So here we are in October, the month of Halloween, and with chill winds, the smell of cinnamon and apples in the air, and carved pumpkins decorating porch stoops nationwide and beyond, our tastes turn to all things spooky. A desire for something haunting.
So let me spin you a tale. A tale that actually happened to me. A tale that hints to us that there might be more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. And it's all true.
Although I am older and hopefully wiser than I used to be, once upon a time I was a bright kid to made stupid choices. Like most people, I hate feeling stupid. Admitting it is even more painful. So this confession comes at a price.
I've always been a bit fascinated with the paranormal. Whether it was watching the old Universal monster movies on Friday Night Frights, a showcase that used to air on KAAL TV 6 in Austin/Albert Lea, Minnesota when I was growing up, or reading gory movie magazines like FANGORIA, or even climbing into a Stephen King novel during a late summer and refusing to do just about anything else until I'd read the final page, spooky things seemed like good fun.
But for all the fun bits there were to enjoying spooky things, there were dark sides, too. One such dead end is a path I went down briefly in my early teens. As an incurably curious kid, once I latched onto a subject, I read that topic to death. And for a period of time, I became fascinated with the concept of witchcraft.
I'm not talking about letting my skin turn green and warty and cackling over a bubbling caldron, chanting passages from Dr. Seuss for Serial Killers. Not that. That never would have appealed to me.
What caught me was an ad.
My parents used to get tabloid newspapers like The National Enquirer, Weekly World News, and News of the World. The sort of newspaper that was publishing photos of Hitler on a golf outing with JFK in the early 1980s, long after both men were pushing daisies, and a bit before programs like Photoshop made such impossibilities easy to pull off.
So, that's the sort of publication we're talking about here. My parents called them, "Comic books for adults."
But there was this ad, see. I recall it taking up a full page, with the stunning headline, "Heal the sick, like Jesus did!" It rambled on about the benefits of the Wiccan religion (though I sincerely doubt the purveyors of this tome had much to do with modern-day Wiccanism). But that one clarion headline is what got into my head. Healing people. That was nice, right? There were plenty of sick people, even dead people.
Healing folks seemed compassionate. Bringing the dead back to life seemed like a good deed, as well. And while I wasn't necessarily eager to be "like Jesus" in the sense of being put to death over doing good, I wasn't necessarily thinking logically or about consequences.
What I thought about was being able to do all that good. Having people come to me for that kind of help. And, of course, how being able to perform that kind of help might gain me friends, which, as a bookish teen without loads of social skills, I didn't have in abundance back then.
So I sent away for the book. All the way to Wichita, Kansas, fittingly enough.
Looking back on it, it was obviously someone's long-ago version of a self-published tome. A book designed to make money by setting forth huge promises like being able to heal the sick with a prayer, but whose ultimate result was to separate you from about $17.50, plus $5.99 shipping and handling (at a time when a first-class stamp was only 18 cents).
I fretted about Mom and Dad finding out what I ordered. Somehow I knew it was a purchase not to be proud of. Even the ad had stressed secrecy being important. Too young for alarm bells to go off, though. So I watched our mailboxes every day and made sure I was the first to get the mail. Back then I was already ordering a lot of stuff through the mail, anyway; I was part of a book club, as well as a music club. I loved receiving mail, and I had a newspaper carrier job, so I had money to pay for my stuff. That wasn't a problem.
Once the book arrived, I buried it in a stack of other books and made sure to read it only at night, when everyone was asleep. The prose was entirely forgettable, for the most part. It focused a lot more on claims than methodology. It relied on horror movie mythologies to create the closest thing anyone could identify as a "spell recipe." I mean, it talked about ingredients like wolfsbane and "honeycomb soaked in the blood of an innocent." What? Who could acquire such arcane and obscure items? Especially in rural southern Minnesota, at the beginning of the Reagan era? Not me. Not likely.
So I read the whole thing cover to cover, but I didn't really do much of what it suggested. It encouraged eating lots of red meat (I liked steak, anyway, so no problem there) but encouraged it be consumed only very lightly cooked. "As raw as you can tolerate it, with the blood still in it, because the power's in the blood."
Yeah, it was very Hollywood-influenced. (Most actual Wiccans I've met are usually vegans, if anything.)
So I tried one steak rare. Not bloody-raw or undercooked, but just rare. I didn't even care for that, so I went no further toward raw.
There was one prayer that it offered that didn't require any arcane ingredients, just a healthy set of lungs. It was simple. It went like this:
"Money, money, come to me! As I will, so mote it be!"
Not sure what the faux King Jamesian English was all about, but I actually got up the courage to try that one. I walked down a long railroad track, out into a remote area where I wouldn't be overheard by neighbors, and shouted that, several times, as loud as I could, just as the book directed.
I felt like the biggest fool in Rose Creek, Minnesota. Sure, that may not be saying much; we were only 350 people strong back then. But it felt worse. Why?
Because nothing happened. I didn't see money come my way any faster than it did before. And the "raised Lutheran Missouri Synod" kid in me started kicking up a fuss. "As I will?" That didn't sound like a prayer Jesus would pray. He prayed, I remembered, "Not my will, but Yours be done."
And to make matters worse, not once did the book offer any advice on how to "heal people like Jesus did!" That was just a sales pitch. The book contained no such chapter.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I realized the book was a con job, eventually, and had nothing to offer me. But I was young enough to know that even so, the book was not to be taken lightly.
I confessed to my parents about the book and my oh-so-brief obsession with witchcraft. Now, my mother was more grateful I'd realized it was crud and was putting it aside than she was upset that I'd gotten interested in the stuff to begin with. She knew me well enough to understand my curious nature and how it could rabbit trail me off the beaten path. She was grateful I was bright enough not to keep pursuing it.
But we discussed what to do with the book. I knew it needed to be disposed of. For some reason, though, I didn't want to take any chances anyone else would ever read it, though. Sure, it was hogwash; but it was also dark, dangerous stuff in the wrong hands, and I didn't want to be responsible for that.
So we decided as a family to do something we'd never done before or since; we decided to burn the book. I know, it seems radical and anti-author to do that, but we're not talking about HUCKLEBERRY FINN, here. We're talking a huckster's con job about witchcraft and Wiccanism that encouraged people to eat raw meat. That alone was a health hazard.
Anyway, my dad set up things in our back yard.
He used an old grill lid, placed the book in it, and soaked it with charcoal starter fluid. Lots of it. Then he let it soak in for a while.
Finally, he lit it as I stood nearby. Flames leaped up nearly three feet in the air. They burned bright orange, for several minutes, then slowly went out.
Here's where it gets paranormally freaky. The book hadn't burned. A couple pages were lightly singed. That's all.
We repositioned the book, tore some pages out to use as kindling, and soaked it in starter fluid again. Another big whoosh, but only the kindling pages burned. Maybe some light browning at the edges, but still intact.
My dad cussed, went to our shed, and brought out a can of gasoline mixed with oil that we reserved for the lawn mower. He doused that on the book. The flames leaped again. A trail of fire raced back on the stream of fuel so quickly he had to drop the can for fear it was about to set the whole can of gas on fire. He narrowly avoided that fate and was fortunate not to have been burned.
We checked on the book. Still not burning.
Finally, all this commotion had drawn my Mom out to the back porch. She was always the most religious of us. She said, "We need to pray, or that thing will never burn."
So, the three of us joined hands and Mom led us through the Apostle's Creed.
And as we prayed through it, the book pages finally caught on fire. The dying flames grew and began to actually consume the book. Within a couple minutes of praying, there was little left but a smoldering hardcover binder.
Dad wet that down with the garden hose and tossed the remains in the trash. And I never went near another book on "witchcraft," nor did I order anything out of Weekly World News, ever again.
But you want to talk about spooky?
That was spooky.
More Info on Shada and Craig
By Craig Hansen
Book 1 of the Ember Cole series.
Genre: young adult paranormal suspense
Word Count: approximately 32,500 words.
SHADA Book Blurb:
"If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?"
A year ago, Ember Cole witnessed the death of her grandfather. Now, with her grandmother slipping away into dementia, she seeks answers from the only person who loved her grandmother more than her, even if he is dead: Grandpa Normie.
Joined by three of her closest friends, Ember treks deep into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, seeking the advice of a dead man on how to save the living. But sometimes, the dead have their own agenda.
Craig Hansen wrote stories from an early age, but when his SF short story, "The S.S. Nova," was published in the Minnesota Writers In the School COMPAS program's 1981 anthology of student writing, When It Grows Up, You Say Goodbye To It, he decided to dedicate himself to writing. Several unpublished novels and short stories followed.
Hansen earned two degrees at Minnesota State University at Mankato under the mentorship of young adult novelist Terry Davis. In the years that followed, Hansen worked a variety of jobs related to writing, including editorial work at a small publishing house, holding a position as a Web site editor, and five years in journalism in northwestern Wisconsin, where he earned several state awards for his writing and editing.
His work has appeared in the Meadowbrook Press anthology, Girls to the Rescue, Book 1, as well as the true crime journal, Ripper Notes, in volume 28.
His first novel, Most Likely, was released in May. Shada is the first installment of the Ember Cole series of young adult paranormal suspense books. Hansen is hard at work on the next installment in the series, the novel-length book, Ember.
Hansen recently moved to Oregon with his wife, a dog, a cat, and his 89-year-old father, a World War II veteran.
Craig's interests include the music of Johnny Cash, reading the novels of other independent authors, blogging, and the study of Messianic theology. On his Web site, you can sign up to receive a periodic email newsletter that will notify you when he releases new novels.
Connect With Craig Online At:
Blog and Web site