The Mystery Man
Something is burning, baby, something's in flames
There's a man going 'round calling names - Bob Dylan
Of all the purportedly-true horror stories of Budd Hopkins' Intruders - his study of an Indiana family seemingly beset by generational abduction phenomena - the one I found both most persuasive and horrifying could be ascribed, by convention, to a prank caller.
When Kathie Davis, the principal subject of the book, was pregnant with her second son Tommy in 1980, she began receiving indecipherable phone calls every Wednesday at 3:00 in the afternoon. "Above a background noise that roared like a factory in full swing she heard a voice moaning and muttering and using no syllables [that could be understood]." The voice would neither acknowledge the other party nor even pause when asked to identify or explain itself. Sometimes Kathie hung up within moments, sometimes she listened for minutes, "fascinated by the weird sounds." (Her friend Dorothy and her mother Mary also answered Kathie's phone on occasion, and heard the same gutteral moaning and industrial roars.) During this event, Kathie decided to get an unlisted number. One Monday afternoon the telephone company called to say the change was in effect, and told her her new number. Moments later the phone rang: it was her strange caller, making the same bizarre sounds, though now with an angry tone. It was the only time, other than Wednesdays at 3:00 pm, that Kathie received such a call.
The calls ceased abruptly when Tommy was born. When Hopkins asked Kathie about the health of her boys, she said "Tommy my youngest, has a speech problem. He just makes this sort of moaning sound. I've had him thoroughly tested. They've done brain stem and brain wave analysis, and so on, and he's normal. He's very bright. He just doesn't talk yet." Later, she confided to a female colleague of Hopkins' that Tommy's speech was a tremendous worry, because it reminded her so much of the mysterious caller during her pregnancy.
Now here's a curious something I discovered just last night:
Doris Lilly, who lived in the south end of Point Pleasant, West Virginia - the locus of "Mothman" sightings - began to receive strange phone calls early in March, 1967, at the height of the Mothman flap. (Reportedly many did, though none, I've seen, like these.) John Keel writes in The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings that daily, "around 5:00 pm her phone would ring, and when she answered she heard only a bizarre metallic voice speaking in an incomprehensible language. It was gutteral and rapid. These calls came only when she was alone." According to Lilly, "it was as if they knew when I came home." The calls persisted, and Lilly became afraid to stay alone in her house. The phone company examined the line and could not explain the calls.
Keel wrote his book in 1970; Hopkins in 1987. Though the briefly-described episodes have an urban legend frisson about them, they're not tales told of a friend of a friend. Both Keel and Hopkins did their own research, travelling to the locales and speaking at considerable length the the parties involved. The repeating, indecipherable telephone calls were minor aspects of particular tears in the veil they were investigating: the "Mothman" appearances and the Copley Woods abductions. Oddly, I've yet to find these strangely similar stories in each other's context.
I imagine skeptics of the Amazing Randi school would have no trouble dismissing both accounts, as they have no trouble dismissing anything that threatens to trouble their Closed System: the Davies' family and Kathie's friend must have been familiar with Keel's book, and had no qualms about exploiting a three-year old's speech impediment to support their hoax. (It's a familiar tactic of such skeptics to discount solitary, extraordinary events as mere anomalies, and multiple events as the signature of copy cats and mass hysteria.) As for Doris Lilly, if she didn't fabricate or embellish her story, there's still nothing about it, they would undoubtedly say, that demands a supernatural explanation.
I might agree with that point, except there's very little about the Mothman story that makes sense, and so to force sense upon it does a certain measure of violence to it. If the data is intrinsically absurd, making it conform to our rational assumptions will destroy it. And for some, that's a job well done. (It becomes a feat of strength: can the presumptions of a rational, material universe take down the facts?) Perhaps the explanation which best lets the data explain itself is occultic. Keel entertains this in The Mothman Prophecies. Just before the sightings began, the charred carcass of a dog was found on unsinged ground which became, in effect, Ground Zero for the phenomenon. Keel wonders whether the dog was a sacrifice to initiate the events, and open a door through which the entity called "Mothman" could pass.
Presuming there were points to the bizarre phone calls may be presuming too much. But if there were, what could they have been? This seemingly obvious question neither Keel nor Hopkins asks.
Was the point communication? Unlikely, given their monologic indecipherability. There was no engagement at all with the person on the other end of the line. Also, the description of the speech is reminiscent of the story of Jose Antonio Da Silva, the Brazillian military policeman who, in 1969, claimed to have been abducted by "two masked individuals about four feet tall, wearing dull aluminum suits." The creatures bore him to a stone chamber, and an audience with an extremely hairy dwarf. He said the entities "talked among themselves in an incomprehensible language with many R’s."
Was the point ritual? More likely, when we consider the patterns with which the calls were made: every week at 3:00 pm on Wednesday; every afternoon at 5:00 pm. Repeating acts at regular intervals is at least suggestive of ritualistic behaviour.
If so, then what was the point of the ritual? With respect to the Davies' case, it's clearly linked to a pregnancy, and perhaps meant to be an influence upon it. According to the reports of several family members, after his birth, Tommy was himself subjected to abduction and intrusive attention from unknown entities. As for Lilly's calls, there's not enough information, other than to associate them broadly with the Mothman phenomenon.
But here's a question that should be asked, and answered thoughtfully, before any other: Why bother? Don't we have enough mysteries already in this mundane world? Why become entangled in those of another? Surely there's something more pressing than this.
Erik Davis offers an answer of sorts, in TechGnosis:
Most of us feel comfortable chalking up such close encounters to neurochemical imbalances, bad lunch meat, lax education, or the editorial philosophy of the Weekly World News. But the closer you look at these phenomena, and at many of the people who are captured by them, the more difficult it becomes to completely separate this loopy world from the straight one.... [A]ll about us the planet seems to be cracking apart at the seams. Reality, it seems, has been deregulated, and nothing is business as usual anymore - least of all business. The horizon of history bends into an asymptote, and at its warping edges, the more wild-eyed and speculative can't help but glimpse the shadow of some imponderable and ominous X leaning in. As the ancient mapmakers wrote when they sketched the edges of the watery unknown, "Here be dragons."
Increasingly, entanglements don't seem to be a matter of choice. As the domain of our mundane experience begins to undergo unprecedented stress, there is an apparent cascading correspondence of irrationalities between this realm and another. Another here. The growing unreality that many have sensed for the past five years is an aspect of that correlation.
Thirty years ago, in conversation with Jacques Vallee in The Edge of Reality, J Allen Hynek spoke of "the whole craziness of the thing, the whole absurdity [of the UFO phenomenon] - it's another world, another realm, that seems to have some interlocking with ours, and what we're describing here is just that interlocking."
Why bother? Because there are ever more points of congruence these days between the realms, and in our world many of those appear to rest on the nodal points of Earthly power.
In David Lynch's Lost Highway, saxophonist Fred Madison is approached at a party by a figure known only as the "Mystery Man":
Mystery Man: We've met before, haven't we?
Fred Madison: I don't think so. Where was it you think we met?
Mystery Man: At your house. Don't you remember?
Fred Madison: No. No, I don't. Are you sure?
Mystery Man: Of course. As a matter of fact, I'm there right now.
Fred Madison: What do you mean? You're where right now?
Mystery Man: At your house.
Fred Madison: That's fucking crazy, man.
Mystery Man: Call me. Dial your number. Go ahead.
[Fred dials the number and the Mystery Man answers]
Mystery Man: [over the phone] I told you I was here.
Fred Madison: [amused] How'd you do that?
Mystery Man: Ask me.
Fred Madison: [angrily into the phone] How did you get inside my house?
Mystery Man: You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.
Fred Madison: [into the phone] Who are you?
[Both Mystery Men laugh mechanically]
Mystery Man: Give me back my phone.
[Fred gives the phone back]
Mystery Man: It's been a pleasure talking to you.
If we can glimpse the shadow of the imponderable and ominous X, then unlike Lost Highway's Fred Madison, who didn't know himself well enough to know his own nightmares, we may be able to recognize the Mystery Man coming, before he sets upon mystifying us.