Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I gave it a shot last winter without any success, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. To that end, I'm resurrecting the mouldering corpse of last year's inaugural WRITE IN THE DEAD OF WINTER contest, but doing so early enough that hopefully more people will get on board. I don't have all the details hammered out, but I'm thinking cash prize and I'll post the entries at a new blog I'm setting up: Dark Passages, which is incidentally the name of the new imprint for all Whorl Books horror titles going forward. Maybe we'll even publish some type of anthology.

So click your pens, whip out your laptops, or pluck a quill from a crow and pen your darkest fears in the thickest blood... These will be short stories and microfiction (aka, short, short stories or flash fiction) on whatever dark theme you feel like hitting up: psychological horror, terror of the uncanny, classic gothic ghost story, Lovecraftian horror, good old-fashioned monster tale.... Make us shiver. WRITE IN THE DEAD OF WINTER.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Professor's Relic Revelation Haunted Career

Professor Florentino Amanghino, an Argentine scientist (1854 - 1911), was the founding father of South American paleontology and a driving force in the field world wide.

However, according to one source, a curious gift was once delivered to his office from the region of his country known as Patagonia that would baffle the Professor and cause him to question his scientific beliefs. Inside, according to an attached note, was a partial specimen--a piece of hide--of an animal the locals had killed but were unable to identify.

Shaken, Amanghino asked a colleague how old he estimated that bit of skin to be.  The man agreed that it couldn't have been more than a year old, given its fresh and pliable state. "What sort of hide is it," the man asked.

The professor paused, knowing his words wouldn't be believed, "It is from a giant sloth."

As expected, the Professor's colleague sputtered his incredulity at such a preposterous assertion. "Are you mad? The giant sloth died out 25
million years ago!"

Professor Amanghino remained convinced he had correctly identified the sample for the remainder of his career, begging the question: Do extinct creatures still roam the wild and remote environs of Patagonia?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Phantom Monk of Sawtooth Mountain

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Holland decided to leave the hustle and bustle behind and vacation in the remote environs of Alaska at the foot of Sawtooth mountain one summer in the early part of the 20th century.

One evening toward the close of their trip the couple found themselves talking to a barkeep in their village about venturing through a pass in the mountains to explore a nearby valley. The couple was concerned about getting lost since they had heard there were snowstorms through there almost daily.

"Oh, you'll get lost all right," the bartender said. "But don't worry about it. You'll be okay."

The man's assurances didn't quite quell the couple's concerns, but since the following day began so beautifully, the pair decided to give it a go. They hitched up a team of dogs to their sled and proceeded into the mountains.

However, as they approached the pass, the once beautiful skies grew leaden, the wind picked up, and fat flakes of snow began whipping around them.

It wasn't long before visibility was nearly nothing and the couple grew nervous. Had this all been a terrible mistake? Should they turn around?

The two argued these points for several minutes when suddenly the wife called out.

"Look over there! There's a man out there in the storm."

The husband soon saw the figure, too. He seemed to be dressed as a monk. What's more they noted a dog trotting alongside.

The stranger in the snow motioned for the couple to follow him. Hesitant but desperate, the couple guided the dogs to follow the strange figure through the blizzard.

In a while they came through the valley and the skies cleared some. The wife leaped from the sled to thank the stranger, but he was gone.

Later, when the couple finally returned to the village, the once again met up with the barkeep.

"Well, you made it through, I see." The bartender commented.

"We almost didn't," the wife admitted. "If it hadn't been for..."

"A monk?" The bartender asked.

"Why, yes. How-how did you know?"

Apparently, the vanishing monk had been guiding travelers through the valley for almost 200 years.

Sawtooth Mountain lies roughly 60 miles northwest of Fairbanks, between the Yukon and Tanapa rivers and rises 4,639 feet. To the west of the mountain lies the interestingly named Blizzard Creek. Stibnite (or Antimonite) has been mined on the mountain, but no roads reach this remote region. Instead, travelers come up by river and then proceed on foot or by sled. If there was once a village in the vicinity of the mountain, it seems to be lost to history.

A popular radio program from the 1950s, Incredible, But True, might have been the genesis for the preceding legend. It seems every reference I can find to the Monk of the Sawtooth Mountains links itself to that show. If there is an actual local legend about a phantom monk, it's an obscure and likely moribund one. However, it is also likely that the talented and creative writers behind Incredible, But True conjured many of these otherworldly tales from their own imaginations.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Brit and the Beast

Captain Choate, Order of Distinguished Service, was stationed in Nigeria during World War I as Great Britain kept its grip on the former German colony.

It was in October 1918 that local tribal leaders told him about a man who transforms into a Hyena. The hunters knew this because they had followed the hyena prints after several attacks on both people and livestock. The men were amazed to see how the hyena prints transformed into human ones as they approached the next village.

Captain Choate joined the hunters as they tracked the creature to a moonlit clearing. Once spotted, the Captain took aim and fired. The men started as a fearful scream erupted from their quarry. Surely this must have been a mortal wound, they thought, and raced to the spot where the Hyena fell.

However, once they arrived they found no sign of the creature. To their discomfort, however, there was a bloodied human jaw on the ground--and a trail of blood leading in the direction of a nearby village. The Captain knew his aim was true. Now it was simply a matter of tracking the beast before it could attack another poor soul like this man whose jaw now sat in the bloody grass before them.

They followed the trail toward the next closest village, but it abruptly vanished. Exhausted by the hunt, the men went to the hut of an old man and asked if they could pass the night in his home and resume the search at first light. The man agreed and the hunting party settled in.

When the awoke in the morning, their host was gone. But as they stepped out into the early light, they spotted the old man coming down the path toward them, seemingly agitated. The old man told the hunters that he had gone to see his neighbor, another elder in the tribe, but found him dead. Someone had shot him in the face, shearing off his jaw bone in the process.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Magnetic Cloud

Many know of the apocryphal--and likely wholly fabricated--tale of the "Philadelphia Experiment," which purportedly managed to not only visibly cloak an entire ship (the USS Eldridge), but send it from its dock in Philadelphia through time and space to another port in Norfolk. READ MORE HERE

But you might not know that Philadelphia harbor was also the scene of another bizarre anomaly almost forty years prior.

In July 1904, as the British ship Mohican steamed into port, a curious fog enveloped it that, according to Captain Urquhart (as quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer), was so dense one could scarcely see the deck of the ship. This strangely dense, gray fog also seemed to glow brighter as the minutes passed. Moreover, the ship's compass spun crazily, iron chains and implements became magnetized to the deck plates, and the hairs on their heads and bodies stuck out "like bristles on a pig."

Half an hour of this passed before the curious cloud lifted and drifted out to sea.

No explanations were brought forth and the mystery subsided into the depths of half-remembered lore.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Draugr, A Nordic Zombie

The draugr or draug is a sort of zombie in Norse mythology, an undead being that appears as a mouldering corpse and often guards the treasures buried in the mound graves of important figures. In this fashion, the draugr is like a haugbui, which is also a reanimated corpse that guards a grave, but one that cannot leave. Some draugar (plural) also exist to right wrongs done to them in life.

The most well-known of these draugar is Glámr whose ultimate defeat by the hero Grettir is recounted in the Icelandic Sagas.

Draugar are most often created by the failure to properly bury a corpse by heeding all prescribed rituals. As well, the dead might return in such a fashion if they were an especially mean-spirited or greedy individual. But, much like our post-modern zombie, a draugr can be created when a person becomes infected by one.

A draugr is already dead, but can die a second death if it successfully avenges itself, is destroyed, or it decomposes too much.

Draugar have superhuman strength and can change their size, growing big enough to crush a person with their mass. They also attack victims, by devouring their flesh, drinking their blood, or simply driving them insane.

One can know the location of a draugr's grave by the odd behavior of animals around a particular spot. It is also said that foxfire near a mound will indicate the presence of a draugr.

These walking dead also have some magical abilities (known as trollskap) not unlike those of witches, including shape-shifting, clairvoyance, and cursing. A draugr can also move through solid matter, swimming through stone as if it were water. This allows him access most anywhere (including to and from a grave) with impunity. Draugar can bring with them diseases to plague the living and can bring about darkness even during the day.

To stop a draugr from ever rising, iron scissors were placed on the chest of the deceased. Other rituals involved secreting twigs in various pockets and folds on their clothing. Needles might have been driven into their feet to "pin" them to the earth, or their feet might have been bound together to effect the same result. Another manner in which the good people of a village would attempt to dissuade such a revenant creature would be to make the trip from the home to the grave site as confusing as possible, so that the corpse would be unaware of exactly where it then laid. In a similar fashion, one that shows up in other areas as well, is the creation of a corpse door in the house, a specially built door that would be sealed after the corpse has left so that it cannot find its way back to the house.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The First Horror Film

The first horror film was an 1896 Gothic vignette by French auteur Georges Melies entitled "Le Manoir du Diable."

The Sin Eater

An ancient--and likely moribund--English tradition that hasn't well been studied is that of the Sin Eater, a person who through the ingestion of food or drink, absorbs the sins of the recently deceased.

John Bagford, the famous English Antiquarian, wrote of the ritual in the late 17th century. He told of a man who sat before the door of a house, eating bread and drinking ale. When he was finished, he rose, pronounced the soul, for which he pawned his own, to now be departed.

A long held legend in Shropshire centers on the last sin eater in their region, Richard Munslow, who died in 1906. He would eat bread and drink ale and then make a speech over the deceased's grave. In this fashion, he took the burden of their sins as his own. As part of the speech, he implored the spirit to be at rest and to "come not down the lanes or in our meadows." It seemed that the sin eater may have been called upon in cases where an especially troubled or sinful person posed some revenant risk. To head off any ghostly return, the sin eater was summoned to make sure their spirit moved on.

A 1911 entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica relates what seems like a holdover of sin eater tradition in 1893 at Market Drayton, Shropshire when a woman poured a glass of wine for each pall bearer and handed each a "funeral biscuit" at the conclusion of a graveside service. "Burial cakes" and "funeral biscuits" and the ale of wine drank with them seemed, especially to the funereal Victorians, to be a watered down version of this ancient practice.

Bertram S. Puckle's 1926 book, Funeral Customs, recounts one Professor Evans of the Presbyterian College at Carmathen who told of having seen a sin eater in 1825 near Cardiganshire. Evans described the sin eater as a necessary but shunned member of village society, as those who tend the dead so often are. It was believed that this unclean person, an associate of evil spirits and practitioner
of witchcraft who lived in seclusion from the others, should only be called upon when death had come, for which he would be paid a sixpence fee. Often the bread was eaten directly from the corpse, but if a plate was to be used, it would be a wooden one that was burned afterward.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Mexico Cemetery's Strange Visitor

In Albuquerque, at the San Jose del El Rosario Cemetery (del El???) last month, a man who calls himself the "Light Wanderer" showed up on several occasions wearing a black cloak that covered his face and a white frock. In his hands, he brandished a bouquet of flowers seemingly plucked from the cemetery itself.

To startled onlookers, he seemed like the Grim Reaper.

"There is a place where sleepers sleep and dreamers dream and patiently await," the Light Wanderer said. He added that his presence is nothing to be afraid of.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Suicide Bridge for Dogs

In Dumbarton, Scotland, the Overtoun Bridge has been the nexus of a strange rash of canine suicides. Yep, you heard me.

For half a century, more than fifty dogs have hurled themselves from not only the same bridge, but the same spot on that bridge over a burn on the Overtoun estate. It seems to be a phenomenon affecting only Labradors, collies, and retrievers.

Many believe the bridge to be haunted, perhaps by a hunter lonesome for companionship on the other side. Maybe by a sprit that doesn't care much for our four-legged friends.

Nearby Overtoun House (featured in the film Cloud Atlas) overlooks Dumbarton and was built between 1859 and 1862 for the wealthy chemical manufacturer, James White. While the house and family certainly have their history, none exists to adequately explain the strange suicides.

Sadly, it hasn't just been dogs. In 1994, a local man threw his infant son from the bridge, believing him to be the devil reborn.

It should be noted that "Overtoun" is explained in some accounts as being Gaelic for "a thin spot," as if to imply that the walls between worlds are thinnest here. This doesn't seem to be true. Overtoun actually means above (Over) a farm or farmlands (T

oun, which has through the centuries become equated with the English "town").

American Horror Story: Inspiration --

If you've seen the first iteration of American Horror Story, then you might have been intrigued enough to uncover the "true" tale that likely inspired some of its plot points: The "Congelier Mansion".

Cited often as "The Most Haunted House in America" (where have we heard THAT before?), this "sprawling mansion," as some have called it, was supposedly the home Charles Wright Congelier built in 1871 for himself, his wife Lyda, and their unhappy marriage.

After some time in the home, Lyda caught her philandering husband and their maid, Essie, in a compromising situation.  In a rage, Lyda stabbed him and decapitated her.

Later, it's told, a Dr. Adolph C. Brunrichter bought the home. During an experiment in the basement, he caused an explosion that shattered the windows. The event brought the police to the house who discovered the grim doctor's ghoulish experiments to re-animate the severed heads of several young women.

The house was supposed to be haunted by the inconsolable spirits of these tragedies and that Thomas Edison even came to investigate with various ghost-busting mechanisms of his own design.

The house came down in 1927 when a gas explosion destroyed a large swath of that city.

Fantastic, right? I mean...the script practically writes itself!

Except for a few small details that people like Stephanie Hoover of the Hauntingly Pennsylvania website would call facts....

An admirably dogged debunker, Hoover researched the actual historical record of the home and learned that more than a few details were bunk.

There were no Congeliers living in the area in the 1870s.

The house was no sprawling mansion; it was a working class home in an industrial section of the city.

No insane doctor, headless corpses, or vile murders took place there.

Congeliers did live there in the 1920s when a gas explosion did shatter windows, a shard of which killed one Mary Congelier.

You can read more of Hoover's debunking here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sinister Story of the Cecil Hotel

While many hotels, especially those that have stood for any length of time, have stories--even dark ones--Los Angeles' Cecil Hotel has some of that city's darkest.

Built in 1927 as the ideal lodging for weary businessmen, the Cecil had become little more than a flop house by the 1950s.

Over its many decades, its halls have been darkened by the likes of serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. It's also one of the last places anyone had seen Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short alive.

The hotel has seen plenty of suicides, which might include Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian woman who was discovered in one of the water tanks on the roof. Lam was last seen on surveillance video acting peculiarly as she stepped in and out of an elevator (almost as if she were hiding), pressed all of its control buttons, and seemed to speak to an invisible presence. It is said she suffered from bipolar disorder.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Assemblage of the Uncanny

"On November 21, 1987, Korrina Lynne Sagers Malinoski, a 26-year old woman from Mount Holly, South Carolina, mysteriously disappeared when she did not show up for work and her car was found parked in front of the Mount Holly Plantation. But that’s not even the most bizarre aspect of this story. On October 4, 1988, Korrina’s 8-year old daughter, Annette Sagers, was on her way to school and went to the bus stop in front of the Mount Holly Plantation… and she mysteriously vanished as well!To make things even stranger, a note was found at the bus stop which read: “Dad, momma come back. Give the boys a hug”. While it looked like it may have been written under duress, handwriting experts determined that Annette likely wrote the note. It’s been speculated that Annette’s mother may have returned to reclaim her daughter so they could disappear together, but she also left two sons behind and no one in their family has heard from either of them in 25 years. In 2000, an anonymous caller claimed that Annette’s body was buried in Sumter County, but that lead never panned out. Overall, this is a truly baffling mystery with no discernible solution." [listverse.com]

In 1932 two German newspapermen were covering a story on the Hamburg-Altona shipyards. While there, the skies darkened eerily and the two men could hear the distant droning of aircraft. Not long after, the pair heard antiaircraft guns in response and within moments they were running for cover as bombs rained down around them, setting the shipyard ablaze. Furiously, the men shot photographs of the sudden destruction before dashing to the main offices of the shipyard to offer their assistance. However, the men were confused to find a nonplussed worker telling them to mind their own business. As the men drove off, the sun broke through, and the surreal landscape of an unremarkable day in Hamburg unfolded with each passing mile. Citizens, seemingly without a care in the world, went about their routine as normal. The pictures the two developed showed no signs of destruction. Years later, one of the reporters moved to England. In 1943, he spied a story in the paper about a night raid on the Hamburg-Altona shipyards, which included startling photographs that matched the devastation he had witnessed 11 years prior. [from J. Bernard Hutton's On the Other Side of Reality]

"The first recorded serial killer in history reigned like a mad queen for 15 years during the first century AD: Her name was Locusta, and her career reads like what would happen if Hannibal Lecter was given his own state college. Locusta's macabre story starts in the mid-first century A.D., where she was arrested for poisoning people. Fortune smiled upon her when Agrippina decided to poison Emperor Claudius, and can you guess who she turned to for help on that one? That's right, Locusta, who subsequently received a pardon for her lethal dose of girl power. So, what did Locusta do with her freedom? She got busted one year later in 55 A.D. for poisoning people. (Again, serial killer.) Fortunately, the new Emperor Nero needed her for another job, and Locusta was pardoned once more so she could whip up a deadly milkshake for Nero's 13-year-old step brother Britannicus. After that hit, Locusta was awarded a sweet villa and even pupils to aid her in her arts. That's right, even though she was a known murderer and repeat offender, Locusta was given everything she needed to open her own goddamn school for murder. However, Locusta's luck ran out when Nero committed suicide, leaving her with few allies and a reputation akin to that of a sorceress. The madwoman was arrested and promptly executed by Emperor Galba in 69 A.D. How did she die? Perhaps an ironic "taste" of her own medicine? Nope: She was supposedly publicly raped to death by a wild animal [some sources say a giraffe]. That's Roman law for you." [cracked.com]

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Great Moon Hoax

"On this day in 1835, the Great Moon Hoax was perpetrated by the New York Sun newspaper. They launched a series of articles about the supposed discovery of life on the moon, which they falsely attributed to the well-known astronomer Sir John Herschel. Life forms were said to include such fantastical creatures as unicorns, and bat-like, winged humanoids." [source unknown; perhaps originally from Coast to Coast]

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mujina: The Faceless Spirit

Japanese folklore is filled with tales of the Mujina, a faceless spirit. The chilling accounts of those who claim to have met a Mujina read like urban legend, and go back a long way. In 1904, Lafcadio Hearn wrote one of the earliest accounts for Western readers in his book Kwaidan (Weird Tales).

In this volume, he tells the story of a Tokyo man who was following a road up a hill when he encountered a weeping woman along the wayside. Stopping to see if she needed aid, the man was frightened to discover that she had no face. In fear, he raced further up the road until he saw the dim glow of a lantern in the distance. He saw that it was a food vendor known as a soba. Grateful to find another living soul, the man explained his experience to the vendor, but he stopped short of explaining her face exactly. He was still too frightened to recall the experience. The soba man, moving from the shadows into the glow of the lantern, asked if perhaps she looked like this. To the traveler's horror the soba man, too, had no face. Suddenly the lantern was extinguished and the man was alone in the night with the faceless Mujina.

Japanese immigrants to Hawaii likely brought the legend with them, which might explain a rash of sightings in 1959.

In Honolulu, at the Waialae Drive-In, a girl encountered a faceless entity in the restroom, an event so traumatizing that she reportedly had been hospitalized. Another version said that the girl spotted a faceless woman with no legs in the mirror as she freshened her makeup. When she spun around, there was nothing there. The woman screamed and passed out.

Other reports have surfaced at weddings, shopping malls, and colleges across Hawaii in the intervening years.