Last blog I mentioned I was reading Michael McDowell’s classic ghost tale, The Elementals. I have completed it and must say it’s a great read. Though I’m not ready to say McDowell is my new favorite author, he is definitely up there. The tale has all the creepiness of Edgar Allen Poe and an ending that makes all the little, tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention.
I hate reading reviews that unwind the whole story so I won’t do that. Let’s just say as a visitor to Port Aransas, Texas on the Gulf coast with my family every summer, I never knew beach houses could be so creepy.
And the sand. The sand that encroaches and looms into each and every crevice becomes as actual entity in McDowell’s novel.
I used to longingly stare at those beach houses with their screened in porches and wish I could sit in the swing that swayed back and forth there. The places were always deserted. Seldom did they look inhabited, yet, they didn’t appear void of activity either. The swing did sway, you see, and no one was in it. The wind? Possibly.
I now remember those deserted lodgings with a new respect and perhaps a bit of fear.
McDowell’s novel introduced me to the term elementals. In the book, the elementals are described by Odessa Red—the family’s housekeeper and the novel’s demon slayer—in the following way.
“What’s in that house, child, knows more than you know. What’s in that house don’t come out of your mind. It don’t have to worry ’bout rules, and behaving like a spirit ought to behave. It does what it does to fool you, it wants to trick you into believing what’s not right…You stand at one of them doors thinking something’s behind it—nothing’s behind it. It’s waiting for you upstairs, it’s waiting for you downstairs. It’s standing behind you.”
Yep. Hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up right now.
Luker, a character in the novel and father of India, a teenage girl who is hellbent on getting to bottom of the weirdness, says of the name, elementals:
“It’s a…convenient name, India, that’s all. It sounds better than saying spirit or ghost. But really all we know is that there’re presences in the house at Beldame, and they’re evil.”
To which India questions:
“And they’re called Elementals because they belong to the elements of nature or something like that?”
This last statement is never actually explored in the novel. However, my research today finds that elementals are soundly rooted in folklore and legend and were expounded upon by the 16th century alchemist and occultist, Paracelsus. Generally speaking, the elementals are lumped into four categories: gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders. These categories coincide with the classical environmental elements of earth, wind, fire and water. All of which make an appearance in McDowell’s novel, only on a sinister level.
In last week’s blog, I told a ghost story that happened to me as a child. Reading The Elementals and reviewing the happenings—hauntings—that occurred in the first haunted house I lived in, has forced me to ask: Was it ghosts or elementals and is there a difference? For in all classic literature lies some truths.
I’ve lived in four haunted houses. To avoid confusion, let’s name them.
House #1 Hellhound House
House #2 The Old House
House #3 The Re-Possessed House
House #4 The Now House
My Hauntings: Second Contact
Other than the typical ghostly tactics like electrical malfunctions, mysterious orbs, and eerie unexplainable sounds I experienced while living in Hellhound House, one other noteworthy haunting occurred.
After the missing sheep incidence, my fear of sleeping alone in my own room increased. Mom pulled out the old army cot again and placed it at the foot of my brothers’ twin beds for me.
One night I found it difficult to breath.
A misshapen lump was perched upon my chest and commenced to having a staring contest with me. Its eyes moved to the left. Then to the right. And then IT fixed its eyes on me. I screamed.
My parents had grown accustomed to my nightly terrors, so instead of running to my side, my mom yelled, “What is it this time.”
In a tear-filled screech, I said, “There’re eyes staring at me.”
My older brother, Stinky, popped up in bed and pretended he had a machine gun. “Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat,” he teased. “You big titty baby,” he said.
I cried. He continued his rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, laughing, smirking, and making fun of me. He was always a master at harassing my little brother and me.
Dad picked me up and carried me to my parent’s bed for the night.
Child’s nightmare. Incident closed. We moved from Hellhound House soon after.
Years later. I was eighteen and had just graduated high school. My younger brother was fifteen. We were having a lively round of true confessions—you know stuff you confess to your sibling that you’ve kept secret for years like tricks you played on them, like filling their underwear drawer with sand. It was the night before I was leaving for college. I guess he felt the need to confess something he’d kept buried for a decade.
He said, “Sissy, you know that night you said you saw those eyes.”
“Of course. How could I forget. It’s one of many such incidents that contributed to my own family calling me crazy,” I said.
Over the years, I have often returned to the encounter and wondered what it was. I mean, I had proof it happened. My little brother saw it too. I didn’t just dream it as my parents tried to convince me. It happened. It was real.
I think it was then that I became a true believer. Most of the paranormal experiences that have happened to me over the years, I’ve kept secret, until now. Until I became a writer and a blogger.
After reading McDowell’s novel and researching elementals, I think the creature with the eyes that sat upon my chest and tried to squeeze the life out of me was an elemental. When a house remains deserted for an extended length of time, things move in. Unearthly things. Hellhound House had been deserted for over twenty-five years when we leased it.
In McDowell’s novel, one of creatures that mysteriously appears in the photographs India takes, bears a marked resemblance to the deformed-eyed beastie that sat perched on my chest years ago. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe the same creature visited McDowell’s once upon a time. He is not around for me to ask. He died in 1999. Stephen King described him as: the finest writer of paperback originals in America today. (ProbeNote: McDowell is most known for his screenplay for the Tim Burton film Beetlejuice.)
The creature in India’s photograph is described in this way.
“…Luker saw at once the fat gray creature that was huddled behind the low porch railing. From its crouched position, and the fact that most of it was hidden by the railing posts, it was not possible to reconstruct its shape—Luker thought that it might be the animated fetus of an elephant. Only that part of its head from the round flat ear to the round flat eye was visible. Its white pupils stared out in the camera lens.”
Did I mention the eyes that stared back at me were white?
I now believe the creatures that haunted Hellhound House, and me, were elementals.
Is there a difference between elementals and ghosts?
The thing that stared back at me meant to do me harm. Even in my child’s mind, I sensed this. My ghostly encounters, including the spirit that currently resides in The Now House, I don’t feel threatened by. Not that I don’t believe that ghosts can be evil, it’s just they present themselves differently. Ghosts seem to be shapeless and more into mischief whereas the elementals have a desire to do humans harm. Possibly, unlike ghosts, they were never human to begin with but creatures from the unknown depths of evil.
I also believe it’s necessary for us to distinguish these evil elementals from the naturally occurring environmental elementals of earth, wind, fire and water. They are two separate species and perhaps need a name of their own. I don’t think these two can just be lumped together.
Evil elementals doesn’t cut it for me. How about you? I’ll work on a name for them in my nightmares.
Ghostly Photo of the Week
This is for my Aussie cousin, Anthony, who visited me this last month and who also shares my belief in the paranormal.
In 1945 in Queensland, Australia, Mrs. Andrews’ daughter, Joyce, died at the age of 17. While visiting the gravesite a year later, Mrs. Andrew snapped a few photos of the marker. After developing the film, she discovered the image of a child sitting by her daughter’s grave.
Mrs. Andrews said there were no other children nearby and that she did not recognize the child.
Australian paranormal researcher, Tony Healy, investigated the occurrence in the late 1990s and near Joyce’s grave he found the graves of two infant girls. (Information and photograph appear on several websites.)
Do you have any ghost stories? Ones that you have personally experienced. I’d love to hear them.
The Probe’s Mission Statement
The Probe is a blog devoted to the exploration of the unexplainable, to finding the truth in occurrences that resemble science fiction, and to researching and reporting on topics that could be flung upon the wall of weird. New posts are featured every week.
(Mostly on Mondays, but sometimes I release early, like on Sundays, if I have a writing deadline, or if I’m going camping, or if I have something exciting I just can’t wait to tell you. And sometimes I’m late if I’m camping or have family visiting .)
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blog post #118