Encountering Sue

My oldest sister, Sue, who is six years older than me, must be an unofficial Unitarian-Universalist. As a twelve-year old boy, though, I'd heard little about the Unitarian Church. The only thing I'd learned about it was that it was the home of the New England Transcendentalist poets, whom I greatly admired.

The climate, foliage and atmosphere of northern Arkansas, where Sue and I grew up for several years of our youth, was conducive to an interest in poetry and especially the poetry of Emerson and Thoreau. I read their poems, and those of some of the other Transcendentalists, in books of poetry that I then attempted to emulate during those years.

Sue taught me to question established religious teachings long before my teachers in high school and college did. She brought to my attention questions such as "Who was Cain's wife?" or "Why did the Disciples doubt Jesus, if they were right there, seeing all of that in person?"

I was interested and intrigued by the vast world of philosophy and religion that such questions opened up to me. In subsequent years in college and in my outside reading, I pursued answers to those questions and the even bigger issues they raised, as well as the poetry and writing I loved. Sue was always interesting to me because of her many observations and questions in those areas of poetry and philosophy.

One issue we've lately explored was how, when Tim had been little, he'd had a powerful craving for cigarette ashes, to the extent of frequently eating ashes out of ash trays. My mother felt he wasn't getting something in his diet, probably charcoal, and was attempting to satisfy this peculiar craving in this even more peculiar way.

Since his death, I've had time to flash back on those episodes that seem so unique to Tim and ask a number of questions about them. Is it possible that such a strange craving had some connection with his subsequent alcoholism? Studies done on the brains of alcoholics suggest that there is some difference in the brain tissue involved in the short-term memory process for them as opposed to those of the population in general. Could it be that Tim's weird craving as a baby was an attempt by him to prevent some developmental disorder that was even then forming up in his brain, perhaps due to the lack of this marginal element in his diet? Or, could it be that he had a slightly higher need for such marginal dietary elements--will this someday come to be a finding of science? Did we unknowingly deny Tim some, for him, crucially important dietary element? Could charcoal, if given in adequate amounts for his particular and perhaps higher needs, have given him the nutritional element he needed to have a normally-developed brain or brain tissue?

These are the experiences and questions I tend to focus on in my present-day conversations about Tim, what happened to him, what it all means and what it's all about. I now have many of those conversations with Sue.

Sue married Jay Johnson. Jay is Native American. For several years, the full significance of this eluded me. I've only recently begun to realize how neat and different Jay really is.

I remember being somewhat afraid of Jay, since he was a big, tall and heavy guy and therefore somewhat intimidating. He was enormously helpful to Dad in the furniture business when Tim and I were still too small to help carry furniture, being able to carry huge pieces all by himself. He also proved helpful at our Cave City lake, being able to lug huge bags of algae powder down to the lake from the road, standing in six-foot-deep water in the lake near the boat dock to clear weeds away that might clog the boats up and being able to drag the heavy tubs and containers of Israeli Carp down to the boats from which we dropped them into the lake.

However, Jay, though intimidating to me back then, is gentle and kind. He loves horses. Jay, Sue and the rest of their family often keep ponies and horses on a lot behind their small house In fact, Jay loves animals in general, including dogs. They usually have several of them around, some of them quite wild. The wilder ones respond only to Jay's voice and often no one else can get near them.

Native people, of course, come out of a different tradition than do those of us in middle-class, white Protestant America. That tradition is to some degree seen in the Eastern philosophies and religions of ancient Tibet, China and Korea. Jay's Native family seems to be virtually psychic by our definitions of the term. Indeed, many people think that virtually all Native Americans are psychic. But this term of ours is not their term. To them, this is just a way of being "in touch:" in touch with the past, the future, the present and in touch with the earth.

When Native Americans want to be in touch with the past, Jay's explained, they will go to a place where they know their elders are buried. In Jay's case, that apparently is not far from his tiny house. Jay says he feels better that his ancestors are buried in a graveyard near the area where Jay keeps his horses. He says he feels they rest better knowing the ground above them is trod by a member of their nation.

One of the most tragic things about the way Native people in America have been treated by whites is that, so often, despite the ever-present violence and gunfire always present in movies made about them, they were among the most gentle cultures on earth--and we've ignored their gentle teachings to our peril. We may have cheated ourselves out of our very future in attempting to destroy that culture and in suppressing those beliefs and religious teachings that are built on being in touch with the Earth.

We often talk in our school about learning "languages," as if one had to go to Germany or France to find them. We fail to acknowledge that there are languages to be learned that are native to this area that are beautiful, poetic languages. Shoshone, Arapaho, and Ouachita and the other Native American languages, have some of the most elegant phrases and expressions known to humanity.

It's pathetic that whites, even those of us who are supposedly more educated, still want to deny the existence of Native Americans. Why, for example, don't more of America's colleges and universities require a working knowledge of the Sioux languages for people living in the Dakotas, or the tongue of the Cherokee, the real owners of much of Arkansas, for those of us living here?

Besides her Native American connection, another interesting aspect to Sue, at least to me, was her vivid dream life. Sue often awakened still talking in her sleep and frequently walked in her sleep. The way she describes her incredible dreams, they're powerful to envision.

What was especially intriguing about her dreaming was the extent to which she had "hypnopompic hallucinations," in which objects from her dreams would "remain" in the room even after she'd awakened for a few seconds. It was an odd feeling to me as a child, to think that I was just "another" person in her room, at those times.

For example, one particularly vivid dream image that Sue repeatedly experienced involved a "man in a potato sack," whom Sue said would "appear" in her room shortly before the end of the dream. Because Sue's room was so very familiar to her, it always appeared in detail in her dream.

Then suddenly the "man in the potato sack" would plop through her bedroom window. At that point, she invariably screamed, which awakened her to her real room.

But as Sue describes it, for a few seconds the "potato sack man" would still be there. She could still "see" him as we came in her bedroom door in response to her screams or shouts. Only after we said something to her did he usually "evaporate." It wasn't enough, evidently, for her to merely see us, since she could "see" us in her dream, too.

Another dream Sue has told me about is a long, running dream she has about a "red-eyed monkey." She says that there's something scary about it, but she can never remember what it is. I've often wondered if this particular dream of hers may not be another manifestation of the Jungian "archetypes" speculated on elsewhere in this book. The archetypes could even provide an explanation for the "alien abduction" experience.

"Explaining" something with archetypes is not very compelling, however, since we have almost as little understanding of archetypes as we have of extraterrestrial civilizations. All we really know about the former is that they are part of a "collective unconscious" that is larger than the individual human mind, are supra-physical and are electromagnetic in nature.

In any case, Sue's continued having the dream over several years' time. I know she's dreamed it over a long period of time, because the first time that she told me about it I was about 8 years old and we were living in California. Her telling of it frightened me so badly at that age that I had to sleep with the light on for a few minutes each night for a few nights. She'd occasionally mention having that same dream over several years' time. Even after I was a teenager, I recall her saying she'd "had that dream again, about the red-eyed monkey," at breakfast one morning. Her description of it always had such a gut-wrenching effect on me that I can't help but wonder if I hadn't experienced something of the sort, myself.

In her dream, a "little man," perhaps the classic organ-grinder, enters her dream, accompanied by a small or large monkey. Or sometimes a group is gathered around the monkey in a cage. At some point, Sue gets the impression that, though she has left the immediate presence of the monkey, which has stared out at her with its red eyes, she has not actually left its presence. She hears a screech and turns to see the red-eyed monkey. Or sometimes, there is a radio broadcast in which the listener is warned that a search is going on for the red-eyed monkey, when suddenly Sue sees it at her bedroom window. Sometimes, she says, the story seems to last for hours, as police and others arrive to chase down the eerie looking critter. What with "chupakabra" and "alien" tales often references to red-eyed creatures, Sue's dream seems prophetic.

Sue also recalled seeing a "movie" that she remembered as being entitled "Marooned," in which had appeared a gigantic ape, similar in size to "Mighty Joe Young," but with reddish fur. I checked around and could find no such movie, which had to have been fairly recent at the time, since she said she'd "seen it on TV one night." Evidently, this had been another vivid dream of hers. Once again, I felt a powerful sense of "realness" on some level, of power beyond that of an ordinary dream.

Sue watched a television program in the early '60's called "One Step Beyond' on a regular, weekly basis. I tried, but usually couldn't handle watching the program at age ten, so I asked Sue to tell me about it afterwards. Though afraid, I'd still want to know what went on. Invariably, though, her description of the program, along with her speculations about what it all meant, probably troubled my sleep about as much as watching the program itself, if not more so.

Sue always piqued my curiosity as to the real meaning of the supposedly true phenomena the program presented. She'd ask me, though always carefully including someone else in the question as well, if "we" had ever heard of this or that supposedly true occult phenomena, such as the people who dreamed beforehand that the Titanic would sink.

Sue almost invariably raised the issue at night. Had it been raised in any other context or in an earlier part or the day, or by anyone else but Sue, it might not have bothered my young mind as much. But it usually got to me, for a least a few minutes, until I got closer to my teens, when I better enjoyed the chill of a good scare.

Sue's vivid dreams and her even more hair-raising stories and descriptions of them could fill a book. On top of them, however, Sue had a lot of other experiences that weren't dreams at all. Those experiences were very real indeed and involved not only Sue but the people with her, as well.

One night, while talking with a group of other teenage girls during a pajama party, Sue looked at the door knob and noticed that it was silently turning very slowly, as if someone were trying to sneak in on the girls. Sue quietly got up and moved toward the door.

"Did you see that?" she must have nearly whispered. "Look! The doorknob is turning."

At that point, the other girls looked at that doorknob, too, Sue says. Before their eyes, they, too, saw it silently, slowly turning. They promptly put a dining chair under the doorknob. Whoever or whatever it was, eerily, chillingly, stopped.

One afternoon after a thunderstorm, Sue and a friend were walking along a dirt road near Melbourne, Arkansas. As they walked along, they became conscious that there was a roundish circle of light, orange in color, slowly gliding over the ground around and in front of them. It looked, Sue said, "like someone was shining a big orange flashlight down on the ground from somewhere up in the sky."

She and her friend continued on their way to a neighbor's house, where they described what they'd just seen. The neighbor said that it was a common sight in that area, and was called, "Jacob's Lantern." She said people in that area apparently see it all the time.

Sue says the whole thing was silent and eerie. She shivers visibly as she leans forward. "Please, I don't want to talk or think about that anymore."

One possible "conventional" explanation for Sue's "Jacob's lantern" experience occurred to me after reading Barbara Honnegar's book October Surprise (134-6). She describes a seeming "miracle" that occurred on Reagan's inauguration day, as related to her by Dr. Martin Anderson, Reagan's top domestic policy advisor: "Everything was perfect. It got even better. . . The dark, cloudy sky over his head began to part slightly. Within seconds there was a gaping hole in the gray overcast, and a brilliant, golden shaft of wintery sun burst through the clouds and bathed the inaugural stand and the watching crowd. As Reagan spoke, a slight breeze ruffled his hair and the warm golden light beam down upon him. Later, a few minutes after he finished speaking, as if on cue from some master lighter backstage, the hole in the clouds shrank, the sky darkened and Washington grew gray and cold once again." (Honnegar 134-7). It looked, she was told, like a "sign from heaven," but years later, she says, she was told by a retired intelligence officer that what happened that day may have been caused by a military "Keyhole" satellite (Honnegar 134-6). The officer said that such satellites use a beam to burn a hole through cloud cover to allow photography regardless of the weather, and can read a car's licence plate numbers from 150 miles up. This might explain Reagan's inauguration day "miracle" (Honnegar 134-7)--and Sue's "Jacob's lantern." Such satellites were probably in the developmental stages in the early to mid 1960s when Sue's "lantern" was seen. Perhaps it was due to some "Keyhole" satellite forerunner's beam.

However, "Jacob's lantern" has been reported for at least a hundred years in that area, suggesting that at least part of the manifestation is not explained by such a satellite. Perhaps something less conventional is in order as a explanation, or at least a different conventional explanation. According to Beth Scott and Michael Norman, the ghost lights of the northern Arkansas-Southern Missouri area may have a different explanation:

Anomalous lights. . . have been reported all over the world for thousands of years. Some experts believe that these lights are electrical atmospheric charges generated by the earth's crust (although such lights are frequently associated with earthquakes, their presence does not necessarily predict quakes). The distorted electrical field that results from these charges can make the light appear to act in an 'intelligent' way, changing direction and altitude and giving chase. And physical encounters with the electrical field can make a person fearful and apprehensive. . . (Scott and Norman 307).

Joplin, Missouri, just north of the Spook Light area, Scott and Norman tell us, lies on a great fault line running from east of New Madrid into Oklahoma. Many earthquakes have also convulsed that area (Scott and Norman 307-8). "Although the appearance of the light has not been accompanied by any major quake in this century, seismologists consider this region of Missouri one of the most unstable areas in the United States and the generation of an electrical atmospheric charge may possibly explain the Spook Light." (Scott and Norman 308). And with it, perhaps, "Jacob's Lantern"? Still, the New Madrid Fault didn't produce the vaunted quake predicted only a few years ago.

Often, therefore, I'm now reminded to flash back to passages in Whitley Strieber's Communion when he describes his recollections of some of his experiences, as I think back over Sue's descriptions of her dreams and other experiences. Strieber would frequently recall his experiences initially as a dream or a dream sequence, and, indeed, he never completely refutes the idea that his experiences might be the product of some possibly new type of hypnopompic hallucination. But in keeping an open mind about the incidents, Strieber can't rule out other explanations, either, such as the idea of "visitors" who come in the night.

I've even gone so far in the past few years as to discuss Sue's "Jacob's Lantern" experience with a local UFO expert in Little Rock named Jerry Blackburn. Jerry is a computer scientist with a solid academic background who's been investigating the UFO phenomenon for several years. Jerry told me the phenomenon I described to him has been reported before. In the ufo literature, he said, it's called a "light puddle." He said one theory is the light puddle is a laser or some other "marching" particle light beam similar to a laser. They appear on the ground, he said, after having been beamed down for some purpose, possibly as a scientific probe device belonging to unknown parties, from some point above the earth.

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Works Cited:

Honnegar, Barbara. October Surprise. New York: Tudor, 1989. 234-7.

Scott, Beth and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner, 1985. 307-8.

Strieber, Whitley. Communion: A True Story. New York: Wilson, 1987.