that a fierce wind might have carried the rotten remains of an animal aloft, bringing it into “contact with an electric cloud.” The cloud, he reasoned, “kept [the remains] in a state of partial fluidity or viscosity,” and it fell to the earth with the rain. The explanation sounded good. The trouble was that slaves later admitted to having “spread bits of a decomposing hog over the field, as a practical joke on their masters.”3
In a related article, heavy showers of red rain in the northwestern part of London in 1860 and 1861 were said to have been caused by “red sand and dust carried from the Sahara. . . and deposited in rain.”4
Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo!, and Wild Talents were written on the basis of the extensive library research he’d conducted upon inheriting a small fortune that freed him from the demands that working for a living previously had imposed upon him. He’d meant them, in part, as a jab at the pompous scientists of his day. To Fort, these self-important men thought themselves omniscient about the universe and capable of explaining everything. Fort had regarded their closed scientific systems of thought as mere myths and the scientists themselves as fanatical devotees of a peculiar faith that blinded them to any facts that might challenge their beloved beliefs. His books compiled case after case of strange, anomalous, and largely unexplained natural phenomena. Whenever a scientist did happen to hazard an “explanation” of a particular incident, Fort mercilessly critiqued the account.
Finally, he offered his own, tongue-in-cheek explanation for all the strange phenomena he’d reported over the years. According to this theory, which he regarded as more plausible than those that scientists offered, a “Super-Sargasso Sea” existed above the Earth. In this sea, living creatures were spawned alongside leftover cargoes from wrecked spaceships. In addition, tornadoes sometimes deposited the remnants of earlier Earthly species and material in the circular ocean, to splash about until they were dumped upon the Earth by intelligent beings who communicated with secret societies on their dumping ground, below.
Jim thought that he understood Charlotte’s interest in the bizarre aspects of meteorology, too. Her interest in atmospheric conditions in general represented her passion for sharing her existence with the world around her. On the other hand, her curiosity concerning the bizarre aspects of the weather represented her uneasy feeling that not all was as it seemed to be. Deep down, she feared that all might not be as well with the world as most people seemed to suppose. In general, she believed in an orderly universe, designed by an intelligent and purposeful creator, but she hedged her bets by keeping an eye upon stubborn anomalies that refused to fit the models of reality that scientists had constructed over the years, on the bases of observation and experimentation.
In short, like Charles Fort, she was an “indeterminitist,” or someone who believes, in the words of Fort himself, that “all phenomena are approximations one way or the other between realness and unrealness.” Charlotte’s belief was a symbol, Jim thought, of her basic indecisiveness and anxiety—of what the existentialists called “angst.” The weather attracted her for the same reason that Fort’s “indeterminism” attracted her. It symbolized her inability to subscribe, in a dedicated fashion, to any one system of belief, of whatever kind. Where Jim liked order, she could abide chaos. Where he wanted purpose, she could countenance chance or fate. Where he craved meaning, she could handle absurdity. Of course, there must be, for her, an ultimate meaning and purpose and structure to existence. After all, anomalies and bizarre phenomena were interesting only in the broader, deeper, wider context of order and design. Madness had its limits.
During Jim’s musings, the sky had darkened. Blue had succumbed to gray, as great, mountainous clouds loomed overhead. The heat of the day was gone. The air had cooled. A wind blew across the front lawn, disturbing the trees and shrubs. The grass wavered and flowed. In the distance, lightning streaked through the sky, illuminating the dark underbellies of the storm clouds. Charlotte’s prediction that a storm was on its way seemed, as usual, to have proven true. “Maybe we should go inside,” he ventured. It looks like we’re in for a hell of a rain.”
Bemused, Charlotte looked at him. “I’m going to stay right here and watch.”
The approaching storm was moving fast, driven by fierce winds out of the north. The sky was much darker than it had been, even a moment ago, and the air was cold. The dark clouds were pregnant with rain, and there was a tension in the air, as electric as the jagged lightning bolts that sliced the sky.
There was a great, crashing boom of thunder, and rain poured from the sky, thicker than Jim and Charlotte had ever seen it fall. It cascaded from leafy treetops and splashed in bursts, a cannonade of water that splattered against streets to form pools and rivulets that clogged storm drains and turned roads into rivers. Within minutes, the water threatened to swamp the curbs and overflow the lawns along the street. Thunder boomed again, and lightning flashed, illuminating great sections of the raining sky.
Charlotte, really,” Jim insisted, “I think we’d better get inside. It’s not safe out here.”
She gave him one of her silly-boy smiles. “It’s not safe anywhere in a storm like this,” she replied.
The radio crackled. The soft music ceased, and the station’s disk jockey read a wire release for the public’s benefit. “The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather warning for the following counties.” He named the one in which Jim and Charlotte lived and several adjoining ones. “This warning is in effect until 8:30 p.m.” Charlotte looked at her watch. It was 7:45. She had forty-five minutes during which to enjoy the spectacle of the storm.
There was another horrendous peak of thunder. All around them, they heard the falling rain. It sounded like an assault, rather than a thundershower, as if God—or the intelligent beings who monitored the Sargasso Sea, Jim thought wryly—were attacking them.
I’m going to play a song appropriate to the deluge that Mother Nature’s seen fit to unleash upon us this evening,” the disk jockey announced. “Sit back, snug in your cozy homes, look out at the storm, and listen to Elton John’s ‘Strange Rain.’”
Jim heard snatches of the song’s lyrics, but his thoughts were on the sky.

Down came the strange rain and washed my thoughts away.

. . . Tell me why
You’re changing your colors before my eyes—
Yellow, blue, green, and grey
Settled on the windowpane.

It made the rain that came seem strange,
Just like strange rain. . . .

. . . My eyes are all embroidered with the rainbow you have made,
And now it seems as though it’s just like strange rain.

The song ended, and Charlotte turned the radio off. Like Jim, she was more interested in the coming storm than she was in the music playing on the airwaves.
Lightning lit the tortured sky again, and Jim and Charlotte saw that the slanting needles of rain were no longer silver; they were red. One of the “blood rains” of which Charlotte had read was falling all around them, splattering sidewalks and streets and lawns!
The storm continued until midnight, although the ferocity with which it had begun its assault lessened after 8:30 p.m. The storm was no longer characterized as “severe,” although all who saw it certainly reckoned it to be the strangest tempest they’d ever witnessed. Charlotte was amazed more than Jim was, and she couldn’t sleep that night, remembering the wild weather that had visited them.
The next day, from noon to 5:00 p.m., blue rain fell from the sky.
The day after, from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there was a heavy shower of green rain.
Thereafter, for another five days, a different color of rain fell upon Jim, Charlotte, and the other residents of Flat Range, and the people talked among themselves. All were astonished, and many were afraid. Seeking to reassure themselves as much as to provide answers per se, several residents of the small town offered instant theories as to the cause of the strange phenomena.
According to Henry Small, who owned the local bar, the rains were the result of pollution. “For years, industrialists have been polluting the air, water, and land with God-only-knows-what. Frogs have been born with six legs and two heads, and diseases are rampant. Now, thanks to the crap the factories have been pumping into the environment all these years, the damned rain’s turned colors!”
Tom Bridge, a barber, had a different idea as to the origin of the strange precipitation. “It’s another secret government experiment. This time, they’re using us as their guinea pigs, the same way they’ve used other people, before us, to study radiation damage, the course of untreated syphilis, and the effects of LSD. The chemical trails we see in the sky all the time—that’s just more of the same. They’re spraying some kind of stuff on us, for God-only-knows-what devilish purpose. I know they’re behind all those cattle mutilations, too, and the crop circles.”
Bertha Cain, who was the mom in the town’s mom-and-pop grocery store, got her ideas as to the cause of the strange rains from the Bible. “It’s a judgment of God on us,” she insisted, “just like the flood in Genesis. We’ll get more rain, too, if people don’t turn from their sins and repent of their godless, evil ways.”
As Jim would later learn, as fanciful or as unlikely as these theories seemed, none of them would turn out to have been as strange or improbable as the actual cause of the strange rains.
Although the good people of Flat Range might not know the cause of the strange rains, they were to know the phenomena’s effects soon enough. They started a week after the last of the strange rains and continued, in increasing numbers, every day thereafter for several weeks.
The first incident happened to Bob and Sheila Wright, who lived on Chestnut Street, a couple of blocks from Jim and Charlotte. According to the local newspaper’s account of the matter, they’d been sitting on their front porch, about dusk, enjoying the cool night air and the first glimmering stars in the dark heavens. They’d chatted about the talk of the town—the strange rains that had fallen of late. Like many, they were worried about the possible future effects of having been splattered with blood-red rain, with green rain, with blue rain, with orange rain, with yellow rain, with black rain, and with purple rain. Even if they hadn’t been in the rain, the rain was in their lawns, the crops they raised in their gardens, and the water that many of them drank from their wells. Such precipitation was unnatural, they held, and nothing good could come of it, even if nothing nasty had happened as yet.
The newspaper boy, Allan Crane, was pedaling his bicycle along the street, the big canvas bag over his shoulder and across his chest. At this time of the day, he’d be collecting, not delivering the paper, since the chronicle had only a morning edition. As he came abreast of the Wrights’ sidewalk, he surprised Bob and Sheila by turning his bike onto their sidewalk. They didn’t subscribe to the paper, so there was no reason for the boy to visit their house. Still, he was welcome, as anyone who lived in their community was welcome, and they waved to him.
Hello, Allan,” Bob called.
How are you this evening?” Sheila asked.
The youth didn’t reply. Instead, he reached into his newspaper bag. When his hand reappeared, it held a revolver. He pointed the gun at the cowering seniors, and fired as rapidly as he could. Of the six rounds of ammunition he’d shot, two struck Bob and one hit Sheila. The rest left holes in the front wall of their house. Fortunately, none of the wounds proved fatal, and Bob and Sheila, although hospitalized, were expected to make a complete recovery.
On the third day of their stay in the hospital, a nurse stabbed Bob in the chest with a scalpel. He died instantly, spraying his hospital gown, the bedding, the wall above his bed, and the nurse with the fountain of blood that spurted from his ruptured heart. By all accounts, the nurse had had a stable personality and an excellent reputation. The authorities were still trying to discover a motive for what appeared to have been an altogether senseless act.
According to the local paper’s “Police Blotter” column, the same day that Bob was murdered, Susie Palmer, age fourteen, was taken into custody, for “indecent exposure” after appearing naked in public. She admitted to the arresting officer that she’d been experiencing a desire to flaunt herself since she’d seen topless pictures of Britney Spears and other young female celebrities in various magazines, but she hadn’t had the nerve to act on these impulses. She was unable to say what had come over her or why she’d acted upon these urges this time, when she hadn’t before. “It was like I was in a dream,” she said.
On TV, the next day, a reporter mentioned that Robert and Betty Pulgis had been arrested for robbing the local bank. There’d been something wrong with them, the arresting officers agreed. One of the cops said, “They were in a daze, almost as if they’d been hypnotized. It was eerie.” His partner shrugged, suggesting, “Maybe they’re on drugs.”
Several other reports of strange events followed this account.
A twelve-year-old boy dropped his infant sister off his family’s tenth-story apartment balcony, “to see what would happen when she hit the parking lot” below. “It was neat! Her head split wide open, just like a watermelon!” he cried gleefully, as he recounted the horrible incident.
A driver stopped at a crosswalk, in obedience to a crossing guard’s command, waiting until the street was full of a line of kids before gunning her engine. Her car shot forward, slamming into five children. Three were killed, and two received critical injuries. The driver, a twenty-two-year college senior who was majoring in business administration, said the “impact gave me chills, it was so exciting!”
A man returned home from work to discover that his wife had roasted their two-week-old daughter, alive, in their oven, surrounded by carrots, onions, and potatoes. When her grieving husband vomited, she frowned at him. “I’ve cooked you a good, hot meal,” she chided him, “and you’re going to eat it!”
When news of the town’s horrible crimes reached beyond the community, state police, bolstered by National Guard soldiers, patrolled the streets. A curfew was instituted. Anyone who violated it would be arrested and jailed at once. The result of this tactic was that people were beaten, murdered, raped, and tortured in their own homes, by the members of their families, rather than in more-or-less public places, by their friends and neighbors.
Jim and Charlotte no longer read the newspaper. They no longer listened to the radio. They no longer watched TV. They barricaded themselves inside their home, behind locked doors and windows, and tried not to think that one of them might be the next to go insane.
Unknown to Charlotte, Jim carried a gun under his bathrobe or in a shoulder holster, under his jacket. She also had a secret. She’d strapped a butcher’s knife along her left forearm, covering it with the long sleeve of her nightgown and the sweaters and jackets she’d begun to wear around the house during the day. For the world, neither of them would ever harm the other—unless. . . .
Jim raised his hand to his forehead, massaging his brow. “I’ve had a splitting headache for the last three days now. I’ve taken half a bottle of aspirin already. The damned headache just gets worse.”
You should see the doctor.”
I don’t trust doctors after what that nurse did to Bob Wright and all the other crazy things that have been happening here, since those strange rains fell.”
They’ll come again,” Charlotte predicted.
Jim looked at her, startled by her words. “What?”
The rains will come again.”
Why do you say that?”
The Sargasso Sea is full. It’s leaking, spilling, overflowing—however you’d care to express it.”
Jim’s eyes widened. He was glad he was armed. Charlotte was talking crazy talk. Maybe she’d start acting crazy, too, any minute now. “Honey, there’s no Sargasso Sea. You know that.” He reached inside his jacket. His hand found the holster, and he felt for the gun it contained. It wasn’t there!
She smiled at him. “They told me you’d armed yourself.”
He frowned. “Who are ‘they’?” he demanded.
The ones who have charge over the sea,” she answered. “The Guardians.”
What in hell are you talking about?”
They monitor the level of the Sargasso Sea and its contents. Periodically, they empty part of the sea, and it rains down upon the Earth. You know that.”
You’ve mentioned Charles Fort’s wild ramblings,” Jim admitted, “but you always said his Sargasso Sea theory was a deliberate joke, meant to tweak the smug scientists of his day by devising a theory that could account for the bizarre phenomena that their own theories couldn’t explain.”
Scientists are priests. Their theories are just religious myths that express their faith. They have nothing to do with truth.” She brought the blade down her arm, pulling it from beneath the sleeve of her sweater.
Jim’s eyes widened at the sight of the knife. “How do you know all this?” he asked, smiling. Maybe he could keep her talking. Maybe he could make her think that she’d convinced him that an ocean of intergalactic and earthly flotsam and jetsam really did circle the planet, monitored by intelligent extraterrestrials who periodically dumped its contents upon the Earth’s unsuspecting inhabitants. Maybe he could persuade her that he was a convert to her own mad faith in indeterminism. Maybe he could save his life without having to take hers.
She hesitated, knife in hand. “I am one of them.”
One of the Guardians?”
No, silly. I’m one of the ones with whom they communicate, a member of one of the secret societies.”
Oh.” What was he to say to that? Jim wondered.
You know that.”
I do?”
Of course.”
How do I know that?”
She laughed, as if he were toying with her. “You’re one of us, too.”
A member of a secret society?”
No, silly!” She laughed at the absurdity of his question. “You’re a Guardian.”
Jim swallowed. He tried to keep his face impassive, but it was difficult to repress the horror he felt at his wife’s madness and the sorrow he felt for the same reason. Tears formed in his eyes. One trickled down his face.
You Guardians never remember,” she observed, shaking her head. She looked at him, with pity in her eyes. “When we remind you, you never believe us. You think we’re making it up. You think we’re crazy.” She stroked the sharp edge of the knife gently, almost tenderly, with her thumb. “I guess I can see why you do. When you take human form and live as a human being, spending years in this world while only minutes or hours pass in your own dimension, attending school, getting married, fathering children, working at a mindless, thankless job, and gardening every day, I guess it’s hard to accept the fact that you are not of this world. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s impossible to accept. That’s why, every time, you think it’s we who are insane.”
I don’t think you’re insane,” Jim objected.
She laughed at the transparency of his lie. “That’s why I took up meteorology,” she said. “That’s why I told you about Charles’ theories. He was one of you, a Guardian—the first one who remembered who—or what—he was, even during his incarnation as a mortal man. He wrote his books so that every Guardian who took on flesh could read them and remember, the way he’d remembered, but you have all held the same opinion of his so-called theories as the scientist-priests have held. You’ve all decreed them to be either a hoax or the nonsense of a crackpot with too much leisure time on his hands. It could have ended with Charles, if only you and the other Guardians would have believed him.”
I do believe him,” Jim averred, keeping his eyes on the knife that his insane wife held before her. “I do!”
The Guardians sought to communicate with us by taking on flesh and living among us, by marrying us, by living with us but, for some reason—or no reason—they themselves forgot who they were and why they were here. All of you forget, always, except for Charles. He alone remembered, and he wrote about the strange rains and the other anomalous incidents. He divulged the secret of the Sargasso Sea. He told of the extraterrestrials whose ships had wrecked, leaving their strange cargoes strewn over its waters. He mentioned the tornadoes that deposit earthly objects into the sea. He mentioned the Guardians and the secret societies on Earth, with whom the Guardians communicate, but none of the Guardians who have come after him take his writings for anything but the insane babbling of a crank or the fraudulent compositions of a malcontent. Were any of you to believe his works, you’d see that your hopes to populate the earth with hybrid human-extraterrestrial sons and daughters who can serve as earthly Guardians of this world, just as you serve as the Guardians of the Sargasso Sea, are doomed. You would stop coming. You would stop fathering children. But you don’t believe, so you continue, generation after generation, to take on flesh and beget children. At best, they become conservationists, environmental activists, or EPA lawyers.”
Sweat had formed upon Jim’s brow. His headache was worse than ever, and his wife’s deranged ranting was too hard to follow. He blinked the perspiration from his stinging eyes and rubbed his brow.
Charlotte took no notice of his condition. She was in a world of her own devise, where there was neither reality nor unreality, and order alternated with chaos. Truth was whatever it appeared to be at any given moment. Scientists could offer no solid, meaningful theories. Their beliefs were just myths and fictions. The only truth was the Weltanschauung that Charles Fort had posited in The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo!, and Wild Talents.
Jim realized that, in her deranged state of mind, Charlotte believed in Fort’s tongue-in-cheek vision of the world as fervently and as mindlessly as any fanatic ever believed in any other view of reality.
We always abide you,” she declared. “We always watch and wait and hope, but none of you ever reaches Charles’ level of discernment or believes what he has written, even when the rains come.”
The rains?”
They show that what Charles wrote is the truth,” Charlotte averred, “but you still do not believe. In the end, you imagine that the truth is a lie, and you seek to kill us or to have us committed to an institution for the rest of our lives, where we will be unable to accomplish our mission.”
I want to believe,” Jim said. “Help me to believe.”
Charlotte snorted. “No one can ‘help’ you to believe. The rains prove that.”
How do they prove that?”
They are sent by the Guardians who remain behind, with whom we communicate in secret. They know that none of you remember your origin, and they are aware that your disbelief endangers us. They try to restore your memory, by continuously altering the rains that fall on the towns in which those of you who have taken on fleshly incarnations reside, but it is to no avail. Instead, you merely believe that we are mad, as the ordinary humans that the rains affect become mad.”
Jim knew that it was useless to try to reason with his wife, but he made a desperate, last attempt to get through the barrier of her madness and to reach her, the woman he’d loved these many years and the mother of their daughter, Julie. “I love you,” he said. “Doesn’t that count for anything? We have a wonderful, beautiful daughter. Doesn’t that matter to you?”
Of course it does,” she answered, her voice softening. “That’s why I have to kill you. Don’t you see? The sons and the daughters that the earthly Guardians father are inducted into the secret societies, as I was, after my father fathered me. We teach them the truth, but all that could be undermined if I am committed to an insane asylum, you convince Julie that I am mad, and you persuade her that the books of Charles Fort are nothing but nonsense or an elaborate hoax.” She raised the knife.
Jim lunged.
Charlotte sidestepped him, as easily as if he were an awkwardly manipulated marionette and plunged the sharp-pointed, sharp-edged knife deep into his heart. He stumbled and fell. He lay motionless on the floor. She wiped her fingerprints off the handle, although she doubted that the police would be competent enough, in their present state, to think of dusting the murder weapon for prints or to perform any other remotely professional task. Like most of the other residents of Flat Range, the police, by now, would be, for the most part, little more than babbling idiots.
Those who weren’t already insane would be, soon enough, after the next rain fell.
Charlotte looked at the corpse of her dead husband, the fleshly incarnation of yet another of the eternal, celestial Guardians of the Sargasso Sea. She felt a stab of pity for him, for she had loved him. If only they could remember, but the act of taking on mortal flesh, for whatever reason—or no reason—somehow interfered with their memories. No matter how often, in what new way, the Guardians altered the contents of the rain, they couldn’t improve their earthly counterparts’ memories. Instead, the rains had only the unintended affect of destroying the minds of all but those who were earthly Guardians or their human-extraterrestrial offspring, the members of the secret societies, such as Charlotte and her daughter.
She was sorry that she’d had to kill Jim, but, really, she’d had no choice. She stepped over his corpse and went to the table on which the cellular phone lay. She picked it up and pressed the “Talk” button.
Charlotte smiled at the sound of her daughter’s voice, and then she frowned as she delivered the crushing news. “Your father’s been killed.”
Killed! What do you mean?”
Charlotte winced at the disbelief in her daughter’s voice. Soon, the disbelief would become raw, naked pain as grief flooded Julie’s soul. “The rains have come, and the townspeople have gone insane. One of them must have killed your father.”
There was a pause. Charlotte heard Julie sniffle. Then, her daughter said, “I’ll come right home.”
No! It’s too dangerous. Besides, the next rain is going to fall soon. Those who aren’t already insane will be, soon enough. I’ll come to you.”
All right, Mother. Hurry, please.”
I will, as quickly as I can. I love you.”
I love you, too,” Julie murmured.
Charlotte pressed the “Talk” button again, to terminate the call, and slipped the phone into the side pocket of her sweater. She stepped back over Jim’s corpse and went outside, to her car.
At the edge of town, a young, pimply-faced soldier stopped her. “The town is under quarantine. It’s under a curfew, too—which you’re violating.”
Charlotte looked into the National Guardsman’s eyes. Her own flickered, as if a spark of gold streaked across her green irises. “The quarantine doesn’t apply to me. I’m not subject to the curfew. I can come and go as I please.”
The soldier repeated her words, in a toneless voice. “The quarantine doesn’t apply to you. You’re not subject to the curfew. You can come and go as you please.”
Julie proceeded, anxious to leave the soldier, the home she’d shared with Jim, and the town of Flat Range, Kansas, far behind her. The hypnotic spells that she and others of her kind, Julie included, could effect on humans was one of the few abilities she had as a hybrid that she actually enjoyed. Nevertheless, she used it only infrequently, when it was useful, as she’d done with regard to the soldier who’d barred her way. It was too bad that the Guardians, in their fleshly guise, were not susceptible to her influence. If she could have hypnotized Jim, she wouldn’t have had to kill him, and she could have spared Julie the grief that her father’s death had caused her.
Well, there was no time to worry about either her late husband’s death or her daughter’s sorrow. There was much for Julie to learn. Once Charlotte had gotten Jim’s funeral service out of the way, she’d commence her daughter’s true education, right away. After all, as long as the celestial Guardians persisted in taking on human flesh and fathering hybrids, sooner or later one would take Julie for his wife. Julie had to be ready.
As Charlotte left the town’s limits, a heavy turquoise rain began to fall from the cloudless, blue sky.

1 The symbolic significance of these meteorological phenomena are listed in the Soul Future Dream Dictionary ( The psychological sources for dream interpretation as a therapeutic technique are Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and others.

2 These accounts of strange rains appear in the Internet article, “Red Rain” (

3This amusing incident is recounted in “Red Rain.”

4 This story is also recounted in “Red Rain.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

10 People Mistaken for Imaginary Creatures

Copyright 2020 by Gary L. Pullman

10 Andrew Swofford

Apparently, some spirits of the dead are transvestites. Perhaps too embarrassed to buy clothes of their own (or too poor—most ghosts, it seems, have little or no need, as a rule, for cash, checks, credit cards, or bank accounts), one apparition decided to raid the closet Maddie, of a University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Maddie and her roommates live off-campus, in the Edge Apartments on Oakland Avenue, but it was Maddie whose shirts and pants went missing. The ghost proved more tangible than most, leaving its handprints on the apartment's bathroom wall.

When she heard “rattling” in her closet on February 4, 2019, Maddie went to investigate, thinking maybe a raccoon had been trapped inside. That's when she caught the ghost red-handed (so to speak). He was wearing her socks and shoes and had heisted a bag of her clothes. He tried on one of Maddie's hats, before inspecting himself in her bathroom mirror and, after complimenting her appearance, asked for a hug, but never touched her.

The ghost turned out to be 30-year-old Andrew Swofford. He was arrested on fourteen felony counts, including larceny and identity theft, and held on a $26,000 bond. Maddie and her roomies have since moved out of the apartment, having found their flesh-and-blood intruder more unnerving than the ghost they'd believed was haunting their abode.

9 Krushna Chandra Nayak

In August, 2018, forty-five-year-old Nakula Nayak and his brother Shyam Nayak, both of whom lived out of town, in Chhelianala, India, came to the village of Angikala to notify a relative, Sahadev Nayak, that their mother had died. Due to the lateness of the hour, the brothers stayed overnight with Sahadev.

Around midnight, Nakula went outside, to a field close by, to relieve himself. Coincidentally, Sahadev's cousin, Krushna Nayak, was working outdoors. The night was quite dark, and when Krushna saw  Nakula, Krushna mistook the visitor for a ghost.

Terrified, Krushna began beating Nakula with a lathi, a heavy, iron-bound bamboo stick. During the struggle, Nakula managed to wrest the weapon from Krushna and began to strike his assailant, believing his attacker to be a ghost, just as Krushna had mistaken Nakula for a spirit. Nakula's assault on Krushna proved fatal, and Nakula was arrested by the Turumunga police after Krushna's family lodged a complaint against him.

8 Unidentified Helena, Montana, Man

Was the shooter's reason for shooting at a 27-year-old Helena man nothing more than a lame excuse, or did the gunman really believe that his quarry, who was setting up targets on public land, a Bigfoot?

The victim told police bullets came flying at him, left and right, as he positioned the targets. When additional rounds were fired at him, he sought cover among trees. Later, he emerged to “confront” the shooter, who drove a black Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck.

The Helena man said the man who targeted him in December, 2018, had mistaken him for Bigfoot. “I don’t target practice,” he explained, “but if I see something that looks like Bigfoot, I just shoot at it.” To prevent others from making a similar mistake, the shooter suggested that his victim wear an orange vest.

Initially, police were skeptical of the man's report, because he was unable to describe the alleged shooter, did not want to file charges, and was reluctant to speak to deputies. Authorities were unable to locate a truck in the area that fit the description of the Ford F-150 pickup.

Then, a woman reported a similar incident involving a man who drove a vehicle of the same color, make, and model and had shot at her. She was able to provide a solid description of her assailant.

“We’re working to find this person,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said. “It is of great concern that this individual might think it’s okay to shoot at anything he thinks is Bigfoot.” If apprehended, the shooter could be charged with attempted negligent homicide.

7 Wendy Thinnamay Masuka

In April, 2018, thirty-seven-year-old Zimbabwe pastor Masimba Chirayi killed Wendy Thinnamay Masuka while baptizing her. The adult congregant had reacted violently to the baptism, he said.

Her violence indicated to him that she was a “vampire possessed by demons,” and he believed that she might “kill people.” To prevent this possibility, Chirayi deliberately “kept her submerged in water until [he] overpowered her.”

Following his appearance in a magistrate's court in Zimbabwe, the pastor was granted bail.

6 Helaria Montepon Gumilid

Mistaking Helaria Montepon Gumilid, a 79-year-old widow, for an aswang (a carnivorous shape-shifter that may appear to be an ordinary person, despite “reclusive habits or magical abilities,” Helaria's daughter-in-law, Myrna Damason Gumilid, age 49, and Myrna's two sons, Rene Boy Gumilid, age 28, and Joseph Damason Gumilid, age 23, hacked her to death.

 In April, 2014, the victim had been visiting her mentally-ill grandson in Zamboanga City, Philippines, when she was attacked and killed.  Myrna, Rene Boy, and Joseph bound Helaria, “slit her armpits,” hacked her to death, and removed one of her organs to prevent her from “regenerating.”

Authorities arrested the suspects, whom they planned to charge in the horrific crime.

5 African Man

In October, 2010, firefighters responding to a report that people had jumped from the third-story balcony of a housing unit in the village of La Verriere, France, discovered seriously injured relatives among the eleven family members who'd made the leap. They also found a two-year-old survivor, a baby, and a nude African man with a knife wound to his hand. The baby later died at a hospital in Paris. (La Verriere is located on the edge of the city.)

Thirteen people were watching television in the apartment when the naked man, hearing the baby cry, rose to prepare a bottle for the child. His wife screamed, “It's the devil! It's the devil!” His sister-in-law stabbed him in the hand, and he was thrown out of the apartment.

When he tried to return, the others panicked, leaping from through the window, one man with the two-year-old girl in his arms. The man crawled away, hiding in bushes tow blocks away. “I had to defend myself,” he screamed. Seven of the jumpers required medical treatment for multiple injuries.

No hallucinogenics and no indication of the practice of any occult rituals were found. The assistant prosecutor from Versailles, Odile Faivre, admitted, “A number of points remain to be cleared up.”

4 James Velasco

Hacked, bitten, and beaten, James Velasco was killed by his grandfather, Orak Mantawil, during a December, 2015, power outage at their family-owned residence in Bliss, Barangay Nituran, Parang, Maguindanao.

Mantawil was carrying his four-year-old grandson in his arms when he mistook James for a tiyana, a vampire who assumes the form of a child or a newborn infant. He apologized to his family and the boy's parents, saying that he was drunk and cannot recall what happened after he saw James as a tiyana. He told investigators that he does not “use drugs.”

 James's parents brought charges of parricide against Mantawil. “He could no longer bring back my child’s life even though he asked forgiveness,” said Fatima Velasco, James's mother and Mantawil's daughter. She also said, “My child sustained human bites. It appeared like his blood was sucked.”

Mantawil has been arrested and will be subjected to a psychological examination and a drug test.

3 Stella

After Stella was caught tiptoeing on graves at Luveve Cemetery in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 2018, a crowd meted out vigilante justice, beating the woman, who they regarded as a witch searching for corpses she could cannibalize.

A Luveve resident said, “I was on my way to work when I saw a woman with torn, dirty clothes talking to herself while tiptoeing on the graves. I quickly called out to other people passing by.” When asked her name, the woman repeatedly replied “Stella.”

 The crowd set upon her, whipping her until she wailed in pain. Police rescued her when they arrived on the scene, and Stella was taken to the police station, where, Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said, she was found to be “mentally unstable” and to be guilty of nothing more than of having been “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” A family who'd reported the woman missing identified her as a relative.

2 Zana

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford, said a West African DNA strain might belong to a human subspecies.

The DNA sample was taken from a hirsute, auburn-haired, 6'6”-tall, mid-19-century African slave named Zana who lived in mid-19th-century Russia proves she was 100-percent African, despite the fact that she didn't look like any modern African group of people.

In fact, according to a Russian zoologist, “her expression . . . was pure animal.”

 Sykes suggests that she and her ancestors left Africa 100,000 years ago to dwell in the region of the Caucasus Mountains. His most astonishing claim, however, is that Zana might have been a yeti, or so-called abominable snowman.

Several critics are more than a bit skeptical of Sykes's claims. For example, Jason Colavito points out that, by Sykes's own admission, the geneticist “has found no genetic evidence that yet points conclusively to a pre-modern origin for Zana” and suggests that the characterization of her as being more “animal” than human might have a racist origin: “As best I can tell, there are no nineteenth century primary sources related to Zana, and all of the accounts of her large, apelike appearance derive from local lore recorded more than a hundred years after the fact, and during a time when Black Africans were routinely described as apelike, particularly by isolated rural populations with little or no contact with other races.”

It seems possible that Sykes has mistaken Zana for a yeti, when, in fact, she was actually a 19th-century African slave.

1 Horseman (Centaur)

Ancient people also sometimes mistook people for imaginary creatures.

Imagine the shock that ancient Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples experienced when they first witnessed mounted Eurasian soldiers invading their lands. The cavalry was unknown to them. The horsemen must have seemed a perfect union of man and horse, a hybrid fusion of the human and the equine. Such warriors would have been terrifying, and warriors wielding shields and striking with swords must have seemed invincible.

As Bjarke Rink observes in his book, The Rise of the Centaurs, “The impact of cavalry action upon farming societies was shattering”—and this sight was the origin of the mythical creature known as the centaur, a presumed hybrid of man and beast that the ancient Greeks mistook for true monsters: “The weird creature that captured the world's imagination for thousands of years was not a myth at all, but the first sighting of fighting horsemen by the peasant farmers of Greece.”

Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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