Today is an exciting day for me personally. Why? Because we are kicking off this year’s Stitched Saturday! This little writing exercise has always been a favorite of mine. I love the prompts, the pictures, the creativeness, and the unexpected. I hope you will, too. For me, this is what makes Stitched Saturday so much fun. You never know what you’re going to get when you click on the next post. An entire new, horrific world awaits to get those creative juices in your mind flowing.
Another reason I’m head over heels about this round is I’ll be moderating. Yep, I’m your Host with the Ghosts, the Paranormal Pastor, Ezekiel Kincaid. I’ll be making sure everyone follows the rules and has a good time. Also, no acting a fool, or I’ll excommunicate you and sentence you to the bowels of hell for all eternity (Muahahahahahaha!).
With that said, let me relay to you how all this is going to work, what the benefits are, and follow up with some ground rules. This is all important stuff so don’t zone out on me.
Every Saturday we are going to have a writing prompt, usually in the form of a photo or pic. There will be specific rules for each prompt. One week, it might be writing from a certain point of view, and the next could be having to use a certain weapon for your villain to kill with. The main thing is it will be different each week. At the end of the month, a winner will be chosen based on the following:
They have the most likes.
If there is a tie, the members of the newsletter will be prompted to vote (So sign up for the newsletter).
At the end of each quarter, the winners will be featured in House of Stitched Magazine. You will get one ad for promoting your other works. If you don’t have anything to promote (book, art, etc.), we’ll ask to print your short story and do a brief write up with a Q&A style interview.
Now, a few ground rules.
First, we want you to share and promote these posts and your stories. This means more exposure for you and your work. Rally your fans and readers to get them involved.
Second, no trash talking other people’s stories or work. This will get you booted. There’s also to be no trolling of negative behavior on any of the House of Stitched social media, etc. This will get you booted. No arguing, fighting, or trying to win on loopholes. You shall not pass!
Ultimately, we want everyone to have a good time and get some exposure for their writing.
If you agree, please spill some drops of your blood in a vail and mail it to:
House of Stitched…
Ha ha, just kidding. In the words of Seth Gecko, all we ask is, “Everybody be cool. You, be cool.”
Now, for the moment you have all been waiting for! Let’s get to the first writing prompt and get this shit kicked off, House of Stitched style!
Today’s art is entitled, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here”, and is brought to you by theycallmedanyo from DeviantArt.
The prompt: Word limit 500 words. It must involve a field of some kind. It can be a ghost story, a slasher, body horror, or aliens. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s dark and as long as it involves a field. All you need to do to participate is put your stories in the comments on this post. The picture for the prompt is below.
Welcome to the third and final installment of my series featuring the Cecil Hotel! I thought I’d wrap things up by talking about a subject that makes everyone warm and fuzzy—serial killers.
To recap, the Cecil Hotel was purchased in Los Angeles prior to the Great Depression and was intended to be a luxury hotel. However, thanks to the Great Depression coming, the hotel didn’t quite become the hotspot the investor originally thought. It did, however, become quite the infamous landmark and a true crime gold mine! If you want to read more about it, you can see the first post of the series here.
In the mid-1980s, the hotel was home to Richard Ramirez who would later come to be known as the “Night Stalker.” Between 1984 and 1985, Ramirez killed at least thirteen people via torture, shooting, strangulation, and stabbing. Reports indicate he also left satanic markings on his victims. His victims were seemingly chosen at random, and the murders primarily happened at night. Police patrols were increased and a task force was formed to catch the Night Stalker. People also took matters into their own hands with purchasing guns, alarm systems, and guard dogs. People were terrified.
For most of his crimes, he was a resident at the Cecil Hotel. For $14.00 a night, he had himself a home in a hotel where no one batted an eye when he waltzed into to the lobby in his underwear (or less) after depositing his bloody clothes into the hotel’s dumpster. Yikes.
In late summer of 1985, the Night Stalker’s reign would end. The end would come courtesy of his own carelessness and oblivion. That August, Ramirez was spotted outside a witness’s house, and he left his car (and license plate) out for the world to see.
When police tracked down the car, they were able to get enough of a fingerprint to run through the system. Interestingly, the system at that time was only able to track people born after January 1960. Luckily for the public, Ramirez was born just after that in February. Fingerprints led to old police records which led to mugshots. The mugshots were then released to the public.
Now, 1985 was before the days of the 24/7 information blast of the internet and things like social media. So, Richard Ramirez, who had been out of town, had no idea that his face was all over the news until he walked into a convenience store and saw himself on the front page of the newspaper. He tried to run, but alas, a mob of bystanders who recognized him caught and detained him. Reports indicate they beat the daylights out of him. When the police finally got to him, he tried to escape but was unable.
He was convicted of thirteen murders and a number of other crimes, including rape and assault.
Ramirez was sentenced to death, but would not be executed. He was held in San Quentin Prison for the remainder of his days. His first appeal wasn’t heard until 2006. He would later die in prison in 2013 of lymphoma.
In the early 1990s, another serial killer took up residence at the Cecil. Officials say he was inspired by the Night Stalker. Speaking of questionable choices, a woman began writing to and would later marry Richard Ramirez in prison. Okie dokie then.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if it were still a hotel (or partially a hotel) open for reservations, I’m not sure I’d want to stay there. There are places with strange histories that I would be cool visiting. The Cecil Hotel, however, would probably not be one of those locales. Or it might.
We’ve talked about horrible deaths for the past three weeks. What do you say we take a little break and talk about a con artist or a disappearance for next week? Or maybe we’ll talk about more killers… The shadowy corners of true crime are fascinating and endless. Who knows where we’ll end up?
Looking for more?
The Night Stalker: The Disturbing Life and Chilling Crimes of Richard Ramirez by Philip Carlo
Ultimate Richard Ramirez Collection by James Gilks
One of the intriguing things about the show, Dexter, is that a vigilante serial killer has a day job one might not expect—working with the police department. He was a blood spatter expert, which makes sense, I suppose. Dexter was good at his job because he had some rather unique experience. Our story today is similar in the sense that a prolific arsonist also happened to be an arson investigator.
John Orr, born in Los Angeles in 1949, was a member Air Force and their firefighting program. During his time in the service, he discovered he really liked to have authority and adulation. When he got out of the Air Force, he decided he could certainly hold a position of authority as a police officer. He failed the psychological exam and didn’t get to become a policeman.
He then applied to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Again, he was passed over for a spot after having failed his entrance exams. Orr eventually applied to the Glendale Fire Department and became a fire fighter and was later promoted to captain. He still hadn’t found the exhilaration he was looking for in his career.
Orr decided to go back to school and study criminal justice and fire science. He was thrilled when the Glendale Fire Department announced they were looking for a fire investigator. He worked hard and eventually got the position.
In 1984, a horrible fire broke out at a home goods store in Pasadena. Four people, including a child, died in that fire. Coincidentally, in what would become a pattern, a fire was set in another location, a grocery store, likely to divert attention. The investigator at that fire requested the assistance of Orr, who by then had made a name for himself as a top-notch arson investigator. Hmm… I wonder why that was. Orr was able to help the other investigator find the point of origin and explained how flammable potato chips can be.
When the investigator finished up at the grocery store, he headed over to the home goods fire and was reportedly surprised to see that Orr was already there. It’s said that the other investigators ruled that the home goods store fire was the result of an electrical issue. Orr, as you may guess, was fuming. He argued that it had to be arson and had some pretty good points as to what made him believe that. That was his fire, dangit!
For the next couple of years, more fires broke out. After a while, the investigators put together the pattern of multiple fires as well as the makeshift timer, cigarettes, and matches at the scene. In 1987, a fire broke out in Fresno where an arson investigators’ convention was being held. More fires were set in other convention locales. Of course, the rosters were checked out. Three guesses whose name appeared on each one.
Finally, a fingerprint was recovered from the paper that was part of the incendiary device. However, investigators weren’t able to get a good enough match. But Orr was low-key under surveillance after his name popped up on the convention lists. Plus, that guy always seemed to be first on the scene. What are the odds?
In 1991, the “Pillow Pyro” task force was formed. The name came from the number of fires that originated in the home section of several stores, mainly the pillows. After expanding their cross-referencing, they were able to get a match on the fingerprint recovered at the scene a few years before. Authorities were also able to prove that John Orr purchased materials for the devices—including cigarettes and matches. Strange that Orr, a non-smoker, would be buying cigarettes the same brand as those found at the scenes. Hmmm…
After Orr was arrested in 1991, authorities found a manuscript, Points of Origin. The story was about a firefighter who was an arsonist. Many of the details in Orr’s manuscript, including secret details only the arsonist would know, were pretty darn close to details of the rash of fires. Hmmm…
Orr was convicted of four counts of murder and a number of arsons. All told, it is estimated that John Orr set over 2,000 fires between 1984 with the home store and 1991 when he was finally caught. These included structural fires and brush fires. He’s currently serving four life sentences plus twenty-one years for arson.
This was a pretty heated story. If you knew me, you’d be very proud of my restraint with the fire puns.
For the last of January’s unsolved crime theme, I wanted to take a look at the Axeman of New Orleans. This case interests me because of the number of possibilities and variety of angles from which to look at it. This is one of those cases that gets me thinking. Plus, there’s a supernatural element—if the letter is to be believed. You may be asking “What letter?” You’ll see.
From May 1918 to October 1919, a collective feeling of fear wound its way through the streets of New Orleans courtesy of a man creeping through the city streets and attacking citizens. While there was some connection, there was also enough unpredictability that no one felt safe. His routine was to gain entry to the victim’s home by removing one of the panels on the door or a hole in a wall and attack the victims with their own axe or hatchet. He would ransack the homes, but not take anything, and then flee into the night.
Police were stumped and the people of New Orleans were panicked. A number of arrests were made, but there was little to no evidence against any of them. In one case, a woman claimed she was attacked by her lover. He was acquitted. Another woman accused her neighbors of the Axeman attacks. They were arrested and convicted, but were later released when she recanted her claims. Yet another claim was made by the nieces of one of the victims. They said they saw a large, dark-skinned man wearing a dark suit and a slouched hat.
In March, 1919 a letter from Hell was sent to a newspaper. You read that right. He taunted the authorities in saying that he could really kick things up a notch if he wanted to and that he was buddies with Satan. But the Axeman wasn’t all bad. He confessed he was a big fan of jazz music, and promised that anyone playing jazz when he passed through town on March 19, 1919 would be spared.
As you can imagine, the city of New Orleans was alive with jazz music that night. True to his word, no one was killed that night. There was even a song written that was inspired by the occasion.
In October 1919, the Axeman’s reign ended as suddenly as it began. After the final attack, he was never heard from again.
One main theory in this case is that the perpetrator acted out of xenophobia. Most, but not all, of the victims in the case were Italian grocers. A second theory looks at the fact that a number of victims were women. Some supposed that the men were only attacked if they got in the way of his attacks. One of the women was eight months pregnant at the time of the attack. She survived and went on to give birth to a healthy baby girl. What a warrior!
Then there was the letter. Let’s be honest, the odds of the Axeman being one of Satan’s minions and but a specter in the city are pretty slim. But the element has intrigue. This is one angle where my interest in psychology comes in. What was the endgame there? Aside from frightening the populace, of course. He could have made any number of threats and claims, but he went with a jazz loving demon.
Though there are a number of theories about the whys of the case, there were never any solid leads as to the person responsible for it all.
So, what do you think? Was the Axeman a violent opportunist with a love for jazz? A guy with a grudge against Italian grocers? Was there something otherworldly going on or was he a bored guy looking to add some extra intrigue to the case? What if the letter wasn’t from the Axeman at all? It makes sense that it was from him, but there’s enough weirdness in this case that I kind of wonder…
And a final question: What will we talk about for February? There’s only one way to find out.
Looking for more?
Axeman of New Orleans: The True Story by Miriam C. Davis
I don’t know about you, but I love a good vigilante story. There’s something satisfying, but unadvised, about seeing someone take matters into their own hands and seek retribution. This week’s True Crime Sunday post deals with a real-life group of everyday citizens who, tired of a bully and criminal constantly going unpunished, decided to take care of the matter themselves.
Ken McElroy spent a good portion of his life terrorizing the farming town of Skidmore, Missouri. He was tall, big, and cold. When he moved there as a teenager with his family, he started with such activities as hunting racoons and taking livestock and moved up to burglary and assault. McElroy was also accused of child molestation and statutory rape. His wife was a teenager when she married him under duress. He allegedly threatened to burn her mother’s house down if she didn’t approve the marriage. Once they were married, Trena McCloud wouldn’t be able to testify against him in court.
And there were many court cases. McElroy was indicted in twenty-one crimes and was only convicted in one. His longtime attorney was skilled at delaying the cases and McElroy allegedly did his part to aid in his defense by stalking and intimidating victims and witnesses. His one conviction came in 1980 when he shot shopkeeper Ernest Bowenkamp in the throat. Miraculously, Bowenkamp survived.
McElroy was charged with attempted murder, but was found guilty of assault. Though it was a lesser charge, the community was happy that he wouldn’t be able to bully them while he was in jail. But it was not to be. His lawyer filed an appeal, and he was released on bond. He violated the terms of his release by possessing firearms, one of which he took with him into the local tavern. He got the names of a couple of witnesses that were set to testify against him at his bail revocation hearing. They were afraid for their lives, and they weren’t the only ones.
Local law enforcement couldn’t help the townspeople, and the people felt abandoned. Dozens of Skidmore’s citizens met near the tavern to discuss what to do about the situation. McElroy, possibly alerted to the meeting, pulled up with his wife to the tavern. He sat in his pickup, seemingly unconcerned with the crowd around the back of his truck.
Whether it was planned or not, several shots were fired at McElroy. He was hit by two of them and died in the truck. No one called an ambulance.
Law enforcement, of course, investigated. And surprisingly (not really), not one of the many witnesses saw a thing. McElroy’s wife gave the sheriff the name of one of the men, but he was never charged. The community kept their secret for years. Author Harry MacLean told Inside Edition that the FBI couldn’t make any progress in the investigation either. He said, “They get mobsters to turn on each other, but they couldn’t get one of those farmers to turn.”
It’s been forty years and no one has said a word.
There’s a lot to unpack with this case. No one is giving the town of Skidmore any medals or praise for heroics. The citizens must have felt they were given no other choice—it was him or them. It speaks to their acknowledgement of wrongdoing as well as their conviction that the murder was a desperate act to protect themselves.
Eventually the population of the town dwindled as businesses closed and people moved away in search of better opportunities. But there are as many questions now as there were forty years ago.
Who killed Ken McElroy? That’s a question that may never be answered.
Looking for more?
In Broad Daylight by Harry MacLean
True Crime: Missouri: The State’s Most Notorious Criminal Cases by David J. Krajicek
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Except This One. It’s REAL HIGH.
What would you say was your greatest moment? Your finest achievement? The most amazing sight you have ever seen?
Mine is the time right before Covid when I saw the magic of Celine Dion in concert.
But maybe for you it’s finishing a marathon or like inventing Post-It notes or something. I don’t know your life.
Whatever high you reached, just know that there’s a much more deadly and expensive one. It’s called climbing Mount Everest.
Located in the Himalayas, on the border of Nepal and China, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. It’s 8,849 meters tall. That’s 29,032 ft for you people not on the Metric System. Let me try and put that distance in perspective for you. Jet Airliners cruise at 31,000 ft. It’s 5.5 miles up, 96 football fields stacked end on end.
Dude, that’s freaking high AF.
The first person to summit Everest was a badass Sherpa from Nepal named Tenzing Norgay and his buddy from New Zealand, Edmund Hillary. They reached the top of the mountain on May 29th, 1953. If you read last week’s blog, you’ll know exactly how Wolverine bad-ass Sherpas are. New Zealanders are cool too, I guess. I mean, Xena is, so…
Since then, over 9000 people have summitted and 305 people have died trying.
I know. I expected more too. In comparison, 1 out of 4 people die trying to summit the world’s second tallest mountain, K2. That’s 25% death. Way more METAL.
How can you die? Okay, so:
Your ass can fall. It’s 8,849 meters high. SMUSH.
It’s cold AF. It’s a freaking snow-covered mountain. It’s ice and rock and you gotta climb it. It’s like -4F and the winds gust over 100 mph, which is a Cat 2 hurricane. You’ll freeze to death and die.
There’s very little oxygen, which you kind of need. On the summit of Everest there’s only 33% of 20.9% of the oxygen that is at Sea Level. Last week we went over all the terrible shit that happens when you’re at altitude. Let me sum it up: CHOKE…HEART ATTACK… STROKE… CAN’T SLEEP… CAN’T POOP. DIE
Okay, so a 1 in 30 chance of DEATH doesn’t scare you and hey, mountains are there to be climbed, right? (No, they’re actually not…) So how do you do it?
First, you better work, bitch.
Seriously, workout. You need to be in the best shape you can be. Strength training, cardio, hiking, hiking carrying a heavy pack. You better do all of it. If you’re out of shape, you won’t make it and you may endanger other people climbing, so don’t be THAT GUY.
Next, save up. Climbing Mount Everest isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s stupid expensive. Let me break this down for you:
Airfare to Katmandu: $2000
Hotel and Accommodations in Katmandu: $700
Food and Stuff as you trek to Base Camp: $1000
Some yaks: $600
Porters to tote your crap and handle the yaks: $700
Guide Service: $5000
I had to take off my shoes and socks to cypher all that up, but it comes to $63,300. That’s a shitload of money. And it doesn’t count all the stuff you had to do to get ready, like climb other mountains and such, which are also expensive.
Okay, Richie Rich, you got the monies, now what do you do?
Carve out a few months. Fly to Katmandu, which is where most expeditions depart from. Hang out there for a while, because remember our good friend, altitude sickness? Katmandu is at 2860 m. Yeah, you’re gonna get sick, so hang out, rest, and let your body add some hemoglobin.
Next you’re going to walk uphill to Everest Base Camp. That’s going to take at least 7 days, more like 14. Everest Base Camp is at 5500m, which is extreme high altitude. Again, you’re going to need to slow your roll and chill because you need to acclimatize.
Then the real shit begins. You begin hiking up to 3 higher camps to build up your skills and endurance. Camp 1 is 6100 m, Camp 2 is 6400 m, and Camp 3 is 6800 m. You hike up and down many times until you can go Base Camp to Camp 3 quickly enough and don’t die. Once you can do that, you’re ready to attempt to climb the whole thing.
Climbers usually take a day to go to each place and rest. So, you go to Camp 1, stay the night, Camp 2 next day, Camp 3 the 3rd day, then on to Camp 4. You hang at Camp 4 and rest a little. Camp 4 is 8000 m, so you can’t dick around. The clock is ticking. You’ll start for the summit in the middle of the night. The goal is to be up to the top about midday. Why?
You cannot stay above 8000 m very long. Just long enough to take a selfie or call your partner from the Sat Phone, and then you gotta haul ass back down.
Important thing to consider: You just expended all your energy climbing up. That was hard but going down is a lot more dangerous because you are tired and gonked in the brain due to low oxygen. You gotta bust a move, but be careful, because if you wonk up, see the 1-4 list above. DEATH.
Anyhoo, if you don’t biff and the Yeti doesn’t eat you, you descend down to at least Camp 3 before nightfall. You rest a bit, then you hike down to Base Camp and pop the bottle of Bolly you saved to celebrate your great success.
Congrats, you lived and achieved your dream. Unless you died, in which case they will straight-up-now-Paula-Abdul leave your corpse on that mountain because nobody cares to haul you back. It’s dangerous up there. And it’s full of corpses and Yetis and probably that guy:
As we did last week, we will discuss today who are my favorite top 3 Goth Icons in film: Male category.
Without a doubt, the 90s and ”goths” all got their leathery wings raised up in celebration when Brandon Lee appeared as The Crow. Not only was he an icon in his own right, being the son of legendary martial artist and philosopher, Bruce Lee … but the soundtrack was so on point.
Burn by The Cure
Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots
Dead Souls by Nine Inch Nails
Color Me Once by Violent Femmes
It Can’t Rain all the Time by Jane Siberry
To name just a few songs off the soundtrack and their performers, it was a movie that brought goths, comic book lovers, and people from all backgrounds together under one theater roof.
Next on my list would have to go to Johnny Depp. Where would we be without him, to be honest? From Edward Scissorhands to Sleepy Hollow, he’s bled our dark hearts since he walked onto screens with A Nightmare On Elm Street. However … I would fail my community if I didn’t add that in a tie for this spot is the incorrigible, talented, and beautiful Tim Curry.
From Legend, as the romantic but twisted Darkness, to Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim showed us that talent came from being unafraid of breaking down barriers and expectations. Fuck anyone who thought otherwise. Hail to King of beautiful legs and fishnets, baby.
And last but certainly not least; Clive Barker. Yes, I know he’s not a face on the screen but he’s brought us iconic figures like Pinhead from Hellraiser, and extreme body modification. No one can deny the influence the Cenobites had on the goth community as a whole.
As one wanders through the world of true crime, they might stumble upon a particularly intriguing area: unsolved cases where there’s no clue as to the who for either the victim or killer, the why, or the how. Thanks to forensic science, investigators can usually estimate the when and where. But even then, sometimes just guesses.
One such case is that of the Somerton Man. In December 1948, a husband and wife were walking along Somerton Beach near Adelaide, Australia. At that time, the man sat propped against a sea wall. The couple who passed the man later guessed he was drunk based on the way he slumped against the wall and motioned with his hand like he was trying to raise it to light a cigarette. Strangely, he wore a clean, neatly pressed suit and shoes immaculately shined. Not your typical attire for a day at the beach.
The next morning, the man who was walking with his wife came out of the water after a swim to see a crowd gathered around the area they saw the drunken man the night before. The man was dead.
When the body arrived at his office a couple of hours later, the medical examiner could not see any obvious signs of trauma. After performing a preliminary autopsy, he concluded the man likely died of heart failure and suspected poison was also a factor. A second autopsy was performed and the medical examiner found here was blood found in the Somerton man’s stomach, indicative of poisoning. So, who was this guy?
The man’s pockets held items such as gum, matches, and cigarettes. However, there was no wallet or identification of any kind. They also found that all of the labels had been carefully cut out of his clothes and that one of his pants pockets was sewn shut with a strange orange thread. After they were unable to ascertain the man’s identity and were only able to give an educated guess for cause of death, authorities were left scratching their heads.
Fingerprints circulated through Australia and beyond. No results. Random people were permitted to walk into the mortuary in the hopes someone would know who the man was. No results. At this point, there were no leads and investigators searched for luggage or other belongings. Eventually, a suitcase was found at a train station in Adelaide. Inside that suitcase was a roll of the same orange thread used to sew the man’s pocket.
They searched the man again, this time finding something new. There was a hidden pocket in the man’s suit, and in the pocket was a rolled piece of paper, later found to be torn from a twelfth century poetry book, with the words “Tamám shud,” Persian for “it is ended,” printed in a unique type face. There were also imprints that were later found to be some sort of code that has yet to be broken.
After they found the match for the torn page, authorities contacted a woman found through a phone number in the back of the book. She swore she had no idea who the Somerton Man was, but appeared upset and on the verge of fainting when she was shown a mold of the man’s face.
Every lead had been explored, and authorities still had no answers. Who the heck was this guy?
Over the years, a number of theories have been investigated. One was that the Somerton Man was a spy. That theory is particularly interesting given the scant evidence in the case, including the book of poetry. Investigation revealed that there were only five copies of the book printed, but there was another man who died with a copy of the book near him. His book and the Somerton Man’s would make copies six and seven. What was going on with these books?
To this day, the mystery of the Somerton Man remains unsolved.
Last week, I talked about the case of D.B. Cooper, another unsolved case. What makes these cases so compelling? I think it’s the unknown in a situation that obviously has an answer, and also the sheer number of possibilities as to the who, why, and how in each case.
Though there have been astounding advances in forensics, these and other cases keep their question marks. Will we ever know the story? Possibly…
Looking for more?
Tamam Shud: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood (fiction)
The Unknown Man: A Suspicious Death at Somerton Beach by G.M. Feltus
Another year has passed us by and 2022 is upon us. I was sure by this time I’d be married to Tom Cruise and have a car that flies, but all I got was almost destroyed by a cult in 2021 and bought a new Honda CRV, so, I mean, close enough.
New Year, New You, amiright?
Well, my friends, your attitude determines your altitude so… oh. Wait. No, the distance you are from sea level determines it, and that’s where I come in. For the next four weeks we’ll be going high, not low.
Up where we belong…
Yeah. That’s about right. Wait. No. Not that kind of high. Like this kind of HIGH:
I am fascinated by high altitude crap. Death, stuff it does to the body. Mount Everest. You get it. I watch documentaries and movies from the safety of my sofa because in reality, I’m scared shitless of heights. And I have watched basically everything, which means I am full of fun facts and it also means I’m about to vomit a mountain of facts upon you people.
This week we’re taking a look at Altitude and the Human Body. All of the terrible things that happen to you when you choose to get out there and walk uphill for no good reason.
You get what you get.
First, what is high altitude? I mean, I know you get that high altitude means like, higher than sea level, but how high is high? Well, fortunately, some nerd somewhere made a scale for us. High Altitude is 1500-3500 m above sea level. For reference, a meter (m) is about 3 feet. There are 1609 m in one mile. So high altitude is 1-2 miles above sea level. Denver, Colorado would be considered High Altitude as it’s about 1600 m above sea level.
Next comes Very High Altitude, which is classified as 3500-5500 m, which is pretty freaking high. And anything above 5500 m is Extreme High Altitude, which as you’re going to see, is no place you want to be for any length of time. The Base Camp at Mount Everest is 5500 m, so just to get to the SAFE part of Mount Everest is at Extreme High Altitude, where you’re going to encounter a myriad of terrible shit.
So why is that? Well, kids, it has to do with a human’s need to breathe. First up, humans are designed to live at sea level. Low. We are low creatures.
We also require oxygen to live. The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of lots of gases. It’s actually only 20.9% oxygen. But that is true anywhere you go. So, like, on the Copacabana Beach in Rio, it’s 20.9% oxygen and at the very top of Mount Everest it’s also 20.9% oxygen. So why you die?
Okay, it’s because PIVNERT. PIVNERT is the name I call the Ideal Gas Law. It tells us how gases behave. Usually. Anyway, I call it PIVNERT (and so do most cool science geeks) because it says that the pressure and volume of a gas is a function of the amount of a gas relative to its temperature and its gas constant. Written out it looks like:
PV = nRT
I know what you’re saying, “JFC JESSICA THIS LOOKS LIKE MATH. WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU? I HATE MATH.”
Oh, it is math, but it’s DEATH MATH.
Why? Because PIVNERT says that the amount of oxygen in some volume of space at some temperature is dependent on pressure. At Sea Level, the pressure is 1013 mb but on top of Mount Everest it’s 356 mb. The higher you go, the less pressure and the less molecules of oxygen you have available in the same space. So, at the Copacabana Beach, where I’m enjoying the fine people of Brazil and a very strong Caipirinha, I have plenty of oxygen to breathe. At the top of Everest, where I will be frickin’ freezing and not enjoying Brazilian rum, I will have only 33% of 20.9% of oxygen and that means I’m going to DIE.
Now, we all know I LOVE hyperbole, so will you really DIE?
Yep. You sure will. Without supplemental oxygen, if you stayed on top of Everest for very long, you’ll die. There is not enough oxygen there to sustain human life long-term.
And truthfully, you don’t have to go very high to feel shitty. The least severe thing that happens to you at high altitude is the creatively named, Altitude Sickness. Altitude sickness happens when you ascend to greater than 2500 m above sea level too quickly. Truck your ass up too fast and you’ll get a headache, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Very much like a terrible hangover. Which you did not get from delicious Caipirinha. It gets worse. If your body doesn’t acclimatize to the altitude, your brain can swell and fluid can fill your lungs. If either of those things happen, well…
Some other fun things that happen is that since your oxygen levels are low, you’re going to have lots of brain troubles. Poor coordination, slowed reflexes, and bad decision making. Now do you really want any of those things at any time, let alone on the side of a mountain?
Altitude above 8000 m is called THE DEATH ZONE, (also what I call being in a relationship with me,) and if you stay up there, things are going to suck. Your body diverts all its resources to just keeping your blood circulating. You won’t sleep. You won’t digest food. Your heartrate will go bonkers so you’ll have a heart attack, and you’ll stroke out. It’s legit shitty.
Your body can adjust to high altitude. It’s pretty amazing. When you hike your candy ass up above 2500 m, your body will produce more hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the crap in your blood that binds and carries oxygen to all your cells. So, more hemoglobin means more chances to grab oxygen and therefore, things to suck less for you. Climbers at Everest Base Camp routinely measure 2 g/dL more hemoglobin in their blood than at sea level.
Now that’s cool and all that you get Wolverine X-Factor blood or whatever, but it’s temporary. You’ll lose it when you go back to your normal friends in low places.
But what if you didn’t? Well, you will, but some humans have adapted to live at high altitudes and it’s totally fascinating. Scientists have studied two main groups of people who live at high altitude—the Tibetans in the Himalayas and the people of the Andes Mountains in South America.
Tibetans live at very high altitude, duh, on average at about 4000 m. Remember how people bitch about going to Denver? That’s cute. Anyway, Tibetans are basically altitude X Men (and Women). They don’t have more hemoglobin. Their blood composition is fairly normal. Instead, they have enlarged lung volumes and they breathe more rapidly, taking in as much oxygen as possible. Tibetans have an increased capacity for exercise and cerebral blood flow, which makes them boss AF. And guess what? Those physiological adaptations don’t go away at low altitudes, so they’re still Wolverine at Copacabana.
People in the Andes have a different adaptation. The Andes are not as high as the Himalayas, so native Andeans have evolved elevated hemoglobin in their blood as well as increased lung capacity. They will lose their hemoglobin increase if they move down in elevation. Less like Wolverine. More like when they put the inhibitor collars on the Suicide Squad in Belle Reve Prison. I know. I mixed Marvel and DC. How dare I?
Look, this is the gist of it. Humans are not designed to stay at extreme altitude. If you go up, you’ll die a miserable, horrible, terrible death, not sleeping, and panting, and not being able to take a crap, so, just don’t.
Unless you’re making cool documentaries for my amusement. Then go higher. More. I’ve run out of free movies on Prime.
Next week we’re climbing every mountain and fording every stream.
As we all know, the 90s was a decade of amazing music and amazing Gothic films. Below is my top three Gothic females. Post a comment to let me know if you agree or disagree!
Nancy Downs (The Craft)
Wednesday Addams (The Addams Family)
Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)
In the 90s, I’m pretty sure every teenage goth girl wanted to be Nancy Downs played by Fairuza Balk. Growing into our teens, we were introduced to the ”goth” scene by Wednesday Addams and we grow into our Crone Goth image of perfection … Wednesday’s mother, Morticia.
Lydia Deetz was the lighter side of Nancy. So, in part, the two embodied both sides of goth teens of the 90s.
Their iconic looks and influence on us is what earned them their spots in my top three gothic icons in film (female category).
Happy new year! We made it to 2022, and a new year means all kinds of possibilities. A new month, however, means a new theme for True Crime Sunday. While I there was a part of me that wanted to dig into the archives of St. Olaf, I decided there are some stories that only Rose Nylund could tell. And so, I will instead talk about the unsolved mystery of a man who jumped out of an airplane and into legend.
On a rainy day in November 1971, passengers in Portland, Oregon boarded a Boeing 727 headed for Seattle, Washington. One of those passengers passed a note to one of the flight attendants. The note indicated he had a bomb. Once she saw he was telling the truth, things were set into motion. This passenger, later named as D.B. Cooper, demanded four parachutes, $200,000, and a fuel truck waiting for them at the airport.
Once they landed in Seattle, Cooper allowed the other passengers and all but one of the flight attendants to depart the aircraft. Once his demands were met, he told the pilot to head south toward Mexico City and set some specific guidelines for his flight. The pilot was to fly at or below an altitude of 10,000 feet and the lowest speed possible.
About 45 minutes into the flight, Cooper ordered the flight attendant into the cockpit, put on one of the parachutes, lowered the rear stairs of the plane and, out he jumped, never to be seen again. Wild, right?
Authorities searched based on estimates of possible landing spots, but found nothing. The only clues they had were the necktie Cooper left behind and the name under which he purchased the ticket.
In 1980, the case was still open, but wasn’t being worked as urgently as it had at the beginning. Until some of the money was found. A family was out enjoying nature near the Columbia River when they uncovered a bundle of $5,800 in bills with serial numbers matching those included with the money authorities handed over to Cooper. Another search was conducted and again failed to yield any leads.
While the mystery of D.B. Cooper remains unsolved, there have been some promising theories and tips over the years. Based on Cooper’s knowledge of airplanes, his mention of McChord Air Force Base, and the way he jumped from the plane, some officials theorized that he may have been in the Air Force. However, they also took into account his lack of proper protective clothing. Given the conditions into which he jumped, some officials argued there was no way he could have survived the jump.
In the first few years of the investigation, the FBI eliminated hundreds of suspects and kept a short list of possibilities. Throughout the life of the case, there were people who came into confess that they were the infamous D.B. Cooper, but no one’s fingerprints matched those left behind on the plane. The most promising lead came in 2011 when a woman contacted the FBI claiming that her late uncle confessed that he was D.B. Cooper. Authorities looked into the claim, but findings were inconclusive.
In 2016, the FBI declared they were not closing the case, but would stop using their time and resources on the case. D.B. Cooper is firmly placed in the company of other mythical figures.
I’ve written about a couple of other stories in which the culprits had some unbelievable nerve. This case is no different. Cooper pulled off this incident before there were tougher security measures in place, but he still took a huge risk. The hijacking alone was bold, and the way he was polite and considerate—well as polite and considerate as a hijacker could be—makes one take notice. However, the escape is what is the most mystifying. How did this man, equipped with his parachute and a bag full of cash, simply vanish into thin air? And just who the heck was he?
A bundle of cash was found, so they were searching in an area where he conceivably landed. But there was no trace of him. Whether he was a veteran or not, there’s no denying his know-how and nerve. Did that skill keep him alive? Maybe. Cooper’s body never was found and the cash was never spent, so while those who say he couldn’t have survived could be correct, there’s also the possibility he made it to whatever the next part of his plan was.
And that’s part of what I find so compelling about this case. As the years go by, it seems more and more that D.B. Cooper’s identity, as well as the fate of the cash, will forever be a mystery.
Looking for more?
DB Cooper & Me: A Criminal, a Spy, My Best Friend by Carl Laurin
Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money by Tom Sullivan
What drink do you reach for when you want to celebrate?
Yeah, me too.
Wait. No. I’m classy.
Champagne. The fanciest of wines. Bottles of the stuff are used to celebrate all sorts of wins and occasions. But why? What is it? What makes it special?
Never fear, because I’m an alcoholic who reads, so I got you covered!
Champagne is a sparkling white wine from the Champagne region in France.
Yeah, look, there are all kinds of memes and jokes about the snobbiness of calling champagne special just because it’s from France, but look, you don’t like to be called something you’re not either, so give Champagne a break.
So, the source of the grapes matters. White Chardonnay grapes can be grown lots of places, but they’ll taste different if they’re grown anywhere but that little pooch of France.
The other thing that matters is the process. Making Champagne is hard. You can’t just make it in a toilet in prison. Unless I guess the prison is France… hmm… that’s interesting.
The process, Methode Champinoise, is involved. First, you have to wheeze the juice. Yeah, they call it pressing the grapes, whatever. Second you ferment the wine by transferring it to a big vessel and letting it rot. I mean, ferment.
After the first fermentation, the winemaker enters into Assemblage, where they chuck in other wines and blend it all together to create the signature taste they’re looking for.
Step four is the second fermentation and this is the second thing that separates Champagne from sparkling wine. The winemaker dumps in yeast, sugar, some gunk and the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. It has to or else you just can’t call it Champagne, not even if there’s a fire!
The fifth step is called remuage, and it’s to get rid of the nasty dead yeast and crud from the fermentation process. The wine bottles are stored at an angle, opening down. They turn it periodically, increasing the angle until it’s upside down and all the dead yeast and crap is settled at the neck. Before they disgorge the yeast corpses, they age the champagne. Champagne is aged for a minimum of 15 months, but 18-30 months is more common.
Ok, time to evict the dead yeast. They freeze the neck and then physics, pressure and shit, forces the gunk plug out when the bottle is turned upright.
After that, they dump in some more sugar. The amount they chuck in is regulated and that fancy name you see, Brut or Extra Brut, tells you how much they added. Brut means less than 12 grams of sugar was added. See?
They also add a special wino mixture which fills it to volume. They cork it and then you can drink it. Unlike most wines, Champagne is ready to rock when they cork it.
Now, the important part, how to drink it?
Well, I mean, chill it first. Chill the bottle to 45 degrees F, then uncork and pour. Just be sure to do it fancy, like with a sword and shit.
You can drink it out of whatever you want, but the shape of a glass does matter to taste, so if you’ve come this far, grab a flute or champagne coupe. The flute’s long slender shape enhances the bubbles and flavor.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Jessica, I like my wines cheap.” I agree, friend. I also like cheap-ass wine. But I’m here to tell you, you can tell the difference. I always thought I hated Champagne, but one time, at Band Camp, I mean, Total Wine, I bought a bottle of Champagne to celebrate something and as it turns out, I don’t hate Champagne, I just hate cheap, sparkling wine.
How much will the good stuff run you? Well, there’s a Champagne for every budget. Well, I mean, not for like a Boone’s Farm budget, but you can get a nice bottle of Champagne for $50. It can also be super expensive. A cheap bottle of Dom Perignon is $200. My favorite is the Veuve Clicquot, which will run you about $75.
I know, this makes me sound bougie, but just so you know, I like Coors Light beer, I’m no stranger to moonshine from a mason jar, and once I licked a handrail at a concert for a free frozen margarita, so…
Happy New Year!
I hope you can let 2021 go, and you’re ready for a wonderful 2022!
We’ve been working hard to get ready for the new year and bring you the best of weird, dark things!
With Christmas lurking just around the corner, all the little eyes will be watching the skies for the jolly fat man in his sleigh. Those eight gorgeous reindeer, the red-nosed one leading the herd as they spin and spiral through the stars, spreading delight across the planet. Inside, fires crackle, families and friends gather around trees and lights and presents, feasting on food and drink, and watching classic Christmas films such as A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, or Die Hard.
But not every family is engaged in such jovial merriment. Some families thrive on naughtiness and chaos. This week’s Beast of the Week is not a single creature, but rather a family that celebrates Christmas with their own style debauchery. Allow me to introduce you to this very special family that originated in Icelandic folklore in the 17th century.
This bitch. Originally depicted as a giantess troll in 13th century folklore, Gryla wasn’t connected to the Yule season until the 17th century. She is huge, hideous, and often described as parasitic. She lives in a cave in the mountains, taking stock of which children misbehave during the year. Then, around Yule, she emerges from her cave and comes to the villages to collect the naughty children in her sack. With the sack slung over her shoulder, she returns to her cave and cooks the children into a stew, which she devours with her bare hands.
This ass is Gryla’s third and present husband. He’s lazy and fat and literally does nothing. He lumps around the cave, waiting for Gryla to bring home the ingredients for their stew.
The Yule Cat:
Yep. This odd couple has a pet. Little mittens isn’t an adorable cuddler that like to play with yarn, though. The Yule Cat, Jólakötturinn, is massive and full of rage. He comes out at Yule time, lurks around the countryside, and eats anyone who has not received new clothes for Christmas. This legend is thought to have originated as a cautionary tale to get farmers to finish processing their autumn wool.
The Yule Lads:
Sons of Gryla. These thirteen fellows are nasties that like to prank people and cause general trouble around the Christmas season. Each is identified by the stunt they pull. For example, one is known as The Spoonlicker—this dude sneaks into houses and licks all the spoons. Then there’s the Window Peeper—cover your tatas, ladies. Here is a list of the lads in all their glory, along with their nicknames that allude to their behaviour of choice.
Stekkjarstaur: The Sheep Cote-Clod
Giljagaur: The Gully Gawk
So although family time at Christmas might stress you out, just be thankful that you aren’t a member of this dysfunctional Yule family. Though those boys sound like they might be a bit of fun after a few drinks…
When you were a kid, did you eagerly await the JC Penny’s Christmas catalog so you could peruse in wonder? Then did you get out the Magic Marker and circle all the things you wanted so your parents would get the message and then relay that to Santa? I sure did. Every year I circled the Snoopy Snow Cone Maker and the Castle Greyskull and yet never did Santa bring them.
I got a pink sweater and a loom kit, which if you know me, you know. One year I did get that Barbie Perfume Factory, which was awesome because I ditched the instructions and dumped everything together to make my own toxic mixture. Again, if you know me, you know. Anyways… this week we’re talking about the MOST important thing about Christmas, which is the gifts. Obviously. Have you not been paying attention to commercials since June? Or are you one of those rich people who can afford the Hulu without commercials? Whatever. Gifts.
Last week we talked about where gift giving at this time of year comes from (Io, Saturnalia!) The gifts are to promote good harvest and wealth. That’s evolved into appreciation and love. (CUE SARCASTIC EYEROLL)
And what are the most famous gifts in all of Christmas?
An Official Red Ryder carbine action two -hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock?
They came into the house and saw the young
child with Mary, his mother, and they fell
down and worshiped him. Opening their
treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold,
frankincense, and myrrh.
We’re talking about the crap the three wise men brought Jesus: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
Why would anyone give a baby these things? Those are terrible baby gifts. No diapers? Not poop wipes. No stroller? Did they even look at Mary’s Target baby registry?
So, let’s look at what these substances are and why anyone would want them.
First up, gold. Yeah, no mystery here. You want gold too. Everyone wants gold. Why? Because someone way back in the day decided that it was worth something. Seriously, that’s it. Gold is pretty cool stuff though, so let’s not just discount it as being shiny.
Gold is a metal. There’s a lot of chemistry junk that goes along with that but the gist of it is gold is useful AF. It’s soft, malleable, and ductile, which means it is easy to move it and shape it into wire or thin sheets, or other stuff. It’s a good conductor of electricity and heat, and it’s highly reflective. Gold doesn’t tarnish or corrode; it’s inert and pretty much indestructible. It’s used in the electronics industry and fun fact, the visors on astronauts’ helmets were coated in a very thin layer of gold to enhance reflectivity.
The downside to gold is that because it is so soft, it sometimes needs to be mixed with other metals. By doing so you change the properties, like hardness, color, and strength. Gold purity is classified by the karat value. 24 karat gold is 100% gold, whereas 12 karat gold is 50%.
So gold is useful and valuable. And just so you know, every country in the world accepts it as payment. It’s symbolically a gift for kings. Get it? Kings? Yeah, great gift for Elvis.
As of a few weeks ago, it cost $21,000/lb., which is like, a lot.
Next up: Frankincense.
It has nothing to do with Frankenstein’s Monster.
Frankincense is an aromatic resin, harvested from the Boswellia tree. This tree grows in Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. It’s used in religious and cleansing rituals. It would have been used to make really expensive incense. Like, way more expensive than that crap you get at Hot Topic.
So, in this case, frankincense would have been meant as a gift for a priest, the conduit to God.
And last, myrrh.
WTF is myrrh? Well, it’s like frankincense only darker and I don’t mean in color. Myrrh is a resin harvested from the Commiphora tree. In ancient times it was used as an analgesic, especially for the mouth. People used it as a mouthwash and to treat toothaches.
The Egyptians used in it their embalming process.
When mixed with oil and other junk, like frankincense, it’s also used to anoint people, like umm… monarchs.
So basically, all of these gifts weren’t exactly a Pink Nightmare.
They were symbolic of royalty, holiness, and death, and at the time, they would have been valuable.
Fine, but still, they should have all chipped in and gotten Mary a car seat, because donkey traffic was legit dangerous.
So, if you’re looking in the JC Penny catalog and you see gold, frankincense, and myrrh don’t be afraid to circle them. You’ve got holy, kingly taste. And you won’t shoot your eye out.
Santa. Yeah, he’s fun. He’s the mascot of the merry season, and one we see everywhere from greeting cards, to artwork, to movies, to the blow-ups on your neighbour’s lawn. But here at House of Stitched we like our Yuletide season a little darker than the jolly fat man. Krampus is a favourite of ours, but I cover him in the winter edition of House of Stitched magazine. But Krampus has some competition in the department of holiday evil. A big, badass bitch known as Frau Perchta, or The Belly-Slitter.
Where Krampus beats naughty children with chains and rutes, tosses them in sacks, and transports them to some lovely hellscape. Frau Perchta chooses a more visceral approach. Her trademark punishment is to slit open the bellies of disobedient or lazy children and restuff them with straw, rocks, and rubbage. She has been known to feast on the blood and flesh of her victims, and also takes a liking to stomping the shit out of people who offend her. She’s an all-around delight!
How is she associated with Christmas? Her name is associated with Epiphany or Twelfth Night—January 06th. The name Perchta is a corruption of the Old High German term for Epiphany, “giberahta naht,” or “night of shining forth or manifestation”. She is known to visit homes during the twelve days before Christmas and Epiphany, doling out her punishments and accepting bribes from folks hoping to avoid her bitchiness. Mention of Frau Perchta can be found in Austria and southern Germanic folklore, but tales of her have spread all across Europe. Some know her as “The Shining One”, and there is some evidence to suggest that she started out as a goddess but was later twisted into a hag-witch when Christianity muscled pagan cultures to the side.
Frau Perchta has a particular pet peeve. She is a super fan of Epiphany, and loathes those who choose to work on this day. Interesting factoid—she takes a particular interest in spinners. No, not you, Peloton folks. Yarn spinners. If anyone dares spin yarn on Epiphany, you best be prepared to have Frau Perchta slice your belly open, yank out your intestines, and replace your innards with garbage and straw. Beware, knitters and crocheters. Other people that irritate this hag? Lazy folks. Though she wants you to take a break and feast on Epiphany, you better be working your sorry ass off any other time or she’ll stomp you into ground meat with her mangled, gigantic, taloned feet. Then she’ll commence the belly slitting and excavation and such. Another thorn in her side? Lying children. Those little punks get their tongues scraped with broken glass. And finally, introverts beware. Drop your crocheting, put aside your book and/or yarn, and socialize with friends and family during the holiday season. Or else, slit, scoop, stomp, scrape. You know the drill.
As lovely as she sounds, Frau Perchta is not pleasant to look at. In art, she is often depicted as bird-like, with a beaklike nose and elongated face. In fact, she has been rumoured to occasionally take flight with The Wild Hunt, or the Sluagh, which we discussed in last week’s Beast of the Week blog. She is large but hunched over, and is sometimes depicted as walking with a cane. She wears white robes which she uses to conceal her long, sharp knife. Her skin is mottled and old, and she generally looks like a haggard old crone.
What if you want to be lazy? What if you don’t wish to put down your knitting and crocheting and socialize with that uncle who talks way too much about football and politics? Well, there is a way to appease Frau Perchta, even if you are engaging in her list of forbidden behaviours. This ol’ gal likes a good bowl of porridge. Yes, whip out the oatmeal, the old Quaker man is here to save the day! Offerings of porridge, or, specifically, Perchtenmilch, can be set aside as an offering to the holly jolly hag. If you provide this snack, she’ll let your indiscretions slide. It became custom for citizens of Austria and Germany to leave out porridge during the Twelve Days, just as many families leave cookies for Santa on Christmas eve.
Don’t feel sad for Frau Perchta. Yes, she’s easily irritated. Yes, she has lots of work to do, slitting bellies and filling body cavities with garbage, rocks, and straw. But she enjoys her work, she gets a free supply of porridge, and she is not lonely. Frau Perchta travels with friends. Dead things accompany Perchta on her hunt and share in the offerings people leave. These companions have been known as Heimchen, or the spirits of unbaptized children. She is also accompanied by Krampus-looking critters called Perchten, who also love a good oatmeal mixed with belly blood.
So go ahead and cry, shout, all the things Santa doesn’t want you to do. What’s the fat man gonna do to you? Bring less presents? What you really ought not to do is be lazy or avoid people unless you want your Christmas dinner to appear outside your body, and have your plentiful holiday body stuffed to the brim with rocks, straw, and the garbage from your grandparents trash can. Unless you’re into that kind of this. So beware, and yarn properly.
Okay, so do you remember the most boss party you ever went to? Maybe it was a pizza party at Chuck E Cheese. Or a birthday party at McDonalds. Or maybe it involved a bathtub full of Purple Jesus, a llama in a tuxedo, the 80’s band, Expose, and swimming pool filled with glitter foam. Well, if you combined all those parties into one and added in Pauley Shore, then you might approach the magnificence of Saturnalia.
You’ve never heard of it? I’ll bet you have only now you know it as Christmas.
The Saturnalia was a festival dedicated to the Roman god of Agriculture, Saturn. It was celebrated during the Winter Solstice. (SOUND FAMILIAR?) Ok, there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get all Julie Andrews and start at the beginning, Sound of Music Style.
Saturn, the god, not the planet, was a pretty important guy to the Romans. He was pretty important to the Greeks too and they called him Cronus. Cronus was a son of Uranus (CUE GIGGLE). Cronus thought he dad was a complete douche, so he took a sickle and he castrated his dad. So much symbolism there, right? Anyhoo, off with the dad junk and the Cronus was in charge. Now he was a smartie. He figured if he had kids, they would all think he was a big of a choad as he thought his old man was and sooner or later, somebody would cut off his twig and berries too. Cronus wasn’t about that life. But what are you gonna do? Well, he married his sister and every time she had a baby, he ate the baby. His old lady was getting sick of that shit, so on the last kid she fed Cronus a rock instead. That baby was Zeus and when he grew up, he was pissed. So, he got Cronus to puke up his brothers and sisters and then they all threw down. Zeus and his peeps won, became the Olympians, and Cronus got to spend eternity in god prison. He kept his junk though, so, you know, good for him.
Eventually, we begin to associate him with time, as in Father Time, and he’s the patron of the Harvest, which was a pretty big gig. As the Romans generally did, they kind of opposite the Greeks while still stealing their cool shit and called him Saturn instead. The Romans associated him with wealth and agriculture. Harvest is generally a time of plenty (wealth) and at the same time, death, because the plants die and we kill animals and store up for the winter. That time of year in the Roman locality was December, the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice is the point at which the Earth’s poles are the maximum distance from the sun. That means short days and lots of dark. At the poles, it’s continuous darkness. Everywhere else, we get colder weather and very short amounts of daylight. Not much grows in those conditions, right? Well, if you were an ancient people who didn’t understand science, you might do some religious biznas and pray to buddy Saturn to be cool and bless you by making stuff grow again. That’s what they did. They had a gigantic party and celebrated the reversal of seasons. Down was up and Up was down.
The Saturnalia started on December 17th and ended on the Solstice, which on the Roman calendar was December 25th (YOU DON’T SAY). Normally, in the temple of Saturn, his feet were bound, you know, because, control. The priests cut these bonds during the Saturnalia and thus, Saturn was ready to par-tay. People decorated their homes with greenery, feasted, and gave gifts. Popular gifts were candles. Seriously. They were light in the time of darkness. So, definitely don’t feel bad about re-gifting that Yankee Candle. The Romans would have loved it.
Nobody worked and that included the slaves. For the week, slaves were given time off and they were allowed to eat and drink with their masters, showing a full reversal and suspension of social norms. Each household elected a person to be the Lord of Misrule. His job for the week was to dress in ridiculous clothes, play pranks, and cause as much chaos as possible. It defied the normal world order to the Romans.
I mean, does any of this sound at ALL familiar? Decorating with green plants? Giving out gifts? Eating and drinking as much as possible? On December 25th?
No? Okay then, I guess go celebrate your Festivus then.
Obviously, much of what we do now to celebrate Christmas came from the Saturnalia. It was the most legit party of the year for the Romans, pretty much like today except we now mark it with credit card debt and the coming of The Mariah.
Io, Saturnalia! And Happy Festivus for the rest of us.
Ah, December! Jam-packed full of holidays and traditions and whatnot. No matter the holiday you’re celebrating (Yule, Hannukah, Kwanza, Christmas, Festivus), it all about the light from the darkness and showing family and friends how much they’re loved and appreciated.
And what better way to show someone how much you love them than by shoving your tongue into their mouth underneath a parasitic weed? (I mean, like maybe a gift card?)
Anyway, we’re talking about mistletoe! Yes, that festive sprig of green with berries that we hang in doorways.
Mistletoe is part of our holiday tradition, but do you know why and even what it is?
Fear not, Curious Reader for unto you this information is born!
Is it a beautiful, noble flower? Nope. It’s a parasitic plant. It attaches itself to strong trees, oak trees, for example, via a haustoria. Which is like the BORG.
The haustoria burrows into the flesh of the host tree and the mistletoe bogarts water and nutrients. Mistletoe can also synthesize its own food via photosynthesis, but see, it’s really kind of lazy and it would rather just skim off the host, kind of like your friend who could pay for dinner, but also has to make a big deal of using coupons and splitting the check down to how many mozz sticks you ate versus him. That guy.
Also, it’s kinda toxic, especially the European variety so don’t like eat it. Some cultures use it to treat ailments, but I mean, it’s probably not a good idea so maybe skip the tea and whatnots.
Even its name is kinda eww. The word derives from Old English, mistel, meaning “dung” and tan meaning “twig”. Give those two words a while to roll around and mushup in the mouths of the Britons for a few thousand years or so and you get “mistletoe” aka, CRAP TWIG.
Bird eat the berries, then crap out the seeds on another tree and thus, mistletoe remains.
But how did this bogarting crap twig become a cherished symbol of Christmas? Well, it turns out that mistletoe has a lot of cred in the folklore world. The Romans viewed it as a symbol of peace, love, and understanding and they hung it in their homes during the Saturnalia, which is another fascinating historical blog post coming your way soon. The Celts looked on it as a symbol of male fertility, as in the white berries, often calling it the semen of the god Taranis, Celtic God of Thunder. Since gods of thunder and lightning are often associated with the oak tree (Zeus, Thor), it was called oak sperm.
To the Druids, mistletoe was sacred and part of human sacrifice ceremonies (ALLEGEDLY). Fun fact, the thunder god, Taranis, well he liked it when they put people and animals inside of big wickerworks and then burned them. What fun guy! Just like in that STELLAR Nic Cage movie.
Anyway, back to mistletoe. Mistletoe is central to a great Norse myth about death and resurrection (DOES THAT SOUND AT ALL FAMILIAR?) the story of Baldur. Baldur was a beautiful god in Norse mythology. He’s the son of Odin and Frigg and he’s beloved by everyone. He’s so beautiful he radiates light. Yeah, that awesome. Anyhoo, Baldur starts to have dreams about his own death and this upsets his mommy, Frigg. She goes around to every substance on the planet and gets them to promise that they won’t harm Baldur ever, making him invulnerable. Problem solved! Right? Well… it seems that Frigg forgot to ask one thing… yep, mistletoe. So, while all the gods are friggin’ around throwing shit at Baldur and laughing when it just bounces off him, the trickster, Loki, always sus, gets the T from mistletoe that Frigg forgot it. Mistletoe just gave up that info, no problem. Stupid crap twig. Loki makes a spear from mistletoe, then he gets the blind guy, Hodur, to whiff it at Baldur. Baldur croaks. Whoops.
Anyway, mistletoe feels shitty about it, being the shit twig that it is, but nobody holds grudges and it ends up being a symbol of peace and love even though it’s a bogarting parasite and it killed the greatest guy ever since like Tom Hanks. Or before. Whatever.
Now we hang it in doorways and if you get caught under there with somebody, you have to kiss them. Nothing says peace and love like forcing people to make out.
And there you go! We’ve got soooo much planned for this special time of year! We won’t stop til Mariah does!
The lake is glass—a smooth, dark surface reflecting the ombre oranges, pinks, and lavenders of the morning. Mist rises like smoke, giving an eerie ambience to your spot on the water’s edge. Your campfire crackles. The bacon in the pan sizzles. Off in the distance, a loon cries, telling its secret legends to the forest.
But wait. What is that floating out there in the water? Driftwood, gnarled and knotty? Remains of a small watercraft? Sleeping bags all tied together, the man-made chrysalis of a half-dozen victims who refuse to be sunk?
Oh. No. It’s just chubby Uncle Merle floating on his back with a Molson balanced on his plentiful belly.
But you know what it could have been? It could have been a lake monster. And after laying eyes on Uncle Merle’s pie-plate nipples, perhaps you’ll wish it was.
The most infamous lake monster is one that is known the world round: Nessie, or the monster of Loch Ness in Scotland. Tales of this beast inhabiting the lake span all the way back to ancient times. The first written account of Nessie appears to be from a St. Columba in 565 AD., who claimed swimmers were getting chomped by the beast, until he himself intervened and told it to go away. It listened, of course, as giant man-eating lake beasts do. Sure, Columba. Sure.
In 1933, crews completed a road that ran adjacent to Loch Ness. With increased traffic, sightings skyrocketed. People claimed to spy a long, lean beast akin to a dragon, serpent, or prehistoric monster. One couple claimed it moved across the road in front of them and into the water. Others saw its form breaching the lake in arcs. In December 1933, the Daily Mail hired a big game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherall, to locate the fabled lake monster. What he found were large tracks and theorized that a “very powerful animal about six meters long” had made them. It was later discovered that this was a hoax; the tracks were made by a large ashtray that had a decorative hippopotamus foot as a base. I shit you not.
Regardless of hoaxes and hippos, the legend stood firm. Folks snapped pics of the elusive Nessie on their cameras, and Loch Ness became a tourist attraction for lore hunters, folk creature fanatics, and connoisseurs of the unexplained.
There are more examples of Nessie-esque creatures in other nooks and crannies of the planet. As a Canadian, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Ogopogo monster of Lake Okanagan. Okanagan Lake is a large fjord lake in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. The folklore of Ogopogo was birthed from First Nations myths, from the tales of the Okanagan peoples—the Secwepemc and Sylic tribes. Legend had it that Naitaka (translated to water-demon, water-god, or sacred creature of the water) was a long dragon serpent that resided in the lake. Naitaka required a live sacrifice from anyone who wished to cross the lake in their canoe—and we’re not talking about poutine or bacon. They’d have to toss a person or animal in for the beast to eat to ensure safe passage across the water. The name morphed from Naitaka to Ogopogo by English songwriters after they took a keen interest in the lake monster.
In 1872, Susan Allison documented a sighting of the famous Ogopogo. She was the first white person to live in the region and was there to establish relations with the Indigenous people. She gave a detailed account of a serpentine creature with three humps gliding in the middle of the lake. In the 80s, a local tourism agency offered a cash reward for anyone who could come up with solid proof of Ogopogo’s existence. Greenpeace even stepped in to tell people to document the beast, but DO NOT CAPTURE IT. Because, well, you know Canadians…
Lots of video and pictures were taken in all areas of the lake. Most showed disturbances in the water, solid masses floating too far out to identify, or the infamous humps and head of some mysterious beast. Most of the footage, though inconclusive, challenged the idea of the actual size and existence of Ogopogo, offering up logical explanations such as a raft of otters, driftwood, a dislodged beaver lodge, or an extra-large snake or fish of some sort.
Legends are fascinating. Their origins are steeped in myth and folklore, and live on in the form of tales, both tall and otherwise. Are there lake creatures milling about below the surface of our planet’s bodies of fresh water? Quite possibly. I like to think there is much we don’t know about, beasts included. I do find it telling, however, that in the age of cellphones, sightings of these beasts have dropped off to almost zero.
I guess will just have to settle for gazing out at the water, at that can of Molson bobbing on Uncle Merle’s gut.
No throwback this Thursday because we have something new to show you.
We have been talking about dark poetry, and House of Stitched’s own M Ennenbach has a new collection out titled (un)tethered.
(un)tethered by rationality, adrift on waves of bipolar dissonance, a collection of pining odes to wildflowers and succulent agonies in the grip of divine madness as told by a fool drowning in words
M Ennenbach is a lot of things. Part time dreamer. Full time poet. Scribbler of tales. An Illinois yankee in DFW, but don’t hold any of that against him. A proud father of two that he loves more than life itself. His stories are written from a place of raw emotion, stripped pieces of the man himself spun into powerful trips through nightmare and daydream. Sometimes bleak, at others hilarious, but always unique glimpses of another realm; his words will take you on a journey.
Rayne Havok says Ennenbach’s poetry is “like soul therapy.” Another review said “his fingernails rake across your soul …”
Ennenbach’s website Mike’s Manic Word Depot is home to daily poetry and news, and a list of all his available published works is on the About page.
Welcome to weird Wednesday where we explore the darkest corners of the globe, searching for the mysterious and unknown. Today’s location takes us to The Eddy House, Chittenden, Vermont.
Once owned by two brothers, William & Horatio, who came from a long line of psychics, witches, and seers. The boys had a very rough life, having been sold to a traveling show by their father at a young age and were plagued with odd happenings due to their growing powers: inanimate objects levitating and flying of their own accord which made going to school impossible.
They took control of the house after their father passed & began holding seances in the yard. Participants could expect to communicate directly with the ghostly visitors during these sessions. In the 1870’s, they had become so famous that the small town began to be known as “Spirit Capital of the Universe.” The brothers traveled extensively performing a routine called a ‘spirit cabinet.’ This would entail William going into a cabinet and once seated, the spirits of the attendees loved ones would begin to materialize in front of them.
To this day the house has reported instances of strange noises that shake the walls, disembodied voices coming from empty rooms, and a history of babies vanishing from their cribs. Visitors to the house have reported a feeling of heaviness, a sort of mentally unnerving presence. Other accounts of mysterious beings in the surrounding woods, various apparitions and other such incidents continue to plague this small town.
Today the house is in use as a High Life Ski Lodge. If you choose to visit and see what experiences you might have, other than skiing and exploring the nature trails, always remember to exercise caution in all that you do. Respect the property. Respect the owners. Respect the ghostly residents that may still roam. Happy Haunting!
It’s Tuesday, and a new group of Wererats hit the scene yesterday in the novella Den of the Wererats by Terry Miller.
Jonathan and Paul are new to Portsmouth, Ohio. To strengthen their pack, they soon recruit Kelly and Devin. The freshly turned pack members adjust and settle in. But before long, secrets begin to unravel their unity. To complicate matters, Raven, a new prospect, has a secret of her own—a secret that will confront every pack member with horrors they never imagined.
While Den of the Wererats falls under the heading of urban fantasy horror, the publisher politely makes it known that this story does contain extreme content some may find disturbing or offensive, as well as intense brutality, and may be considered extreme horror by many.
Bibliophilia Templum calls it “an amazing story” and says, “Brutality notwithstanding, it’s a fun read … The tension is fantastic.”
Terry Miller lives in southern Ohio. Though his poetry and fiction have appeared in various anthologies around the world, Den of the Wererats is his first novella.
Den of the Wererats is available on Amazon and Godless.
Did you know Stitched Smile Publications/House of Stitched Magazine is open to marketing collaboration?
We believe the indie and small press community is a family and we all do better when we support one another. Why? I am glad you asked. There are many reasons for this. Our House of Stitched family is made up of many talented authors who publish with various houses, not just SSP. We support our family and all their works. Also, publishing houses tend to have different subgenre focus and readers often enjoy more than one subgenre. We support our followers by offering information on other books they might be interested in. These are just a couple of the many reasons why we should work together as a community.
SSP/HoS is looking to work with vetted publishing houses with a clean reputation. We are offering to place one page every issue featuring up to four new releases coming in the next 3 months in exchange for reciprocated promotion.
Contact us regarding collaborations and join us as we continue to explore works outside SSP.
When one wants to indulge in works by a favorite author but time is a factor, a short story collection is a great way to make the most of limited time and gain the satisfaction of finishing a story. Yesterday we looked at Voices by A.J. Brown. With approaching weekend, let’s look at another, Shattered Skies by Chris Miller.
Taut as a guitar string. More relentless than time. Award-Winning author Chris Miller offers up ten tales of terror and suspense to crank up your anxiety in the way only he can.
Desperation, panic, worlds on fire, and much more.
Featuring a foreword by Patrick C. Harrison III and a story co-authored with M. Ennenbach, SHATTERED SKIES will leave you breathless, white-knuckled, and wanting more.
The Master of Suspense is at your service.
Bibliophilia Templum described Shattered Skies as “an intense and brutally evocative short story collection from Chris Miller. These stories run from horror thriller to supernatural horror to psychological horror and there are even sci-fi and dystopian thrillers in there … These are stories of depth and suspense. They are thought-provoking and evocative and deeply unsettling.”
Shattered Skies is currently available on Amazon
Chris Miller is a native Texan who began writing from an early age. In 2017 he began publishing, and since then has published several novels—including the Amazon bestselling Splatter Western, DUST (nominated for the Splatterpunk Award)—a collection, SHATTERED SKIES, and has also been inducted into many anthologies. Chris is 1/3 of the writing collective CERBERUS, and likes to play guitar. He is first and foremost a family man and is happily married to the love of his life (and best friend) Aliana. They have three beautiful children and live in Winnsboro, TX. You can find more about him and his works at https://authorchrismiller.com/
Happy Throwback Thursday. In 2018, Stitched Smile Publications published Voices, a collection by A.J. Brown.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste. It is also a terrible place to live. Thoughts, fears, and paranoid thoughts lurk in the shadows, waiting to pounce when you are most vulnerable. Those thoughts whisper words of no escape. But what happens when the mind settles on revenge instead?
Bibliophilia Templum called Voices “dark, disturbing, complex tales of the inner voice, the hidden mind, that which drives us from within. These stories darkly and boldly illustrate the harsh realities of life when there are no safe places, not even in your own head” and said, “This is not light reading. It is true horror: deep, dark, and disturbing.”
A.J. Brown is a southern-born writer who tells emotionally charged, character driven stories that often delve into the darker parts of the human psyche. Most of his stories have the southern country feel of his childhood. His stories have been described as horror with heart. Though he writes mostly darker stories, he does so without unnecessary gore, coarse language, or sex. A.J. is also a husband to Cate and a father to two kids, who often inspire him in the most interesting ways.
Welcome to weird Wednesday where we explore the darkest corners of the globe, searching for the mysterious and unknown. Today’s location takes us to the land of lighthouses and lobsters, the state of Maine.
If the frigid waters, dangerous weather conditions, and upwards of 11 haunted locations aren’t enough to frighten, and terrify you into staying away from this place, then maybe a drive up to Haunted Haynesville Woods will do the trick.
Many locals can attest that once you hit a certain spot in Maine…there’s not much by way of population. Enter, Aroostook County, where Route 2A resides. Route 2A is one of the most haunted areas in the Pine Tree State. In fact, the site is so infamous with its highway haunts that former trucker turned singer/songwriter Dick Curless wrote a song called “A Tombstone Every Mile,” inspired by the lonely stretch of road.
The route itself is composed of perilous S-shaped curves, a 90-degree turn buried deep in the woods, and once winter hits, supremely treacherous traveling conditions. A plethora of truckers have lost their lives following this road but they’re not the only ones.
What or who else haunts this stretch of asphalt? There are reports of a distraught woman appearing in front of your car or running frantically along the side of the road only to vanish into thin air when travelers get close.
Little girls are common hitchhikers and disappear just as frequently as they pop up. The Flesher Witch, an old woman with a melted face will steal your face, induce insanity, and cause you to meet an untimely end.
If you wish to read more about Route 2A, you may do so at the links shown below. As we conclude our visit to the ruinous road of rage and woe, if you should choose to take a midnight drive, remember the rules. Respect the property. Respect the owners. Respect the residents. Safe Travels!
Today we look at War of Dictates by John Baltisberger, an epic of dark cosmic and historical horror told completely in verse.
There is a war fought from the very first moments of existence, from the shadows of humanity’s own evil deeds and inequities. Fought between creatures whose very existence defies human understanding.
On one side, the monstrously powerful Semyaza, master of the fallen Watchers, seeks to own humanity, to dominate them through blood, sex, and pain.
On the other, Ashmandai, the very incarnation of imperfection, freedom and passion, whose love for his wife Lilith spurns him to greater and greater acts of defiance against the unnatural order set in place by the infectious Watchers.
Neither will submit, but only one may survive.
Bibliophilia Templum said, “This brilliant and revolutionary piece by John Baltisberger is the new standard in epic horror poetry and rivals anything like it in classic horror literature. This is not dark prose, it is evocative, graphic verse …” and calls it “moving, evocative, mentally stimulating, and horrifying.”
Voracious Gnome said, “What we have here is one hell of a poem! … This audacious project is well worth the read …”
John Baltisberger is an author of speculative and genre fiction that often focuses on Jewish Elements. Through his writing, he has explored themes of mysticism, faith, sin, and personal responsibility. Though mostly known for his bizarre blend of Jewish mysticism and splatter, John defies being labeled under any one genre. His work has spanned extreme horror, urban fantasy, science fiction, cosmic horror, epic verse, and he has even written a guide for mindful meditation.
Happy Monday, and welcome to August! It’s time for Did You Know.
The season has been busy with many conventions, and more are to come. Most of us plan and budget and choose carefully which ones we will attend due to the cost of attending. There is the cost of accommodations and travel, and then the cost of admission and/or vendor space, which can be pretty high! It all adds up quickly.
But did you know the high cost of attending some cons has a lot to do with the high cost of putting on the event?
The hotels we prefer for three-or-more-day events charge exorbitant sums for use of the ballrooms and meeting rooms. Those prices have a base rate, which is premium for weekend days, and the cost can go up when negotiating services to go with them, like on-hand staff, drinks, extra tables or chairs, etc. The good news is those packages allow for good deals on discounted room blocks—the bad news being those room discounts often don’t seem as good as they could be. Event planners spend a lot of time negotiating with hotels for event packages.
Another cost is the celebrity factor. The special guests we get so excited about are generally just that: guests of the event. That means the event may be paying for their accommodations and other expenses.
Then consider other expenses, such as programs and whatnot. All these costs add up, and that is what we are paying for. It is difficult for those of us who can’t attend all the cons we want to, but the reality is it costs a lot to put them on. And while some cons are clearly in it to make money, many cons are not.
Do your research, consider which cons are best for you, and plan, plan, plan.