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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mystic Mansion: A Sequel to Saturday's Child

copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman


Mystic Mansion: A Sequel to Saturday’s Child

Crystal Fall and her friends discover that the horrors of Nazi Germany didn't end with Adolph Hitler. An ancient artifact, which he believed empowered him and his Third Reich, has been discovered, and its awesome power has been unleashed in a mysterious mystic mansion. Can Crystal Fall and her friends save the world. . . again. . . even if, as Fran Newell believes, God is not on their side? For readers who have graduated from R. L. Stine but aren't quite ready for Stephen King, this novel and its prequel, Saturday's Child, are perfect reads!

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The blonde-haired woman sat hunched against the concrete wall of the underground bunker.

The bunker was one of many in the two-story complex fifty feet below the Chancellery Building. She had the run of the complex, but she preferred to be wherever her soul mate led. At the moment, he was here, planning the army’s defenses.

Now thirty-three years old, she was considered a handsome woman. Only ten years ago, she had been strikingly beautiful, but the last decade had been expensive. It had cost her not only her beauty, but also her youthful lust for life and, very nearly, her sanity.

Now, as she sat in the dank subterranean shelter, she studied her life’s companion, the odd-looking man with the odd-looking mustache who sat hunkered over a table, surrounded by Army officers and staring at maps.

How different life had seemed when, at twenty, she’d met him at Heinrich Hoffman’s photographic studio! He’d struck her, even then, as somewhat odd-looking. She’d mentioned to her sister Isle that he wore a “funny mustache and carried a big felt hat.” At the same time, though, she’d been struck with the air of authority that virtually radiated from him. Even then, he had carried himself with an arrogant pride. He had seemed a man of destiny.

When he’d asked her to become his domestic partner, she’d left Heinrich’s employ. Over the years, she’d gone from living in an apartment in Munich to a villa in the same city, and her lover had provided her a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. Life for the former photographer’s assistant was good. Her perception, it appeared, had been correct. Her paramour seemed to be a man destined for greatness, indeed.

Nevertheless, during the next decade, although her material existence continually improved, her emotional and spiritual health declined. She read cheap novels, watched romantic films, and alternated between exercise and brooding inactivity. Her appearance became increasingly a concern to her, and she assured and reassured her mate that she would stand by him, even unto death.

To her, he would confide his most intimate fears and concerns. One was that he would lose the source of his power, the Spear of Destiny, as he called it.
As a youth, long before he had come to power, he’d stood in the Hofburg Treasure House, where the holy relic was on display, staring intently at the wondrous weapon—the spear that the Roman soldier Longinus had used to pierce the side of the crucified Christ.

According to the lore associated with this spear, it was imbued with Jesus Christ’s passion. It was steeped in the very agony and ecstasy that Christ had experienced while hanging on the cross. Consequently, the spear was said to equip its possessor with enormous power to do good or evil.

Now, it was 1945, and their enemies had surrounded them, forcing them to retreat to this last refuge.

Leaving the conference at the table, he came to her. “It is still not too late,” he said, passionately. “You can save yourself, my darling. I have yet within my hands the power to secure your life, your future. I have ordered you to go. Now, I beg you.”

“Have you accepted your advisors’ counsel that you should flee to the mountains around Berchtesgaden?” she asked.

Without hesitation, he replied, “My place is here.”

“As is mine,” she declared.

“No, you must save yourself!”

Eva Braun smiled at his thoughtfulness, at his love. “It is better that ten thousand die,” she replied, “than that you be lost to Germany!”

She had said this when she’d heard that millions of Jews were being tortured and exterminated and that millions more were scheduled for such a fate. It was necessary, he had explained to her, to feed the demons with which he was in allegiance. They thrived on misery and human suffering. Under his regime, the demons had fattened and had rewarded him accordingly. His rise to power had been meteoric.

He averted his gaze, not wishing for her to see the emotion that her words had engendered within him. Her fierce devotion was moving.

“Then you will not go?”

She shook her head. “My place is at your side.”

“This is no game,” he told her bluntly. “This is the end. We will die.”

“Then,” she said defiantly, holding his gaze with hers, “we will die together.”

He kissed her hand before returning to his generals.

Eva thought of the sacrifices that he had made in leading his country to its glorious destiny as the Third Reich.

The First Reich had lasted for well over two hundred years, from 700 to 936, from the time of the Merovingian kings to the time that the Vikings threatened to tear the empire apart. The First Reich had blossomed under Charlemagne, who had also possessed the Spear of Destiny. It was not until long after his death that the First Reich was divided into the five duchies of Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Lorraine and a long period of weak kings ruined the glory that had been the First Reich.

By 1860, Germany had been divided into the German Confederation of thirty-nine states. The Second Reich began when Kaiser Wilheim I was crowned. Thereafter, through warfare and political machinations, a succession of leaders established the Weimar Republic at the end of World War I, and the Second Reich came to its end.
Some time between or during the first empires, the Spear of Destiny passed into the hands of the Hapsburg family, who displayed it in a kind of museum, the Hofburg Treasure House, in Vienna, along with their other regalia.

In 1933, the German Reichstag burned down, and the communists were blamed, giving the Nazis the opportunity to capitalize on the German people’s fears and limit their rights under the Weimar Constitution. Wondrously, Hitler then secured the authority to enact laws without parliamentary action, and the beginnings of his rise to power began as the Nazi Party became the only legal political organization in the state and the rights of other groups were methodically repressed through the Gestapo’s brutal tactics. Now, Hitler was able to pursue his dream of a Master Race exercising world dominance.

Behind the scenes at every turn, Hitler had wielded the Spear of Destiny. Always, the miraculous weapon had inspired visions in which Hitler had seen his dreams unfold. Even as a youth, he’d visited the Hofburg Treasure House to see the wonderful artifact, standing for hours before the ancient weapon, spellbound by it.
As soon as he’d risen to power, Hitler had taken the spear as his own, and it had both guided and empowered him ever since.
Now, however, something was wrong.

The enchantments were failing.

Hitler himself had lost faith in his glorious dream of the worldwide rule a pure Master Race.

Eva Braun shook her head in disbelief. Despite Der Führer’s words, she could not believe that the end had come. She could not believe that they would die.

How could their dream end this way?

The Spear of Destiny assured her paramour’s success, had it not? For years, the spear had led him to victory after victory until his dominion over the entire world seemed inevitable.

Nevertheless, the Russian army had done the unthinkable, forcing them to retreat to this subterranean bunker.

She looked at the spear, which Hitler had set against the wall near his seat at the head of the table. Its point glowed blood-red, as bright and glorious as ever.
They would not be defeated—not now, not ever!

Had not the Reich created an elite force of commandos, the Werewolves, to disrupt the enemy? No less a personage than Goebbels had vouchsafed the sanctity of the
Werewolves’ mission, asserting in his radio messages that “Satan has taken command."
He had sworn, further, that “"We Werewolves consider it our supreme duty to kill, to kill, and to kill, employing every cunning and wile in the darkness of the night, crawling, groping through towns and villages, like wolves, noiselessly, mysteriously” to wreck vengeance on the Reich’s would-be conquerors.”

The bunker shook. The bare light bulb in the suspended fixture swung madly back and forth as a thick cloud of earth and concrete dust billowed within the close confines of the chamber that, Eva believed now, for the first time, might actually become their tomb.

“My Führer, you have received a telegram,” an aide announced, presenting the message to Hitler.

Hitler slit open the sealed communiqué and read the text:

My Führer!

In view of your decision to remain in the fortress of Berlin, do you agree that I take over at once the total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action at home and abroad as your deputy, in accordance with your decree of June 29, 1941? If no reply is received by 10 o'clock tonight, I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action, and shall consider the conditions of your decree as fulfilled, and shall act for the best interests of our country and our people. You know what I feel for you in this gravest hour of my life. Words fail me to express myself. May God protect you, and speed you quickly here in spite of all.

Your loyal
Hermann Göring

Hitler flung the telegram aside, color rising through his neck and reddening his face. His countenance was transformed. Where moments before had appeared the features of a man, there was now something indubitably demonic about the twisted visage. He pounded the table with his fist, glaring at the officers surrounding him.
“This is treason!” he cried. “This outrage will not be brooked!”

The officers looked fearfully at one another or averted their gaze altogether, glancing at the tabletop or the floor.

Eva also averted her gaze.

She hated to see him like this, during one of what she had come to regard as his “fits.” Lately, it seemed, he was having more and more of these fits.

During such moments, he was transformed, and the inner, hidden beast within came to
the fore in all its savagery.

He turned to his top aide. “Borrman, send a reply at once! I want Göring to understand that I regard his message as an act of treason for which he deserves no less than death. However, in deference to his previous long-term loyalty and service to the Reich, I will spare his life, provided that he resign immediately.”
Martin Bormann nodded. “It will be done, Führer.”

As the aide started to turn, Hitler stopped him. “I want him arrested at once! See to it that the S S receive the order.”

“Yes, my Führer.”

Another artillery shell struck near the Chancellery Garden. The bunker filled with
a thick, choking dust.

The point of the spear seemed just as bright and luminous, Eva thought.

They could weather the Russians’ assault.

Their elite Werewolves would prevail.

The Spear of Destiny, after all, was still in the hands of the Reich.
She consoled herself with the thought that the spearhead still shone as brightly as ever.

Didn’t it?

Then why, she wondered, had Hitler earlier allowed all but essential personnel to leave the bunker complex?

A few days later, Eva and her beloved took time to marry.

“I wish that I could be a proper bride for you,” she apologized.

Hitler held her face in his hands. “I wish that I could have given you the world.”
The officiating officer awaited Der Führer’s command. There was little time to waste on pleasantries. More and more of the Russian’s artillery had been striking closer and closer to the Chancellery.

Without taking his eyes off his bride, Hitler gave the official permission to begin, and he and Eva were wed. In death, if not in life, they would be married, at least.

“I regret that we cannot have a proper honeymoon,” the groom said.

“My entire life with you has been a honeymoon.” She replied.

“I am sorry, my darling, but I must return my attention to—“

“There is no need to apologize,” she said, shushing him.

Yesterday, he had sent for Luftwaffe General Ritter von Greim, who had arrived through a barrage of Russian ground fire, landing his plane in the street near the bunker complex. In the process, the general’s foot had been injured, but he was here, now, and that was all that mattered for, today, Hitler would name Greim as Göring's successor, and the general would become the field marshal in command of the Luftwaffe.

Yesterday, Hitler had performed a more unpleasant duty. Word had reached him that S S Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had resorted to treason as well, attempting to negotiate with the accursed Allies. Himmler had even offered to surrender some of the Reich’s western armies to the American general, Eisenhower!

Hitler’s rage had frightened even Eva. He’d ordered Himmler’s immediate arrest and, to make an example of what would befall such traitors, he’d had S S Lt. Gen. Hermann Fegelein, Himmler’s personal assistant in the bunker, taken to the Chancellery Garden and summarily executed. When she’d heard that her brother-in-law had been shot on Hitler’s command, Eva supported her paramour, repeating what had become almost a mantra. “It is better that ten thousand die,” she had sworn, “than that he be lost to Germany!” It was, perhaps, this expression of her uttermost devotion to him that had persuaded Hitler to marry her.

Hitler, however, had not been the same since the disastrous defections of Göring and Himmler. The latter’s treason affected Hitler more than anything in his late career. Himmler had been a trusted confidant from the beginning. “Faithful Heinrich,” Hitler had dubbed him. Next to Eva, there was no one in whom Hitler trusted as much. He had allowed himself to put his faith in this one man above all others, and Himmler had sought to betray that trust in the end, when he perceived his own life to be endangered. Hitler had meant nothing to the coward! The Reich had meant nothing. Only the worthless life of Heinrich Himmler had counted in the end.

It was Himmler’s betrayal that made Hitler understand that, Spear of Destiny or no Spear of Destiny, the Reich would fall and he would die.
All that remained within his power was to determine the manner of his death. It was unthinkable to allow his enemies to execute him.

If die he must, it would be by his own hand.

“Bring me Blondi,” he ordered.

“Yes, Führer,” Borrman replied, fetching Hitler’s favorite dog. Hitler commanded that Blondi be administered a lethal dose of poison. When the animal died a few minutes later, Hitler and the others in the bunker knew that the toxin was effective, and he handed capsules to each of his female secretaries. “I wish that I had better parting gifts,” he said. “At least these will allow you to die with dignity, rather than at the hands of our accursed enemies.”

By now, it was common knowledge that the Russians were only blocks away from the Chancellery. Their artillery fire had begun to score direct hits.
To her horror, Eva had seen that, at last, the bright spearhead was dimmer—much dimmer than it had been even days before.

Along with her groom, she had come to accept the inevitability of the loss of the war and the failure of the Reich. She did not wish to live in this world any longer if her husband could not rule it absolutely. She was prepared to die. Taking her husband’s hand, she walked with him through the gloomy bunker, into their private chamber, having bid farewell to Bormann, Goebbels, Generals Krebs and Burgdorf, and the other staff.

Soon afterward, those outside the couple’s chamber heard a gunshot.

Bormann and Goebbels entered their room.

Hitler’s body lay sprawled upon the couch. He had shot himself in the right temple. Blood ran from the wound, streaking his cheek with its crimson stain.

His bride was also dead, but she had died from having swallowed the same poison that had killed Blondi.

Outside, Russian artillery rounds continued to rain down upon the Chancellery Garden.
Bormann and Goebbels ordered the bodies of Hitler and Eva carried to the Garden, saying “Douse them with gasoline.”

Nazi soldiers poured the fuel on their bodies, and the corpses were ignited. The fire raged, dancing furiously. The roasting corpses blackened in the blazing inferno. The air filled with the sickening stench of burning flesh.

Bormann and Goebbels presented stiff-armed Nazi salutes.

From time to time, the soldiers poured more gasoline onto the fire. The blackened bodies crackled and sizzled in the flames.

“I think they’re done,” one of the officers observed dryly.

The soldiers removed the blackened corpses, wrapped them in a tarpaulin, and buried them in a shallow grave.

The Third Reich had fallen to the combined might of the Allied forces.

In the subterranean bunker, the Spear of Destiny rested against the wall. Its head no longer glowed. It had the dull, lackluster appearance of flint.

Fran Newell tossed and turned.

A full moon was high in the star-studded heavens, peering through the tangle of twisted limbs that the mimosa tree outside her bedroom window stretched into the sky.

Fran’s heart beat fast, and she panted for breath. Her arms flailed.

Shadows shifted in her bedroom as the night breeze gently lifted and tossed the mimosa branches. The soft fragrance of the pink powder-puff blossoms wafted through Fran’s open window.

Fran opened her mouth to scream—but, then, she saw him—the white-robed figure stood before her. A dazzling white light emanated from within him; he was its source.

Fran slunk backward, frightened.

She heard his voice. It was gentle, peaceful, full of love. Fear not.

What frightened Fran even more was that she hadn’t seen his lips move. The light
was so bright that she could not see his face clearly; it was like a sun—so brilliant that it hurt her eyes to look at it directly. Somehow, she knew that his lips hadn’t moved—yet he’d spoken to her; she’d heard his voice.

“W-who are you?” she stammered.

I am Alpha and Omega, he said, the Beginning and the End.

Wasn’t that a verse from the Bible? Fran thought. Wasn’t that something that Jesus was supposed to have said? What would Jesus want with an atheist like me?

Your time has not yet come, the voice informed her. You shall live to serve me. Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall see.

Fran frowned. What was that supposed to mean? She wondered. There was nothing wrong with her vision. I see just fine, she thought.

You shall see visions; you shall prophecy in my name.

Okay, Fran thought, this is all too weird. I’m going to wake up now!

Abruptly, the dazzling figure was gone, and Fran felt an enormous pain in her head.

She heard another voice. We have a pulse!

Fran gasped, sitting upright in her bed, the disheveled counterpane in tangled mounds. The moonlight shone through her window. Her teddy bear lay beside her, and she clutched it to her chest. “It was a dream” she told the plush animal, “just a dream.”

It was a dream inspired by a reality, though. Unknown to her best friends, Crystal Fall, Dee Dee Dawkins, and David Lewis, Fran hadn’t merely suffered a concussion during their battle with Dr. Trask and his hypnotized servants in their bid to take control of Edgar Allan Poe High School and its students’ minds. When Randy Sheffield had shoved her headfirst into that bank of lockers, Fran had sustained injuries that had actually killed her—if only for a few moments. At first, she’d attributed her strange dream about the brilliant figure in white to a “near-death experience,” but research showed that, whatever had happened to her, she hadn’t had such an experience, even if she had been clinically dead.

No, her research showed that, other than seeing a shining figure in white, she’d experienced few of the common characteristics associated with a near-death experience. Fran had felt no calmness (she’d been frightened). She had heard no buzzing sound, and she had felt no tingling sensation. There’d been no awareness before the dream that her soul had separated from her body (Fran believed, in fact, that there was no soul). She’d fallen through no dark tunnel. She’d felt no ecstasy. She hadn’t met bewildered spirits. She hadn’t seen a beautiful garden.
She hadn’t watched a filmstrip of her life that highlighted missed opportunities to lend others a hand. She’d met no deceased friends or family members. There’d been no sightings of celestial cities of light.

Yes, she had encountered a Being of Light and, yes, she had been sent back to this world with a mission—but, to her mind, two out of more than a dozen possible characteristics did not constitute a near death experience.

It had been only a dream, induced by the powerful sedatives she’d been administered in the emergency room.

It had been just a dream.

Then, the emergency room team had revived her.

Thereafter, she’d lain in the hospital for a week, recovering.

Except that she hadn’t recovered—at least, not completely.

The dream or vision or whatever she’d had while she’d been clinically dead continued to haunt her.

There was no God.

Jesus had been only a great teacher and a superior moral leader. Certainly, if there were no God, Jesus couldn’t have been the Son of God. That was just a myth.

So how did she explain the figure that had said, I am Alpha and Omega?

Obviously, it had been a hallucination, the effect of chemicals in her brain, or misfiring synapses, or something. There was no reason to think that it was actually Jesus Christ who’d appeared to her in another realm somewhere beyond this world.
Ockcam’s razor, she reminded herself, was the sensible position to take with regard to such a dubious hypothesis as her being visited by God in the flesh: “Never needlessly multiply hypotheses.” The simplest explanation was to be preferred.
There was no need to bring in the supernatural to explain something for which natural causes could account.

Sure, she’d been dead—for a few minutes—and she’d seen a brilliant, shining man in a white robe that had quoted the Bible, but it had been her own mind creating the imagery and the words, just as her mind created dreams during sleep.

Again, Fran frowned. Why should I, an atheist, dream about Jesus Christ? The question was unsettling, and Fran shivered. Perhaps, she thought, she wasn’t as immune to superstition as she’d supposed. Maybe part of her—a deep part beyond logic and emotion—believed despite her disbelief. What was it that Blaise Pascal had said? “The heart has reasons that reason does not know?”

Even if hallucination could explain the figure in white, what about the other visions—those that she’d had while she’d been wide awake—those that had been of future events—those that had come to pass?

She had tried to repress the memory of these visions, had tried to deny them, but she couldn’t.

The little boy who’d fallen from the tree house in his back yard—he had fallen, just as she’d foreseen. It had been in the newspaper. Wasn’t she responsible for his injuries, his paralysis? After all, she had known—or had seen, at least—and she had done nothing to report the impending catastrophe. Now, the boy had lost the use of his legs forever.

A week later, she’d had a vision of the hornets’ nest in the woods near Eureka Creek—and of the girl taking a shortcut home being stung by the hornets—stung and stung and stung. How many times had the newspaper article said? “Over a hundred.” Luckily, the girl had lived but, again, couldn’t Fran have prevented the calamity? Hadn’t the shining, white-robed figure told her as much?

Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall see.

Fran’s denial had resulted in a boy being paralyzed and a girl being stung nearly to death.

That was absurd!

There was no God.

She was sure of it.

God couldn’t exist—not in a world of suffering and pain, not if God was, as Crystal Fall had assured her, omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent. How could a loving God countenance starving babies and famine and pestilence and railroad accidents and tornadoes and disease and insanity and paralyzed boys and hornets stinging girls and teenage girls dying because they’d been shoved by a brainwashed, hypnotized zombie into a bank of high school lockers? If God existed, he’d have to be a sadist, not a loving God.

On the other hand, what if there is a God? she asked herself.

What if Job had been right in his answer? What if, despite evil, pain, and suffering, God is good and all-powerful and has reasons for allowing bad things to happen to good people? To a cat, it may seem evil that its master won’t let it out, but its owner may know that this apparent evil could save the pet from being squashed to death beneath a car’s tires or from being torn apart by a pack of wild dogs. Maybe God, being all-knowing, knows a thing or two that people don’t. Maybe people should trust him, as Job had argued, saying, “The just shall live by faith.”

Fran thought of the latest vision she’d had. The vision had involved Crystal’s discovery of a dead body in the park they called “The Swamp.”

What if that happened, too?

“It won’t,” she told her teddy bear. “There is no God.”

She recalled her visions of the paralyzed boy and the bee-stung girl.

Coincidence, Fran decided.

The high, full moon seemed to grin at her from its vantage point among the stars.

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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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