Death in the Land of Counterpane by Whitley Strieber
Copyright C 2011, Walker & Collier, Inc.
Copyright C 2011, Walker & Collier, Inc.
Excerpted in part from Whitley Strieber’s forthcoming book Solving the Communion Enigma, to be published by Tarcher/Penguin in January of 2012.
I know quite a few scary stories. In fact, I have experienced some extraordinarily fearful things in my own life, but the scariest stories I know do not involve me—largely because I came back.
That is not true of everybody, and there is a long tradition of mysterious abductions and disappearances, many of them dating back into the deep past, when the fairy faith still dominated Europe.
This set of beliefs has, in modern times, been transformed into a cheerful folklore of delightful little people flitting about among forest flowers in the summertime, but that it not where it started, and the real stories today are every bit as fearful as those that unfolded in the forests of the past, where the locals called the small, ferocious creatures who haunted them ‘the Good People,’ or ‘the Gentry,’ not because they were good—far from it—but to avoid angering them.
There exists a long tradition of them taking human beings. One of these stories involves Robert Kirk, a minister in Alberfoyle, Scotland, who disappeared in 1691, while attempting to approach an area where they were believed to be resident. He had gone out onto what is known as a fairy-mound in the night, in order to attempt to make contact. What happened to him there has been a source of controversy ever since. Some say that his body was never found, others that he died of some sort of a seizure on the mount and is buried in the attributed grave. In either case, he was the victim of some sort of mischance while engaged in a search for them.
There are many reports from the past of disappearances, but far more of people going with these strange beings and returning, only to find that months or even years have passed in this world, while they themselves have perceived a passage of only minutes or a few hours. Of course, it has always been assumed that the fairy lore is only a folk myth, and the stories of encounters between human beings and the gentry are works of the imagination.
However, it isn’t actually entirely clear that this is true. Some years ago, as I reported in my book Breakthrough, I experienced something that just missed evolving into a disappearance.
I was driving south on Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey, taking one of my son’s friends to meet his father at a diner where the two of us often exchanged children. Our summer house was near Woodstock New York and his was in the Delaware Water Gap, and we met halfway.
As I drove up to the diner, it was necessary to cross the highway using an overpass. I took the exit to the overpass. I could see my friend’s truck in the parking lot of the diner, so I knew that he was waiting.
However, when I went onto the exit, I was surprised to find that we were going down into a sunken highway, not up onto an overpass. I said to the boy, “I’ve taken a wrong turn,” and I began looking ahead for an exit. I did not tell him how confusing this actually was. I knew the area well. There was no sunken highway like the one we were on.
I took the first exit I saw, and found myself driving into one of the strangest and most disturbing situations I have ever encountered. First, it had been cloudy in Paramus, but now mottled sunlight was shining down through the trees that arched over the street. Instead of normal houses, I observed strange, low structures with large, deeply carved serpentine reliefs on their walls. At this point, the boy began to panic and started trying to jump out of the car. He would unlock the passenger door and I would lock it again with the automatic door lock.
I was frantic. I had no idea where we were. I drove aimlessly, turning corners, trying to get out of that bizarre neighborhood and get back to the familiar world. I did not think for a moment that there was anything good about it. The buildings exuded a sinister feeling. It was as if I had stumbled into a labyrinth and gotten lost there—with an innocent child as my fellow victim.
Finally, I saw a brighter area at the end of one of the tree-shaded streets. As we drove out into some rough brush, I could see cars in the distance, and soon I was on Route 80, about twenty miles from where we had exited in Paramus.
By the time I returned to the diner, my friend was standing in the bed of his pickup looking for us. He had seen us take the exit, but when we’d never crossed onto 17, he had gotten more and more worried. To our perception, the whole event had taken just a few minutes, but from his standpoint, much more time had passed, enough to cause him to become quite concerned.
Through the whole ordeal, the boy and I had not exchanged a word. His father was extremely skeptical of me and my odd stories, so I was hoping that the boy wouldn’t mention it. But the moment the car stopped, he jumped out and ran across the diner’s parking lot yelling, “daddy, daddy, Whitley took me on a trip through the Twilight Zone.”
We looked for the place with great care, but never found it again. And I must admit, I never want to.
There are also curious echoes of the old tales in some of the most frightening modern stories I have heard—stories that are, shall we say, pure terror and no charm.
Some years ago, a woman telephoned me who had a friend who was a coroner in a small city in the northeastern United States. As she has requested confidentiality, I will not name the city involved. However, the coroner had told her of a couple of cases that had come into her office, of vagrants who had been murdered in a brutal and unusual manner.
Their bodies had generally been found on the roofs of buildings and, in one case, atop an elevator housing. They had been murdered in the same way: their eyes had been cored out and their lips and tongues cut off, then they had been drowned by being submerged deep enough in the ocean to damage their lungs and fill them with salt water. They’d died due to the drowning, not the mutilation.
In the end, a total of seventeen cases took place that I am aware of, but the FBI apparently became involved and invoked the National Security Act, with the result that none of the murders went on the public record, and the coroner could no longer speak about them.
In another case, the details of which I will withhold out of respect for the family, a man had gone into the woods near his home in Pennsylvania on a four-wheeler. When he had not returned by the next day, a search was mounted and the four-wheeler was found. Dogs were brought in, but could not locate his scent except on the four wheeler itself.
A few days before, a local resident had sent me and some other investigators a report to the effect that he had seen a man rising up into the air in a shaft of light, at approximately the time and place of the disappearance. But we have been unable to track down this witness. However, we received the report prior to the discovery of the fact that the man who had gone into the woods was missing.
A few days later he was found in a wetland within fifteen hundred feet of his house, in a surprisingly advanced state of decomposition. We were unable to determine the exact condition of the body, as the one investigator who actually went to the town involved was told by the sheriff to leave or face charges.
So that’s where those stories stand, but I cannot say that they are the only such stories, and many of the others have been extensively investigated. This is because, since the 1970s, cattle have very often been killed in precisely this way, by being ritually mutilated. The authorities have dismissed thousands of cases as predator action, but most of the ranchers who have had their cattle killed in this way think that the deaths are far more mysterious.
But there is a case that is still unfolding in Indonesia that I do have permission to attribute, that is very much like the darker stories from the old fairy-lore.
In May of 2010, my website, Unknowncountry.com, received a communication from Alan Lamers, who was a specialist in creating small, self-powered radio stations for isolated rural communities and was working in the area.
He had a good command of the local language, and considerable experience in deep rural areas of Indonesia and other countries with extremely isolated populations, so when he was told a few years ago that he would disappear if he wore bright colors when going to a tiny village called Wala Wala, he assumed that there was a local taboo.
Once in the village, he saw that the locals were all wearing only black or white. Nobody would say why.
Everyone in Alan's party was wearing black, except one man who had not understood the instructions and had on yellow socks. That afternoon, they went into the jungle for a time, and when they came back the man was uneasy. Something that he could not see had scratched his leg. When he pulled off his socks, the scratches were found to be large.
The villagers said the man was lucky to have just been scratched. Usually, they said, people wearing colored clothing into the jungle do not return.
The man who had been scratched endured fever and they thought they would lose him, but he eventually recovered. They could not find out from the villagers exactly what was wrong, beyond the fact that many people had disappeared in the jungle. These people are living in very isolated country. There are no roads, only trails. Big population centers might as well be on another planet.
In May of 2010, Alan finally learned more about the mysterious danger posed by wearing bright colors in the jungles of the district. He had gone to visit a friend in the city of Palopo and discovered that her cousin knew a considerable amount about the problem.
It seems that her brother had gone hiking with friends, and the entire party had disappeared.
She eventually hired a search and rescue team, but nobody could be found, and it was assumed that they had met with some sort of misadventure in the jungle. This was unusual, as it was a tourist area, and Indonesia is regarded as a relatively safe place. They didn't disappear in the deep jungle, amid profound isolation.
After a month of searching, they found the brother exhausted and emaciated. He was severely traumatized, and did not speak for two more months. Alan talked to him briefly, but he began to return to his silence, so he asked the sister what he had told her.
He wrote me, "There is something taking these people, Whitley, something terrible and evil. The people have come to terms with it and have tried to adapt themselves to deal with whatever it is."
He discovered that it has been going on for years, and local people, Muslims, assume that the culprits are djin.
He continued, "I found out he kept seeing what the Bugis call Jin Kurcaci. It means little demon people. These things do what is called "penculikan" or abduction. No one knows why they do this. But sometimes the people come back after a bit. The people or creatures who do this have a small nose and their eyes are small and black, but their mouths are very broad and when they smile it is very large compared to the rest of their face."
As they hiked, they seemed to enter another sort of world. They could see animals with antlers unlike anything on Sulawesi. The young man does not remember exactly what happened to his friends, but he does recall being given food and sent back to warn people—apparently by the same sort of creatures who were causing the disappearances, perhaps some that disagree with what the others are doing.
There the story ends, at least for now. Alan is soon to return to this country, and hopes to meet once again with the man who disappeared and returned, and see if he will offer any further details about what happened to him.
Personally, I think that these stories must have something to do with parallel universes being actual, physical realities that it is possible, from time to time, to slip into—and out of again, at least at times, which is what happened to me in Paramus.
I have often wondered what would have become of us if we have not found our way back, but more than that, when I think on these things late in the night, I find myself wondering more, what will we do in this safe little world of ours, if the experience discovered by Alan Lamers, now confined to the depths of the Sulaweisi jungle, spreads to involve the whole world.
Available December 6th, 2011 from Henry Holt and Co!
Synopsis: Beresford doesn’t remember much about his past or how he came to live in the chutes and crawl spaces of the posh high-rise that shares his name. But when rock star and teen sensation Melody McGrath moves to an apartment on the fiftieth floor, he knows he has to be near her. Although she doesn’t realize it, Melody is threatened by more dangerous forces than her manipulative stage mom and the pressures of life in the spotlight. The owner of the glamorous building has been hiding a fatal secret within its walls, and Beresford puts all his plans at risk. Will Beresford and Melody be able to escape with their lives (and love) intact? Bestselling author Whitley Strieber makes his young adult debut with this pulsing romantic thriller.
About the author:
Whitley Strieber is the author of the Wolfen, Communion, the Grays and Melody Burning, his first novel for young adults, due to be published in December.
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Whitley, thank you so much for writing up this scary event that happened to you! I don't know what I would have done if I'd been in your shoes. I can only assuming I've be freaking out. Also, a thank you goes out to Macmillan for donating the copy of the book in this giveaway.
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