The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

It’s All In The Details.

fragileDetailed Package Tracking

December 9

10:12am-Your package has been accepted for delivery.

10:44am-Your package is now ready to be shipped.

11:01am-The shipping department crew is now laughing at you for purchasing the extra insurance.

11:07am-Your package is being shaken by Kevin who’s really good at figuring out what’s being shipped.

11:22am-Your package has been thrown across the room into a large wheeled hamper.

11:34am-A bunch of other packages have been dropped on top of yours.

11:37am-The hamper with your package has just been moved six feet to the left.

11:43am-Everyone’s gone to lunch.

12:36pm-The hamper with your package has been moved six feet to the right.

12:42pm-Employees are now playing ‘Toss The Packages Marked Fragile’.”

12:57pm-Kevin just lost for the fifth time.

1:03pm-Kevin is re-taping your package.

2:34pm-Your package has been loaded onto the delivery truck.

2:58pm-The delivery truck driver is still scratching himself.

3:21pm-The delivery truck is now in transit.

4:05pm-In transit.

5:07pm-In transit.

5:22pm-In traffic.

5:43pm-Delivery driver getting coffee.

5:58pm-In traffic.

6:03pm-Driver stopped to have a beer.

6:48pm-Driver going the wrong way.

7:22pm-Driver knows you’re home. Quietly left a note saying delivery attempted but no response.

8:31pm-Driver returned to shipping hub.

9:03pm-Employees are laughing about people who didn’t get their packages delivered.

December 10

12:03pm-Driver in transit with your package.

12:24pm-Per instructions you arrive at the shipping warehouse to pick up your package.

12:36pm-Clerk looking for your package.

12:45pm-Warehouse employees laughing at you for making a special trip.

1:03pm-Package delivered to your neighbor’s house.

2:25pm-Your neighbor is in transit.

2:34pm-Neighbor going the wrong way.

2:48pm-Package delivered.


Light ‘Em Up.

christmastreeWhen I was a kid decorating your house—the outside, anyway—for the holidays meant throwing a few strings of lights around the eaves and maybe on a tree or the bushes. Some people would put up a statue of Santa or a snowman but I think that was considered gauche. And then one year the neighbor of some friends of my parents decided to go all out. He covered the front of his house with lights, filled the yard with a dozen Santas and at least three nativity scenes plus giant illuminated candy canes, stockings, a workshop complete with elves, and three more Santas in sleds with reindeer on the roof. People would drive by just to stare in wonder at this wonderland, and it wasn’t hard to find: just look for the beam, like a stationary searchlight, pointed straight up. And also straight into the windows of the people across the street. This was before this kind of Christmas excess became a regular thing, before it was the subject of TV shows, although the guy did get featured on the local news which just added to the neighborhood traffic. You had to avoid looking directly at the house or it would be burned into your retina and you’d still see it for months, which is why the place brought down property values through March. There’s a fine line between kitschy and tasteless and this guy was the John Waters of Christmas decorations. And I thought, wow, there’s a guy who really loves Christmas. Or really hates his neighbors. Maybe both. At the time most families—including mine—didn’t decorate the outsides of our houses. It’s not that we lacked the holiday spirit. My mother had approximately three tons of Christmas decorations, including a green ceramic Christmas tree that lit up, rotated, and played “Jingle Bells” and which she placed on top of the TV where it provided the perfect background music to Quincy. All these decorations, though, were for the inside of the house and I had a serious longing to join the cool people who decorated the outsides of their houses. I didn’t want to create a neighborhood eyesore. I just wanted something subtle: a few strings of lights, maybe around the eaves, some covering the low-growing holly bushes in front of the porch to make them less menacing, a string around each of the windows, and a dozen or so around the trees at either end of the house.

I wanted to keep it subtle.

My parents did eventually capitulate to my pleas for bubble lights for our Christmas tree so I not only got the joy of bubble lights but also the added fun of wondering why that one weird holdout wouldn’t bubble, why, when all the others were happily bubbling away it remained still. For so long I’d wanted bubble lights and yet when we got them it was the one that wouldn’t bubble that drew my attention, that, late at night when we turned off all the lights except the ones on the Christmas tree, would speak to me. “Hey kid,” it said, “do your own thing. Be an individual, follow your own drummer, dance to your own tune, and when you bury a body in a shallow grave be sure to use quicklime.” But that’s another story.

In retrospect I’m not sure why it mattered so much to me that our house join the ranks of decorated ones. It didn’t occur to me that the only time I really thought about it was December, and that the strings of lights would spend most of the year boxed up in the attic slowly tying themselves into knots. I think I just liked the way they looked. In the cold winter, when the days shortened and the nights were long and quiet, when the trees were bare and the grass brittle and pale, there were lights. They shone through the darkness in many colors, reflections of all the hopes and dreams of all the people who lived in those houses.

Then one year we did get some outdoor lights—just a few, and my father strung them around one of the trees in the front yard. And that’s when I learned the downside of outdoor lights: you can’t see them if you’re inside the house, listening to “Jingle Bells” and watching Quincy.

Stick A Fork In Me.


We were sitting in the school lunchroom and a friend and I were having an argument. It wasn’t a serious argument because I don’t do serious arguments. It was more of a friendly debate about something arcane and he made a really superb point and I, stumped, just said, “Oh, fork you.” And we all laughed and went on with our conversation.

And then gradually I became aware of a voice behind me.

“Son, I don’t want to hear any more of that kind of language from you.”

It was Mr. Blankley, my algebra teacher, or, as I preferred to think of him, Human Valium. Mr. Blankley was in a perpetual state of slow motion: he moved slowly, he talked slowly. Algebra was my first class of the day and it was more than I could take as soon as he started talking.

“Studentsss, today we will have a quizzzzz on chapterssss ssssixxxxx and ssssseven.”

The one saving grace is he would use up twenty minutes of class time saying that that but I still couldn’t keep my eyes open, much less focus on getting any work done.

Mr. Blankley was also so clueless he had no idea I was one of his students, although I’d be transferred out shortly afterward because half the kids in his class were below average, half the kids were failing, and half couldn’t even grasp simple fractions, but that’s another story.

“I said ‘fork’” I said, holding one up for him.

He sighed for five minutes then said, “Ssson, I said I don’t want to hear any more of that language.”

Fortunately at that moment the end of lunch bell rang and my friends and I quietly gathered up our things and left, a series of actions which, from Mr. Blankley’s perspective, must have looked like hummingbirds around a feeder.

I’m sharing this story now because tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States—the Canadians do it six weeks earlier—and for many it’s a stressful time. For many it means getting together with family and that can lead to arguments ranging from the pointlessly political to the annoyingly personal. If things get too stressful for you just remember that Thanksgiving is a feast and if you feel like things are getting overheated in the kitchen or out, if somebody says something or insists on doing that one thing that gets under your skin…fork ‘em.

A Very Special Talk.

The winter holidays always meant a few days off from school, and that usually meant my friends and I had a lot of unstructured, unsupervised time, and that usually led to trouble, like the time I told my friend Jerry about sex.

Let me back up a bit.
Learning about sex was like learning there was no Santa Claus, but weirder and more uncomfortable. Supposedly my friend John, whose mother was a gynecological nurse, had explained the facts of life to my first grade class but all I remember was that he told us babies came out of women’s bodies. He didn’t go into specifics about how the babies got there. So I thought pregnancy happened randomly. At a certain point in each woman’s life, I thought, she’d just spontaneously get pregnant. For some it happened multiple times. I held onto this belief through a lot of my childhood. Based on others’ experiences it seems extremely bizarre that at ten years old I still didn’t know that it took two to make a baby.

I knew adults did naked stuff together, primarily from my next door neighbor Mr. Rick who was gone a lot and had boxes and boxes of Playboy and Penthouse magazines in his basement. I mean tons of them. This was the seventies and neither magazine had been around that long, but it seemed like his collection just went on forever. He kept his basement open all the time so his dogs could go in and out. My friend Troy loved going in there and looking at the magazines. I kind of liked it too, but didn’t entirely understand what the big deal was. They were mostly women and mostly naked, which seemed strangely fun, but I didn’t think of it as something that everybody did or that might have some purpose other than just being something to do.

At this time I believed we men were unnecessary. I didn’t think women would undertake wholesale slaughter of roughly half the population, but I also thought that men should treat women with respect and give them equal rights and pay. I was the only boy in my fourth grade class who supported the Equal Rights Amendment. I didn’t do this because I wanted to curry favor with the girls. The whole idea that girls and or boys had cooties and purposely stayed away from each other never seemed to be the case when I was in school. Most of my friends were fellow boys, but I had no problem hanging out with the girls as long as they weren’t playing with Barbies or doing something stupid like that.

To clarify: I no longer thing playing with Barbies is stupid. In fact it was a notion I got over pretty quickly. I was never big on playing with army men either, which are basically just tiny dolls with guns. I realized this when Star Wars came out. I became an insane collector of the action figures and I spent hours playing with them. And one day I heard my mother describe them as “dolls for boys”. Okay, I thought. I play with dolls. They just happen to be special science fiction dolls.

Eventually I’d figure out the basics of reproduction, mainly from what I read about animals. As a kid I had dreams of growing up to be a marine biologist like Jacques Cousteau, so I was always reading about ocean animals, especially octopuses. There was a book about octopuses I checked out from the public library so many times I had it memorized. It included an explanation of octopus sex. I took this information in stride, and even once explained octopus sex to my grandfather. The male develops a modified tentacle as it ages, I told him, and shoves it inside the female. He was silently impressed.

I knew that among octopuses, frogs, lizards, crabs, snakes, and all sorts of other animals that interested me the females would have eggs and the males would fertilize them. It just took me a long time to extrapolate that humans, being animals, must be the same way, that human males do have, to quote Navin Johnson, a “special purpose”. It took me a while because it’s not like nature is consistent. Hermaphroditism is rampant in the animal kingdom, and anyone who’s seen Jurassic Park knows certain reptiles and amphibians can self-fertilize or even change sex under duress. And humans don’t have sex solely for the purpose of reproduction. Neither do some other animals. It was confusing because it was complicated, and made even more complicated by how uncomfortable it makes some adults even when they try to talk to each other about it, never mind trying to explain it to children, and it doesn’t help that a lot of adults find it so uncomfortable that if human beings reproduced by spontaneous parthenogenesis it seems really unlikely we’d have ever developed stand-up comedy or even jokes, but that’s another story.

What finally settled it in my mind was an after-school cartoon I happened to stumble upon about the changes boys’ and girls’ bodies go through when they hit puberty. It showed an egg rolling down the fallopian tube and explained that the egg would dissolve unless it was fertilized by a male. I had no idea how the fertilization took place exactly, but from bits and pieces I’d picked up from other places I realized it would be sort of like how the octopus did it, except that human males are born with a modified tentacle between our legs.

I don’t know why but at eleven or twelve when I first realized all this I felt like it was something I shouldn’t know. I felt like I’d stumbled upon something that was supposed to be kept locked in a box until I was eighteen, or at least until my parents had The Talk with me. I knew about Talk from Very Special Sitcom Episodes that conveniently avoided including the actual talk but made it clear from the context what it was about. And I felt like I would be in serious trouble if my parents ever found out.

So naturally I talked about it. I did manage to keep my parents from knowing what I knew for three or four years, but then one day when we were out of school I talked to my friend Jerry about it. Jerry was a year younger but knew pretty much everything I knew about sex. He’d been in Mr. Rick’s basement too. He’d even torn pages from some of the magazines and kept a pretty big stash hidden in his room. But for some reason when his sister, who was two or three years older, heard me talking to Jerry about sex she was horrified. He was too young to know about that stuff! And she told my mom.

Deep down I like to think my parents were relieved they didn’t have to have The Talk with me in its entirety, that I knew enough that there wasn’t much left for them to fill in. The only bad part was my mother asking me what exactly I’d said to Jerry—his sister was sketchy on the details—and then telling me we’d have The Talk later on. Please, please, please I thought, let her forget about this. Let’s skip The Talk. Having been caught talking about it was punishment enough, I thought, without having to talk about it with my parents. And my mother did seem to forget about it for about a week until one night when I was about to go to bed and she started talking about it. I think it was a spur of the moment thing on her part. And fortunately my mother’s version of The Talk was very sparing on details. The most memorable part was her saying, “Your father and I aren’t embarrassed when we see each other naked because we love each other.” I could almost hear muscles popping in my father’s head as he strained to keep his eyes from rolling. I wish he’d just given in. It would have given both of us permission to acknowledge that I was fourteen, not four.

Fortunately that was the end of it, at least as far as my parents were concerned. I never wanted to talk to them about sex and, beyond that greatly modified version of The Talk, never would. And I wouldn’t become a marine biologist. I also didn’t really understand sex until I’d done it, so there at least I learned something every scientist knows: theoretical knowledge is worthless without fieldwork.


Remedy < Disease.

coughThe average cold lasts five days. That’s according to something I read somewhere so it must be true even though whenever I have a cold it feels like it goes on for five years. Even from an objective viewpoint that seems ridiculously short and it also occurred to me that’s probably the average time with cold medicine. I have a theory about cold medicine. I don’t think it makes you well and in most cases it doesn’t. It just treats the symptoms which is the problem. I think cold medicine drags out the cold making it last longer than it would if you just did the natural thing and curled up in bed for five days. People seem to have a problem with that, mainly, I think, because the second or third day you’re going to run out of fresh sheets to blow your nose on. But like I said cold medicines treat the symptoms: the runny nose, the coughing, the aching head and body. These symptoms are not directly caused by the disease itself. They’re caused by the body’s response to the disease. Our bodies are smart enough to know when unruly neighbors have moved in and need to be evicted. Let’s put it even more forcefully: our bodies know when an enemy has slipped in and it becomes necessary to go into attack mode. All that excess phlegm is the body’s way of clearing out the intruders. Coughing and sneezing are the body’s way of expelling what doesn’t belong and those wads of mucus are the graveyards of germs and the brave antibodies and the white blood cells that bravely fought in our defense. That’s why it’s so important to keep drinking and taking vitamin C when you have a cold. You’ve got to keep your precious bodily fluids topped up so the expulsion and continue and vitamin C does, well, it does something. That’s why whenever I get a cold I take about two billion milligrams of vitamin C a day. I don’t just pop vitamin pills like they’re candy. I take it like they’re candy and it’s the day after Halloween only I don’t need my parents to check any of my stash because my throat already feels like I’ve swallowed razor blades, but that’s another story. Every cold is a battle and hot tea and orange juice are the only things standing between you and your lungs turning into the Somme. Whenever I come through a cold I like to think there’s a tiny monument placed somewhere along a major artery: “This plaque commemorates the brave leuokocytes who gave their nuclei against the viral threat. Lest we forget.”

And that’s the problem I have with cold medicines. They stop the coughing, they dry up the runny nose, they even remove the aches. I feel like cold medicines aim for the wrong target—and even then they miss. Cold medicines don’t just put me to sleep. They put me into a coma and I wake up the next morning feeling even worse than before. I get those dry, hacking coughs that sound like a goose being goosed. At least with a wet, phlegmy cough I feel like things are moving, being cleared out. And that’s true of blowing my nose too. At least when my nose is running all it takes is a good blow to clear out the junk. There’s a feeling of intense relief that comes when I blow out a two or three pound mass, the kind that leaves me feeling like I’ve blown my brains out but in a good way because now my head is empty, for about ten seconds anyway and then the sinuses start to seize up again. Cold medicines deprive us of that. They make us just carry around the cold that much longer. Those cold medicines that are designed to get you through the day are really the worst because they encourage you to take your disease-addled body out into the world. Hey co-workers, the holidays come early this year and I’m giving you all influenza! At least the night-time cold medicines provide some relief and in that respite it’s possible to sleep. And if there’s one thing the body needs while your antibodies are charging across Pleural Fields it’s rest. Rest provides strength and speeds recovery. Without it you might get one of those colds that lasts five years.

A Werewolf Problem In Southern Indiana.

wolfanddogThe following story was written by journalist Allen Walker and appeared in the October 2015 issue of Catchall, an alt-weekly for which he is a feature writer. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission. His articles have also appeared in Matrix, Road Hogs, Elsewhere, and other publications.His essay Patagonia Dreamin’ is included in the anthology The Journey Of A Thousand Miles. Other stories by Allen Walker that have appeared here are Living Or Dead Is Purely Coincidental (Part 1, Part, 2, Part 3, Part 4), That Was The Year That Was, and Submerged.

George Bathory reported during the night that he’d shot a large animal near his campsite. The next morning park rangers found a naked man with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The man, later identified as Sam Gould, refused to press charges. Neither of the men knew each other, nor did they have any connection that investigators could find.

Those are the facts and they are strange enough in themselves but to make it stranger Bathory maintains he did not shoot a man. The whole matter could have been easily dismissed as a hunting accident if he hadn’t insisted on going to court to protest his innocence. When I arrive at his home on a small suburban cul-de-sac he tells me almost immediately that he’s decided that an appeal would be too costly, but he insists, in spite of the court’s decision, that he is not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“It wasn’t a man,” he says. “I know what I saw. I might have shot to kill if I hadn’t been so scared.”

What exactly did he see, or think he saw? A clue to that is in the list of witnesses he wanted to call: mostly biologists, at least five of whom are in Canada or Alaska, but also folklorists and anthropologists. It’s hard to see how any of them could offer anything that would bolster his case.

“They have to know,” he says. “They have to know these aren’t just stories.”

While he goes to the bathroom I examine his bookshelves. He has a whole series of books titled Roughing It Easy and several more on camping and hunting. At the end of the shelf is a cluster of books about mushrooms. I flip through one that’s full of colorful photographs and diagrams clearly marking every species as delicious, inedible, or dangerous. He finds me looking at this book when I return and launches into a talk about mushroom hunting, how there are five types easily identifiable by anyone that are not only edible but very good.

“Were you collecting mushrooms when you were camping?” I ask. I hope the question doesn’t sound too obvious. Mr. Bathory, with his short hair and straightforward demeanor also doesn’t seem like the type to engage in recreational drugs of any sort, but I’ve learned you never can tell.

He shakes his head, waving the question away. “With the drought you’re not going to find any mushrooms out in the woods.”

His wife, a tall, slender woman with a halo of red hair and pale blue eyes, comes in to tell us lunch is ready.

Once we start eating I try to bring the conversation back to his conviction.

“You do understand why it sounds pretty ridiculous,” I say. “A large creature like that roaming around the woods here just seems too incredible to be true.”

“I know what I saw!” He slams his fist down on the table.

After a few minutes of silence I tell his wife the paprikash is delicious. The chicken floats in a sauce that looks like blood.


Even though I felt obligated to talk to Mr.Bathory he’s not the real reason I’m in Glasgow, a small town in southwestern Indiana. The real reason is a woman I’ll only call Alpha. A month earlier, after I’d written up a brief filler about the shooting, she emailed me to tell me she wanted to confirm his story. She also added that there was more to it.

We stroll along an easy path through a state park. As we get deeper into the woods she inhales deeply.

“I work in an office but this is where I really belong,” she says.

“How often do you come out here?”

“Every chance I get.”

An unseasonably cool breeze passes through us. I’m at a loss for what to ask next when I remember the moon was only a sliver in the sky over my hotel this morning. I ask if I should have come closer to a full moon. She looks at me, frowning.

“It’s not a lunar thing. It doesn’t work like that. Do you know where that comes from?”

“Tell me.”

“There’s all kinds of myths and stories about lunacy and the effects full moons have on people but the idea that we’re bound to the moon comes from Hollywood and Hollywood got it from Petronius. Except Petronius doesn’t say it’s a full moon. He just tells the story of two slaves who spend the night in a field. One of them sees the other strip down and transform. He can only see it because of the moonlight. The change really can happen anytime. It’s not something we become. It’s who we are.”


“All the time.”

We stop. Alpha looks around. “There are people here.” There were a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived but I haven’t seen anyone. “They’re about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes ahead of us on the trail,” she says. “I shouldn’t be telling you about us.”

“Why did you contact me then?”

She sighs. “Because you seem open-minded. Because you were asking about the shooting and it has all of us on edge. These things have happened before but we’ve never had anyone make so much noise about it. It’s never been this public. It got some of us thinking maybe it’s time to come out. We have so much to lose but so much to gain too.”

“Like what?”

“For one thing we don’t know how it happens. My mother wasn’t like me. She would have told me. And I never knew my father. We don’t know if it’s genetic, but if it is we could make the world safer for our children.”

We continue walking. I ask if there’s any evidence that it’s passed on by a bite, like in some folklore.

“You’re thinking rabies. And porphyria. We think it’s more complicated than that, like it just crops up in people at random.

“But if you come out there might also be efforts to try and cure you,” I say. “There are stories about that too. Wolfsbane, silver bullets.”

Alpha turns and glares at me. “You think Sam got shot by some camper who just happened to be carrying a rifle with silver bullets? Don’t be a dumbass.”

When we reach the end of the trail Alpha shakes my hand.

“I need to get back to work. It has been nice talking to you. We’ll pick you up tonight at seven.”

I thank her politely but inside I’m elated. I’ve passed the test and will get to meet the pack.


The van pulls up at the front of my hotel a little after seven. The late summer sun is still high in the sky. It’s humid and I’ve been dousing myself with bug spray to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I open the back to toss in my gear. Then, as  I’m climbing into the side, I come face to face with a man with a thick, long beard. He looks at me suspiciously then turns to the front where Alpha sits in the passenger seat.

“Is this a good idea?” he asks.

Alpha’s reply is blunt. “Yes.”

The other three passengers—two women and an African American man—are friendlier. They introduce themselves to me as Kathy, Linda, and Larry. Larry invites me to sit next to him. The bearded man will only tell me his name is Beta, and he spends the trip staring out the window. Once we get underway I ask if anyone minds answering a few questions. I try to address this to everyone in the group, but I’m intrigued by Larry. He grins widely and says, “What do you want to know?”

A hundred different things, but I start with the obvious.

“How did all of you meet?”

Kathy turns around. “It started with me and Alpha. We met when we were Girl Scouts. We were in different troops but using the same campsite. That’s how we met each other one night. Out roaming the woods alone. We’ve been friends ever since.”

“So you were…”

“Different,” she says. “But we both knew we needed each other. And we needed others.”

Linda interrupts. “The internet has been what’s brought us together but you have to be careful. Most people think we’re crazy. Some people want to join us and it turns out they’re crazy.”

“How can you tell?”

Linda’s nostrils flare. “You smell like a skeptic.”

“And bug spray!” yells Alpha from the front seat. “God, let’s crack some windows.”

Linda’s right, I am skeptical, but while I’ve tried to keep my questions neutral it’s not exactly a revelation. Even though stories of lycanthropes extend across the northern hemisphere and almost every culture has its stories of humans that turn into animals—including dolphins—the idea of meeting the real thing still seems incredible. Yet this group’s insistence that they are a “pack” seems strangely believable. As Alpha said there are many things they don’t know. If this were a hoax, I assume, they’d have built up an elaborate story. Taking a single reporter on a camping trip also seems like a poor way to stage a hoax. They’re too careful, too secretive. Kathy tells me they have to be.

“Sam got sloppy. He forgot that we don’t just go out with each other for fun. We also do it to protect each other. He forgot that some people will try to hurt us.”

I ask if she thinks I might.

“It’s hard to tell through the bug spray and deodorant and hotel soap but I don’t think so.”

The others, aside from Beta, agree.

I continue asking questions and learn that they do these camping trips at least twice a month from March through October, tapering off to just once a month in the winter months. There are a few other members who aren’t attending, apparently put off by me. The van’s driver is Karl whom I learn is not really a member of the pack but a trusted outsider who only serves as chauffeur and won’t be staying with us.

When we get to the parking lot of the place where we’ll be camping I offer to help carry gear which makes everyone laugh. This group travels light. I’m the only one with a pup tent and a sleeping bag. I also brought two thermoses of coffee, anticipating a late night, an early morning, or both. Everyone else has rolled blankets and small bags for carrying food, water, and cooking gear. We set out for the campsite. Larry brings up the rear and I walk with him. We chat and I learn during the day he’s a librarian, “mostly behind the scenes stuff.” Everyone else is quiet. Alpha and Beta lead the group and talk a little as we go. Kathy and Linda walk single file in the middle.

At the campsite everyone puts their bags down in a circle but Alpha advises me to set up my tent on a ridge about a hundred feet away “to be safe”. Safe for whom? I decide not to ask.

Once my tent is set up I rejoin the group. Everyone’s eating field rations, MREs, in self-heating packages.

“We used to build fires but it was too distracting,” says Alpha.

“From what?” I ask. Everyone looks at each other.

“They could attract others. Someone also had to stay up and make sure the fire was put out so nobody’d step in it or get scared away. This way we all get to relax and just be ourselves.”

Larry hands me an MRE. “And with you here,” he says, “I don’t get stuck with the vegetable lasagna.”

I’m not sure what the joke is but I laugh along with everyone else.

The sun sets. Someone places a small portable lamp in the middle of the group and soon the others are just five faces bobbing in the darkness. From their conversation they could be almost any group of hobbyists. Alpha complains about a difficult co-worker. The others’ advice is generic. Then they start to talk about previous camping trips, about the time in late March there was a light overnight snow. During a lull Linda pulls pulls out a flask. She hands it to Alpha who drinks then reaches across the circle to me. The others all watch.

“What is it?” I ask. I wonder if I’m being drawn into some ritual, if this is a plan to make me one of them. There are stories of potions and moonlight ceremonies. Some werewolves are born, others are made.

“Drink,” says Alpha.

I tip up the flask and take a mouthful. Warmth fills my mouth and then spreads through my chest and body.

“Whiskey?” I ask.

Scotch, Linda tells me. “It’s tradition but for you I brought the good stuff, the twelve-year old single malt.”

I feel honored. I pass the flask to Larry who shakes his head and motions to Beta who takes it and has a long pull. Cathy and Linda receive it next and then it goes back to Alpha who then hands it to me. This time after I drink I hand it to Beta, and it makes the same round again two more times before Cathy turns it over.

“Time for bed,” says Alpha.

I climb up to my tent. Behind me the lamp is turned off. As I crawl into my sleeping bag I hear murmurs. I feel like a kid who’s been sent to his room so the grownups can talk. I keep the tent flap open but they’re all in darkness now. The waxing moon is just visible through the trees on the horizon but doesn’t cast enough light. And then, somehow, I sleep.

For a moment I’m not sure where I am. The moon is directly overhead now. I hear rustling and can make out shadows moving. I flick on my flashlight and aim it at the clearing below. There are blankets spread out but I see no one. As I raise the light bright green eyes shine back at me. Against the stars I see the silhouettes of hunched figures. There’s a crackle of leaves then the scream of a rabbit.

I can’t move. I am unarmed and alone.

A long howl echoes from the hills around me.


Not All Facts Are True.

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

True Stories Behind Common Urban Legends

The Legend: The Vanishing Hitchhiker

A driver picks up a young woman hitchhiking. The driver takes her to the address she’s given but finds on arrival that she’s disappeared. The driver goes to the house, knocks on the door, and is informed that a young woman of that name and description died. There are many variations with the time of the young woman’s death ranging from one year to twenty years earlier.

The Truth

Magician’s assistant Beatrice Weir (September 5, 1897-June 30th, 1987) was an accomplished escape artist and magician in her own right. Frustrated in her efforts to gain recognition in a the male-dominated field she attempted to generate publicity for her performances by playing “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” trick on unsuspecting motorists, leaving her card behind. Her efforts were unsuccessful and caused more confusion and concern than positive publicity. She would eventually quit magic to pursue a career as a corporate accountant. In her later years she retired to Uruguay after embezzling more than three quarters of a million dollars from several companies. Described in her will as her “best disappearing act” the money has never been recovered.

The Legend: The Killer In The Backseat

A young woman pulls into a gas station. After she’s fueled her car the attendant calls her into the station, claiming a problem with her credit card or other concern. In earlier versions he claims to have noticed something wrong with her car or that she’s handed him a counterfeit twenty. In many variants she finds something about the attendant disturbing and is afraid to be alone with him. Once inside the station he informs her he’s called the police because there’s a stranger in her backseat. The attendant either noticed the stranger slip into the vehicle or saw him while filling the gas tank. Either way tragedy is averted.

The Truth

Journalist Eunice Phelan dropped her car at a service station for an oil change. She picked it up later in the same day and noticed one of the technicians asleep in the backseat. She would turn the incident into her first crime novel, Trunk Show, published in 1977. The novel follows police efforts to find a killer who selects victims by hiding in the back seats of cars. Although fiction in second and third hand retellings people began claiming the event had actually happened to an acquaintance.

The Legend: Alligators In The Sewers

New Yorkers returning from Florida vacations with baby alligators find the pets too much to handle and flush them down the toilet. The alligators then grow to adulthood and infest the sewers.

The Truth

In late March 1957 a handful of New York City Sanitation Department employees “borrowed” three adult alligators from the Bronx Zoo for a planned April Fools’ joke. The reptiles escaped and spread quickly, feeding on rats, stray cats and dogs, and, in a tragic incident, several Rotary Club members. The alligators proved difficult to eradicate. Animal control employees conducted semi-annual sweeps over several decades. Officials are currently happy to report that an alligator has not been seen in New York City sewers since 2013.

The Legend: The Babysitter Cooks The Baby

Frustrated or intoxicated a babysitter puts the baby in the oven and cooks it. In later versions the baby is cooked in a microwave. When the parents come home the babysitter presents them with “a special dish”.

The Truth

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was intended as satire but taken seriously by some English landholders. Chester Easham, Seventh Earl of Wessex, reportedly ate more than twenty children alone. Some were mere newborns but Easham is said to have preferred them “on puberty’s eve”. Fearing a backlash King George II had a story planted in The Times of Dublin that placed the blame on incompetent maids and greedy scullery maids.

The Legend: Black Market Organ Harvest

A young man traveling alone joins a group of strangers at a club. They drink and party late into the night. At some point he is drugged and has no memory of anything until the next morning when he awakes in a bathtub filled with ice. A note informs him both his kidneys have been removed. In some versions a phone is placed within his reach so he can call the police. The thieves are never caught and his kidneys presumably go to wealthy individuals in need of a donor.

The Truth

In 1986 Heaverton University student David Kimson wanted to donate one of his kidneys to his girlfriend. Concerned about the cost he convinced friend and pre-med student Kevin Jenkins to put together a rudimentary operating room in a hotel bathroom and perform the surgery there. In spite of flunking his classes and planning to drop out Jenkins agreed to perform the surgery. Unfortunately instead of a kidney Jenkins removed his friend’s prostate. Kimson refused to press charges when police, alerted by a hotel maid, found him attempting to relieve his agony by squatting in the ice-filled bathtub in his room. Why he wanted to donate a kidney to his girlfriend remains unclear since she only had a yeast infection.

Kevin Jenkins has since kept a low profile. He resides in Titusville, Florida, where in 2004 was named Best Substitute Chemistry Teacher.


Let’s Brew Up A Little Something.

Source: The Ghost Diaries

Source: The Ghost Diaries

Kate: Hello, and welcome back to Cauldron Cooking, the show that puts the magic back in your kitchen. I’m your host Kate. Earlier in the show we talked about new uses for poison ivy, and I also want to tell listeners who are just tuning in that our recipe for cream of vulture soup is on the show’s website. Check it out.

All right, now it’s time to take some calls. We have Diane from Salem on line seven. Hi, Diane, what’s your question?

Diane: Hi Kate, thank you so much for taking my call. This isn’t exactly a cooking question but I have an issue with my stepdaughter and I wondered if you could suggest anything.

Kate: Oh, yes, kids. They’re always hard to deal with, aren’t they? Especially when they grow up.

Diane: Right. That’s my problem. She’s getting older and she’s starting to really get in my way.

Kate: But you don’t want to kill her.

Diane: Well, I did, but  not anymore. I’d just like something that’ll, you know, take her out of the picture.

Kate: Let me think. Okay, I have just the thing for you. We have a great recipe for a poison apple.

Diane: That won’t kill her?

Kate: No, this is perfect. It will just put her in a coma. Have you got a crypt or something where you can put her while she sleeps?

Diane: I’ve got a crystal case that rests on a plinth out in the woods.

Kate: Fabulous. She’ll be perfectly preserved there for as long as you want, and here’s the good part: she can only be revived with a kiss from a charming prince. And it’s not like there are a lot of those wandering around the forests, am I right?

Diane: Yes. That sounds absolutely perfect. Thank you so much Kate!

Kate: No problem, and good luck. Email us some pictures so we can see how it’s worked out. We’ll put them on the website. Thanks for your call, Diane.

Well, it looks like the witching hour is almost up, so I’ll just leave you with this: When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Of course you know it’ll be the same time next week. I’ll see you then.

It’s A Good Thing I Was Paying Attention.

There was a new bus driver. Apparently he was very new because he didn’t exactly know the route and took us on an unbelievable detour. One of my fellow passengers even questioned the driver about it but was quietly told something something construction and that if she wanted to get off right in the middle of nowhere that was fine.

When we got close to my stop I pulled the cord. There was no “ding!” The indicator light didn’t come on. The friendly bass baritone voice that says, “Stop requested. Please remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop” didn’t come on. I walked up to the front.

“That’s my stop at the corner,” I told the driver.

He looked up from a pile of papers in his lap that may or may not have been the bus route.

“Good thing I was paying attention!” he said.

Yeah, good thing.

That in itself might make an interesting story but what was really interesting–and what might have made me miss my stop is that someone decided that on this particular day the riders in my route should get a double bus instead of one of the usual singles.

To those in the UK and other aliens: we don’t have double-decker buses here. Well, we didn’t. We have them now for tour groups, but that’s another story. Instead of double-decker buses someone had the harebrained idea to smash two buses together end-to-end. And like most harebrained ideas the result is actually kind of cool.


It’s Nashville, Jake, so of course the seats have a musical theme. Can anyone out there recognize the tune?



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