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Bizzare & Odd

The Strange Case of Whitley Strieber

If you grew up in the 1980s, you were probably traumatized by the work of Whitley Strieber—the author whose work inspired the ultraviolent werewolf movie WOLFEN (1981), the prurient vampire movie THE HUNGER (1983), and the supposedly true-to-life alien abduction movie COMMUNION (1989).  That’s right…. Strieber not only wrote about terrifying otherworldly creatures; he claims to have actually encountered them.

The author’s real-life horror story began one night in December 1985 when he was awakened by a peculiar noise.  He opened his eyes to see a small inhuman creature rushing toward his bed.  The next thing he knew, it was morning and he was feeling disoriented and angry—but he didn’t know why.  A few months later, he recalled (under regressive hypnosis) a series of terrifying events.  His memories became the basis for the 1987 bestseller Communion, in which Strieber asserted that he was abducted and physically assaulted by unknown Visitors.  What has haunted him ever since that night is the never-ending search for meaning: Who were these Visitors?  What did they want from him?  Were they trying to tell him something?  Maybe warn him about something?

Communion posed the questions, and subsequent books offered speculative answers.  In 1988’s Transformation, Strieber embraced mystical philosophy, aligning himself with occult figures like George Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky, and concluding that the important lesson to be drawn from his experience was about overcoming fear.  “Fear confuses us and holds us back,” he wrote.  “It is our primary obstacle.  Successful confrontation with it is the breakthrough that leads to understanding.”  It was still too soon for understanding, but he presented a compelling theory about the existence of a half-world between the demonstrably-real world we live in and the intangible world of thought and imagination.  In essence, he suggested that fictional creations may have more physical substance than we normally assume.  He cited his own fiction as his example.

In 1978 Strieber published his first horror novel, The Wolfen.  The book is about a pair of NYPD detectives who stumble upon a secret society of ancient wolf-like creatures.  The author describes these creatures as “serene in their deadliness,” “not even a little human but… clearly intelligent,” with pale gray eyes and a “cruel beauty.”  A minor character in the novel, a scientist named Carl Ferguson, concludes that they are not mythical werewolves (half-human, half-wolf) but rather a “completely separate species,” “a virtual alien intelligence right here at home.”  While studying them, Ferguson recovers a repressed memory of a childhood encounter with them, and concludes that not only have the Wolfen existed alongside men for many thousands of years, but they have also been with him personally for his entire life.  This discovery prompts a profound awakening to a new perception of the world around him.  Ferguson reflects: “Throughout all of history mankind has been living in a dream, and suddenly we’re about to discover reality.”

In 1981 Strieber published his second horror novel, The Hunger.  This one is about an ageless female vampire (a member of “another species, living right here all along”) named Miriam Blaylock, who feeds her insatiable hunger by creating vampire lovers.  Her latest target is a scientist named Sarah, who will soon become fascinated by her own transformation into a vampire.  As she develops super-human senses, Sarah reports “somebody or something moving with her, walking as she walked, breathing as she breathed.  Something not quite of this world.”  She hears “a stirring in the air all around her, like the sound of enormous wings.”  Is it a bird?  A plane?  A UFO?   Strieber doesn’t offer an answer, but he does provide a glimpse of Miriam in her true form as she promises to show Sarah the “secrets” of “the kingdom.”  Here’s the description: “The eyes were not pale gray at all, but shining, golden, piercingly bright.  The skin was as white and smooth as marble.  There were no eyebrows, but the face was so noble, so much at peace that just seeing it made Sarah want to sob out the pretty passions of her own humanity and have done with them forever.”

More than one observer noted the similarities between Strieber’s descriptions of werewolves and vampires and his description of The Grays, the alien race depicted on the cover of Communion—prompting some readers to assume that Communion was just another work of fiction, sold to gullible readers as nonfiction.  Strieber emphatically denies that Communion was a hoax, but concedes that his imagination has played a significant role in his experiences with the unknown.  As to the specifics of that role, he is uncertain….. Did his early horror novels in some way predict what would happen to him in 1985?  Did they perhaps even cause what happened to him in 1985?  Did they help to feed an elaborate self-delusion… or did they make him aware of something that is usually hidden but demonstrably real?

In his 1995 book Breakthrough, Strieber offered a new theory: “Imagination can become a time machine.”  Like Carl Ferguson in The Wolfen, the author now claimed to have recovered repressed memories of early childhood encounters with his Visitors.  They came, he concluded, to teach him how to time-travel.  In his books he is doing just that, using imagination to prompt readers to overcome their fears of the unknown.  Those who can grant only limited reality to such worlds of imagination will inevitably regard Strieber’s work as—at best—a series of extended metaphors and allegories, but the author himself cautions us not to dismiss horror fiction too quickly.  Often, he suggests, worlds of imagination overlap with our own.

In 1987 director Philippe Mora, who helmed the film adaptation of COMMUNION (as well as THE HOWLING 2 & 3), had an experience that suggested how close these two worlds can be.  While visiting Strieber’s cabin in upstate New York, Mora had particularly vivid nightmare that he described as follows: “I had the experience of lights blasting through the bedroom window, lights blasting under the crack under the door of the bedroom—I tried to turn the light on in my room, and I couldn’t turn it on and I was pushed back into bed.  […] Then I remember being outside the guestroom door, in the kitchen area, and the whole cabin lit up—every opening, every exterior opening, the whole thing was lit up with moving lights.”  In the morning, he told his host what he’d seen.  In Transformation, Strieber reflected: “What happened to him?  A vivid dream because of where he was sleeping?  I wouldn’t deny the possibility.  But I would also think it foolish to consider that the only possibility.”


Also published on Medium.


Bizzare & Odd

In a Rare Case of the Lazarus Syndrome, a Woman is Declared Dead Twice

“The man who had been dead came out with his hands and feet bound in strips of linen, and his face wrapped in a headcloth.”
John 11:44

That biblical passage comes from the story of Lazarus, who was brought back to life after being declared dead and buried four days before. Lazarus thus lent his name to any circumstance involving a person being brought back to life after being declared dead by a doctor or another person who knows the signs of death. While it’s popular in movie plots and novels, the so-called Lazarus Syndrome is extremely rare – only 37 cases have been verified worldwide since 1982.

Make that 38.

The Raising of Lazarus

“The patient was certified dead at 10.30pm in GMSH.”

Dr. Dasari Harish, head of the forensic medicine department at the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH)-32, told the Times of India that the case was discussed at a recent conference. Doctors at the Government Multispecialty Hospital (GMSH)-16 in Chandigarh (a city and a union territory in northern India) declared a 45-year-old female patient dead due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – an inflammatory lung condition that obstructs breathing. Dr. Harish says the doctors followed proper protocols when determining the time of death at 10.30 pm and placed what they thought was a corpse in an ambulance three hours later to be transported to the home of her relatives for the funeral. However, “signs of vitality were noticed by the relatives while transporting her body,” said Harish.


“They immediately unpacked her and brought to our hospital at 5:58 am. We were not even informed that she had already been declared dead by the previous hospital. After resuscitation and treatment, she was declared dead at 7:30 am in GMCH.”

As Dr. Harish pointed out, the woman had been declared officially dead by other doctors following proper protocols. Yes, doctors have been known to close ranks when controversy occurs, but the Lazarus Syndrome muddies the saline solution here. According to a US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health report, the Lazarus syndrome or Lazarus heart or ‘autoresuscitation after failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation’, is the “the unassisted return of spontaneous circulation after cardiac arrest.” There is some thought that the heart could be stopped by pressure built up during cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the heart may start beating again after the pressure is relieved. According to the Emergency Medicine Journal, it may also occur due to high doses or adrenaline (epinephrine) or the recreational ingestion of high doses of heroin and ecstasy. It doesn’t appear that any of these were the case with the poor woman in India. So, what caused this 38th case of the Lazarus Syndrome?

“We found it evidently as the first case of Lazarus phenomena from India. There are no certain reasons, but it is believed that some lifesaving drugs giving for resuscitation have a prolonged effect and perhaps rarely some patients can again come back to life and die again within 2-3 hours.”

Needless to say, that ambulance will have plenty of lawyers chasing it from now on.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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Bizzare & Odd

Stephen King’s House to Become a Museum and Writer’s Retreat

Stephen King plans to turn his Victorian mansion in Bangor into an archive of his work.

Stephen King's house in Bangor will be a museum and writer's retreat
Stephen King at the new gates of his home in Bangor, Maine, November 1982

“Of course we fell in love with the house we live in, and it has never disappointed us,” Stephen King wrote in an essay for a March 1983 Bangor Historical Society event. “Have we disappointed it? Disappointment probably isn’t the right word. I think it disapproved of us at first. The parlor seemed cold in a way that had little to do with temperature. The cat would not go into that room; the kids avoided it. My oldest son was convinced there were ghosts in the turret towers (that idea was probably more due to the Hardy Boys than to parental influence).”

But eventually the house warmed up to the King family, and it became their primary residence for many years. These days, however, King is barely a part time resident of the Victorian mansion at 47 West Broadway (find it on the Strange Destinations map) that he purchased in 1980. It seems he prefers the warmer weather of his Florida getaway.

What to do with the house back in Maine, then?

Well, as Rolling Stone reports, it is soon to be transformed into a Stephen King museum and writer’s retreat.

“On Wednesday night, the Bangor City Council unanimously approved a request by King and his wife Tabitha to rezone their home as a non-profit,” the article states, “allowing it to house an archive of King’s work (offering restricted visits by appointment) and up to five writers at a time.”

“The King Family has been wonderful to the City of Bangor over time and have donated literally millions of dollars to various causes in the community,” a city councilors told Rolling Stone. “Preserving his legacy here in Bangor is important for this community.”

Bangor history and myth was the inspiration for the fictional town of Derry in Stephen King’s novel IT, which drove his decision to live there.

“Oh my Lord, my Lord the stories you hear about this town — the streets fairly clang with them,” King wrote. “The problem isn’t finding them or ferreting them out; the problem is that old boozer’s problem of knowing when to stop. It’s entirely possible, I find, to overload completely on Bangor myth.”

Stephen KIng's house in Bangor, Maine

The house, as well as other landmarks fans will recognize from the novel such as the Barrens and the Standpipe, are included in the Stephen King’s “Derry” tour.

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Bizzare & Odd

Zombies: Not So Far From Reality

The subject of zombies is nothing new, but it has continued to increase in popularity as the decades have rolled by. These peculiar undead creatures have been the topic of countless movies, books, comics, video games and other bastions of pop culture for well over 80 years, but in more recent times, the advent of the Internet has brought with it an almost rabid obsession with zombie-related themes and memes.

There are groups of people who are literally training for an unsettling forthcoming event known as the “Zombie Apocalypse”, and others are becoming more convinced that the undead are actually among us in our everyday lives, lying in wait to attack us at any moment.

So what’s with all of this hype surrounding these ghoulish monsters? It’s a long story, but let’s start by defining what a zombie actually is.

The most popular working definition of a zombie is a half-dead (or, for the optimists, a “reanimated”) corpse that has an insatiable craving for human flesh, and human brains in particular. They are somehow suspended between the world of the dead and the world of the living, essentially unable to complete their passage into the unknown afterlife.

This would definitely be a frustrating prospect, so naturally zombies are not known to be friendly creatures. They are antagonistic to humans, and will cannibalize any living person on sight, presumably in an attempt to siphon whatever “life” they can get from them.

The concept of zombies has existed in one form or another for countless decades, but to really get to the root of the zombie phenomenon, we have to take a trip back to the voodoo-infused culture of 17th Century Haiti.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Haiti was under French rule, and slaves were imported from West Africa to power the rapidly growing sugar trade in Haiti (then called Saint-Domingue) and other key locations in the New World.

Voodoo was heavily practiced by slaves as well as slave drivers during this time, and the mixture of superstition, mythology and occultism that accompanied the practice of voodoo gave rise to the idea of the zombie as a way to keep recalcitrant slaves from trying to escape or act out in rebellion against their masters.

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, expert voodoo researcher Amy Wilentz provides further insight into this phenomenon:

“The only escape from the sugar plantations was death, which was seen as a return to Africa, or lan guinee (literally Guinea, or West Africa). This is a phrase in Haitian Creole that even now means heaven…The zombie is a dead person who cannot get across to lan guinee. This final rest–in green, leafy, heavenly Africa, with no sugarcane to cut and no master to appease or serve–is unavailable to the zombie. To become a zombie was the slave’s worst nightmare: to be dead and still a slave, an eternal field hand.”

Many of the slave drivers on the plantations were voodoo priests themselves, and they would threaten to “hex” or “curse” a slave with zombie-hood if they tried to escape or commit suicide. The prospect of dying but never escaping their oppressive conditions was a very real phenomenon that created somewhat of a mental prison for slaves, essentially coercing them to continue to endure their brutal existence.

During this time, the word “zombie” suggested an entity that had a body, but little else; a zombie was basically thought to be a shell of a person, a creature who could no longer be autonomous or self-aware, but was banished to live a primal, unthinking existence.

In the 1980s, an anthropologist named Wade Davis claimed to have discovered a powder that could essentially “zombify” a person, asserting that his discovery provided a scientific explanation for the various zombie legends that existed in various cultures that practiced voodoo.

This mysterious “zombie powder” was a highly potent neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin, found in various species of animals including the highly poisonous pufferfish. Although Davis did not believe in voodoo or magic, he claimed to have infiltrated the secretive ranks of various voodoo priests (known as “bokors” or “houngan”), obtaining samples of various “zombie powders” for chemical analysis.

Davis later wrote a book about his experiences entitled “The Serpent and the Rainbow”, which recounted his investigation of the story of Clairvius Narcisse, a Haitian man who was allegedly poisoned with a combination of chemical substances that turned him into a zombie. Davis’s book was later adapted into a Wes Craven-directed horror film by the same name.

Cinema historians largely agree that the first full-length zombie movie ever created was a 1932 film entitled “White Zombie”, which was directed by brothers Edward and Victor Halperin and starred famed horror actor Bela Lugosi.

The movie depicts the experience of a young woman who was transformed into a zombie at the hands of a nefarious voodoo priest. While “White Zombie” received largely negative or lukewarm critical reviews upon its release, zombie enthusiasts now view the movie as an important model or archetype for all zombie movies that were to follow.

Of all the zombie-themed horror films that have been produced over the years, the release of George Romero’s classic 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead” was widely considered to be a watershed moment in the rise of the zombie phenomenon. Interestingly enough, the movie referred to the undead villains only as “ghouls”, but the word “zombies” caught on with the public, so the name stuck.

In popular culture, much attention is given to the ways in which zombies can be destroyed (e.g., gunshots, decapitation, fire, etc.), but in traditional Haitian folklore, the objective was actually to free a person from their zombified state if at all possible.

According to the tradition, one of the ways this could be done was to feed the zombie salt, which would then cause the will and soul of the zombie to return. The Haitian roots of zombie folklore have largely disappeared over time, and as big-budget zombie-themed Hollywood films and television shows have proliferated (and subsequently exploded in popularity), zombie invasions are now commonly set against dystopian or post-apocalyptic backdrops, and zombies are primarily depicted as imminent threats that cannot escape their undead state.

Several new variables that are present in our modern world (e.g., genetic modification, biological experiments, advanced chemical and nuclear weapons, etc.) have served as excellent fodder for zombie enthusiasts who are looking for the next big catalyst that could spark a large-scale zombie invasion.

While the existence of zombies has never been scientifically proven, the mystery and excitement surrounding the zombie phenomenon will provide fans of the undead with plenty of fuel for their imagination. Courtesy of the seemingly endless stream of zombie-related entertainment that has come out in recent years, zombie fans can now enjoy an invasion of the living dead any time they choose.

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