Tuesday, July 24, 2012

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Trip Into The Paranormal

Last night I took a step into the paranormal world. No, I did not see a ghost nor get probed by aliens from another dimension. I stepped into the shop Circles of Wisdom in Andover, Massachusetts and attended the Paranormal Research Group meeting held there monthly by Mr. Ron Kolek of the New England Ghost Project. The store is quite nice and centrally located right on Main Street in Andover, so if new age books and gifts are your bag, you should check them out.

Being my first visit, I was not sure what to expect. I had located the meet-up by Googling "Massachusetts paranormal groups" or something similar, and up came the listing for Mr. Kolek's monthly study group in Andover. I had heard of Ron Kolek before: he's authored a couple of books on ghostly subjects and has been featured on podcasts. From this outsider newbie's perspective looking in, from what I can tell, Mr. Kolek is a fairly well-known figure in this field, especially in New England. So I was looking forward to meeting up with Ron and his research group.

The meeting was scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. and there was a $15 fee to attend. The gathering itself occurred in a tidy little room in the back of the shop. All told there were fifteen of us in attendance, including Mr. Kolek. It was a comfortable group of "average folks," varying in age from mid-twenties to early sixties, with most folks solidly into their forties. Introductions were made all around; about three-quarters of the group were returnees, with maybe three or four of us being first-timers. A few people in the group claimed to have psychic abilities, psychic sensitivities, and/or had brushes with the paranormal. I am solidly not in this category, being a self-described "open minded skeptic." I've never knowingly had any paranormal encounters or psychic experiences, although I've been curious about such things since childhood. Ron introduced himself as an avowed believer in the paranormal since having a near-death experience some years ago. Today he conducts a number of his investigations with professed psychic Maureen Woods. Together they have authored a couple of books on the paranormal.

After introductions, Ron handed around a silver finger ring, asking each person to focus on the object for a few moments and jot down on paper any impressions that might come to mind. The ring was passed around while the meeting continued. Next up we listened to a couple of EVP recordings and watched a few YouTube videos, including one video of Ron and Maureen investigating the so-called "Bridgewater Triangle" - and what appears to be Maureen being temporarily possessed by an evil spirit lurking in the forest. Group discussion followed the media presentation.

Several members of the group had brought a number of paranormal investigation tools to the meeting, from high-tech EMF detectors and shack-hack radios to a low-tech Ouija board. After a couple of prayers for protection addressed to whatever benign spiritual energy might be listening, folks took turns with the Ouija board. At the same time, others were keeping an eye on their EMF detectors and listening in for any meaningful messages on the shack-hack radios. To my awareness, there were no observable messages from the "other side."

The "ring game" did not produce anything definitive. Those claiming psychic abilities in the room could not produce an accurate reading on the ring, which, as it turned out, is a ring belonging to Ron's son. We also did a second psychic experiment, with everyone present attempting to discern the identity of a concealed object that Ron had placed in a cardboard box. Again, nobody in the room came up with an accurate description. Finally Ron asked folks to guess the shape of the object. I was the first to offer up "rectangle," so I managed to score a $10 gift card to Dunkin Donuts (thanks Ron!).

The two hours went by swiftly. At a few minutes after nine o'clock, the meeting broke up and folks went home. I enjoyed myself. Even though I felt that I was more on the skeptical side of the spectrum than most folks in the room, everyone was respectful and friendly and eager to discuss all matters ghostly. The group is definitely focused on ghosts and psychic abilities; such subjects as UFOs and cryptozoology did not come up in the course of our two hours. Still, I found it to be a nice group of people who are very sincere in their desire to understand more of our mysterious universe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lands of Mystery, Trail of the Gold Spike, and Justice Inc.

Way back in the early 1980s, the Hero/Champions game system offered a supplement for its Justice, Inc. roleplaying game entitled Lands of Mystery. Now, back in the day, I was just a young whippersnapper who played Dungeons and Dragons pretty much exclusively, and my knowledge of new gaming products and offerings was limited to whatever was on the rack at the Erich Fuchs hobby shop at the Liberty Tree Mall. And even then, if it was not stated out for D&D, I pretty much ignored it.

Flash forward to the present. I'm older (but likely not wiser). I've got access to the Internet and several decades of roleplaying experience under my belt (not to mention gallons of Mountain Dew, a few hundred subs and pizzas consumed at the gaming table, etc.). I've developed an avowed hankering for anything that whiffs of "pulp adventure," thanks mostly to my fascination with the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game (horror pulp), weird tales, Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer, the Shadow, Doc Savage, and so forth.

A few years ago I was fortunate to stumble upon a pretty much near mint copy of the boxed set Justice, Inc. published by Hero Games. I don't remember what store or what bargain bin I fell across it, but I snapped it up, even though I don't play the Hero/Champions system (I'm more of a keep it simple, Call of Cthulhu/Chaosium Basic Roleplaying type of guy). This is the type of set that I won't read for the rules or mechanics of play, but I will read for the campaign source material.

Along with the Justice Inc. boxed set, Hero Games produced two supplements for the game: Trail of the Gold Spike, an adventure module, and Lands of Mystery, a sourcebook for conducting "lost worlds" type campaigns modeled after the fiction of Edgar Rice Borroughs, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Or, if you grew up in the 1970s and remember that staple of UHF daytime viewing, the Land of the Lost television serial featuring "lost in time" adventurers Marshall, Will and Holly (on a routine expedition...).

Being an avowed Call of Cthulhu gamer, normally I'd take marginal interest in Justice Inc. and its two supplements. However...

Both Trail of the Gold Spike and Lands of Mystery advertise that - in addition to being stated out for the Hero/Champions system - they also are stated for use with the roleplaying games Daredevils (Fantasy Games Unlimited), Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes (Flying Buffalo), Chill (Pacesetter Games) and...wait for it...Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium). Huzzah!

Having some store credit handy with an online games seller, I'd previously ordered Trail of the Gold Spike and today I've ordered a copy of Lands of Mystery. Both were overpriced, but since I'm trading some of my older, unused gaming stuff for store credit, I had "free money" to burn and decided to beef up my Call of Cthulhu game bookshelf with these marginal, "non-canon" purchases. Trail of the Gold Spike has already arrived and I've flipped through it. I'm very much looking forward to the arrival of Lands of Mystery, since it is written by the very talented Aaron Allston (he of D&D Rules Cyclopedia fame and many other writing projects). Lands of Mystery seems to be universally acclaimed in all of the web sources I've checked, so I look forward to exploring this oldie but goodie when it arrives at my domicile.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Magic Kingdom Open Until 3 A.M.!

It's almost midnight and I have to be getting to bed for another busy work day tomorrow (Monday - ugh). At least it is the week of the Thanksgiving holiday, and I've got a few extra days off to look forward to, thus Monday does not arrive with as much of its usual sting.

As I sometimes do, I check the Magic Kingdom hours at Walt Disney World before going to bed. I enjoy going to sleep knowing that while I lay my head down, some lucky guests are even at that moment zipping through Space Mountain or singing along with grim grinning ghosts in the Haunted Mansion.

Checking this evening I see that the Magic Kingdom is open until 3 A.M.! God bless 'em, three o'clock in the morning. And bless those workers that will be keeping that place bright and lively into the wee hours for the guests. I wish I was one of those lucky guests! My son and I - who have a habit of late night adventuring in the Magic Kingdom after my wife and daughter have had enough magic for the day and retired to the hotel room - we would be two of those happy yahoos who stay until the very last minute. We'd be taking a 2:30 a.m. excursion aboard the Jungle Cruise and climbing aboard Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as the stars winked in the pre-dawn night sky far overhead. We'd be the ones munching hot dogs at Casey's Corner just before closing time, and the last ones to board our bus back to the resort, riding along the the dark, nearly abandoned Disney roads to whatever corner of the World held our resort.

Ah, how I wish we were there! Someday not too far from now, we'll be back to that happy place to create more memories. Until then, I'll have to go to bed tonight, in the quiet and dark of my bedroom, thinking of all the magic happening at that very moment at Walt Disney World. Although I cannot be there to share in that fun, still, it will put a smile on my face as I drift off to sleep.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Halloween that Wasn't

This year was the Halloween that wasn't. You see, this year, we got an unexpected snowfall a few days before Halloween. Only a few inches of snow, maybe three inches, and it was all melted away in a day or two. In the annals of New England snowfalls, barely anything at all. However, since the leaves were still on the trees, they acted like little hands that grabbed those fat wet flakes as they fell from the sky, weighing down the tree branches. Those branches snapped under the weight, snapped all all across Massachusetts and Connecticut, plunging hundreds of thousands of us into a new dark age.

Now, living by candlelight and sleeping before one's (mostly ornamental) fireplace may seem a romantic and fun notion. And it certainly was, for the first evening. But as the days dragged on without light or heat or power, things got miserable. My neighborhood was without power for six days. Six days! Halloween fell smack in the middle of those six days. Updates from our public safety officials delivered to our cell phones confirmed that Halloween trick or treat had been postponed one week. We were all disappointed, but too busy shivering in the dark to really give it much thought (right after the early snowfall New England was hit with a spell of unseasonably cold nights...for those of us living without heat or power, well, it was not fun).

I had taken a couple of days off from work (as was my custom) to really enjoy the Halloween holiday. I had no grand plans, simply to stay up late and watch a few favorite horror films, maybe take a quiet walk in one of my town's more picturesque and mood-inducing graveyards (being New England, we've got a few of those handy) read a few pages of Ray Bradbury's The October Country in peace and quiet with a steaming mug of coffee by my side.

Instead the holiday was marked by the whine of my neighbors' power generators (unlike those well-prepared souls, we had no such back-up), cold that seeped into your bones, and a pathetic vigil for the impersonal powers that be (the power company) to eventually restore us to the 21st century.

By the time the power came back up, we were several days into November and Halloween had passed. It was not even November first, Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Perhaps we could have salvaged something of Halloween if power had come up by Dia de Muertos. But no such good fortune. We were rudely ushered in cold and discomfort into November without passing through that spooky, black-and-orange, bat-and-skull festooned archway known as Halloween.

On Sunday, November 6th, our town celebrated Halloween Trick or Treat. Supposedly. It seems that nearly no-one was in the Halloween spirit anymore, since we only got three intrepid trick-or-treaters rapping at our chamber door. Even they seemed a bit downcast as they held out their trick or treat bags...perhaps seeing no-one else about in costume took the wind out of their sails. I rewarded the intrepid three costumed callers with copious amounts of candy (who else was I going to give it to?) and a friendly "Happy Halloween" greeting. But we seemed to be performing our roles (they the children holding out their goody-sacks, me the adult filling the bags with treats) a bit hollowly, as if going through the motions of a play that has already seen its last audience.

So now we look down the calendar towards Thanksgiving and the winter holidays (pick your tradition: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Yule, Winter Solstice...).

Let's hope they turn out better than Halloween, which did not stand a ghost of a chance this year.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Walt Disney World October 2011

Off to Florida!

Boarding pass? Check. Bagel in a bag? Check.

Don't forget the coffee!

The plane is here and we are happy.

Looking out at our airplane.

Patriots fans often visit Walt Disney World.

Young man practicing his Disney smile. Keep practicing.

What's so interesting on the floor?

Just like magic, we are now in Orlando airport!

Does anyone see the Disney's Magical Express bus stop?

There it is!

On the bus to Walt Disney World, feelin' groovy!

Yay! Off to Walt Disney World!

I'm going too!

Nice hotel lobby.

All alone by the telephone...

Not really - I'm here too!

The view from our hotel balcony - not too shabby.

Another view from our balcony.

And here we have a beautiful woman taking in that view from the balcony.

First stop: the Magic Kingdom!

A pretty pirate lass aboard Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Adventures with Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.

This large man in yellow looks dangerously flatulent - better watch out, pretty lady!

Oh no! Too late!

A pirate from Adventureland roaming Fantasyland.

Now there are two pirates!

That pirate is attacking guests in Frontierland!

But wait! That's no regular guest! It's the Green Power Ranger! He can handle a pirate! The pretty pirate lass and some referee guy watch the battle.

No help from Yellow Ranger, who is texting when she should be helping Green Ranger.

No help from Pink Ranger either! More texting! No superheroes should be allowed to text while on patrol.

This park guest is unimpressed.

A thirsty guest with a very yellow drink.

Walt Disney World attraction lines can be long, but no problem when you ride with mom!

Or you ride in comfort and style!

Tired babies + comfy stroller = sleepy time.

We're on the move!

Some get a little help from dad.

Or mom!

So much to see and do!

March, march, march!

Nothing will slow us down...

Not even a little rain.

Okay, a lot of rain.

Go, poncho patrol!

Thunder Mountain in the rain.

On this side of the mountain, it's nice and sunny!

Bored on the WEDway People Mover? Impossible!

These happy folks are enjoying their WEDway ride.

So are these Tomorrowland travelers.

Heed these wise words, young man.

Not a believer.

Not impressed with the orange shirt.

Let's go horseback riding at Fort Wilderness!

But when you ride, be careful.

Duly warned and ready to ride the trails.

This guy likes the smell of his poncho.

Look out for that purple people eater!

Looking a bit glum here...could it be???

The dreaded "last day" of a Walt Disney World vacation.

Eating ice cream helps.

We'll be back again soon!