About Mae Clair

Writing tales of myth, mystery, and contemporary romantic suspense

Mythical Monday: Wishing for a Genie by Mae Clair

A creature of Arabian folklore, genies−or Jinns as they are often called−are powerful supernatural beings with inclinations that alternately tend toward good or evil. Believed to be spirits of fire and smoke, they are skilled in magic, but not so powerful as to be free of manipulation by others. It is the genie’s sad fate to suffer imprisonment, usually trapped inside an old oil lamp, confined by an evil sorcerer.

magic Aladdin genie lamp with blue smoke

I’ve always found it interesting that these beings of immense power are subject to bondage by another. According to western mythology, once released from their lamp, the genie is required to grant three wishes to the person who frees them.  I’m sure most everyone remembers the movie Aladdin with the talented Robin Williams, voicing the genie. If you’re a bit older, you might also remember I Dream of Jeannie with Larry Hagman as astronaut Tony Nelson, and Barbara Eden as the genie he discovers after returning from a lunar mission.

I loved that show as a kid, but references to genies predate Hollywood’s version by centuries. Some believe the demons Jesus cast out in the New Testament may have been the embodiment of Jinns. Clearly, these were of the malevolent variety. There is also speculation that when Isaiah spoke with the seraphim (“burning ones”) in the Old Testament, he may have been interacting with the Jinn.

Some years ago I wrote a short story about a woman who discovers an old bottle and frees a genie from imprisonment. The wishes she requests are rather unique. It’s one of the pieces I’m most proud of in my writing repertoire, something I really need to shop around sometime soon.

Countless others have used the genie theme before me. It has appeared in literature, popular TV, and even gaming. A story that never grows old, it continues to inspire through the belief of whimsical magic and starry-eyed possibility.

Humanitarian wishes aside (i.e, world peace, a cure for cancer, an end to famine, etc.) if you suddenly had a genie at your disposal, what would you wish for?

Folklore Friday: The Wreck of the Old 97

I normally blog about myths or writing, but I have a passion for history and folklore too. Today, I couldn’t resist sharing an old tale that recently caught my attention.

I love trains, especially old steam locomotives. I don’t know much about them, but I’m always eager to learn more. Like old clipper ships, they are symbol of a bygone era, often viewed in a romantic light. In truth, working for a railroad was gritty, dangerous business.

folk n skiffleNot long ago while scouring digital music on Amazon, I happened upon a folk ballad, The Wreck of the Old 97 performed by Skiffledog. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s been recorded, re-recorded, and recorded some more by all manner of artists.

The ballad tells the tale of “Old 97” a train that will forever live in the annals of American folklore due to its spectacular derailment in the fall of 1903. In those days, the post office had a standing contract with the railroad for the delivery of mail. Unlike passenger and freight trains, Old 97 routinely ran at a high rate of speed in order to ensure timely delivery. Dubbed the “Fast Mail,” she had precedence over all other trains. Passenger trains and freight trains alike were required to clear the track ahead of her; passenger trains by ten minutes, freight trains by a full thirty minutes.

Southern Railway—the company that owned her—was penalized for every minute she ran behind, but received a hefty chunk of change from Congress when she arrived on time. She was highly lucrative for Southern, thus the “old” in her name didn’t relate to age, but rather Southern’s glowing pride in their beloved Fast Mail. Perhaps that is why her destruction has resonated so strongly down through the decades.

On September 27, 1903, Engineer Joseph A. Broady (known as “Steve” to his friends) took charge of the train in Monroe, Virginia. According to the ballad, he was given the following instructions (note “38” relates to an elite passenger train Southern also ran):

Well, they gave him orders in Monroe, Virginia,
saying “Steve, you’re way behind time.”
This is not 38, it’s Old 97,
you must put her into Spencer on time.

In reality, Southern Railway gave Broady “run late” orders, dictating he had to arrive in Spencer forty-five minutes late, allowing him to make up only twenty minutes during his run from Monroe (the train was already an hour late when it arrived from Washington D.C., and lost another five minutes of time as Broady and his crew took over).

Steve had never run Old 97 before, but he was an experienced engineer.  According to legend he vowed to put the train into Spencer on time, or “put her into hell.” The route was a track that included elevation changes, sharp turns, and steep grades. Because of the high rate of speed he maintained, it’s believed Broady did something called ”whittling”—applying his airbrakes too frequently without giving them ample time to recharge. When he needed to slow down dramatically on an approach to Stillhouse Trestle, they failed him.  From the song:

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And Lima’s on a three-mile grade;
It was on that grade that he lost his air brakes,
You can see what a jump he made.

Photo of the Wreck of the Old 97 , courtesy WikiMedia Commons, public domain

Photo of the Wreck of the Old 97 , courtesy WikiMedia Commons, public domain

Interestingly, Broady had run the track countless times prior to that fateful September day, but never with Old 97. Intimately familiar with the terrain, including its danger points, the route should have been without issue for him. Many believe his error in judgment was a result of his unfamiliarity with a light four-car train like Old 97. Broady was accustomed to running larger, heavier freight trains, which responded differently when the engineer applied the brakes.

Old 97 derailed when Steve Broady approached a ravine spanned by Stillhouse Trestle. That framework rose forty-five feet in the air from the ground below. According to the song :

He was going down grade, doing ninety miles an hour,
When his whistle broke into scream,
they found him in the wreck, his hand upon the throttle,
he’d been scalded to death by steam.

Many people who heard the train and/or saw it approaching, recall the horrible shrieking sound of the whistle. Broady obviously knew the train was in trouble as he never let up on the whistle. Because Old 97 was classified as a passenger train, he was required to slow to fifteen miles per hour on the trestle. Even at twenty-five he should have been able to make it across, but survivors, and those who witnessed the wreck, estimate he was doing sixty to seventy-five when he hit that point.

The train jumped the track and plummeted into the ravine. killing eleven of the eighteen men on board, all others suffering serious injuries. Among the fatalities were Joseph “Steve” Broady and his fireman.

“The Wreck of the Old 97” is a new book by historian Larry G. Aaron.Such a tragic tale, especially when you realize Broady had made up only two minutes of the twenty he was allowed by the time he reached the trestle. At first glance, I’m sure many would view Broady as the “villain” in this tale, but there is so much more involved. I highly recommend historian Larry G. Aaron’s book, THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97 for anyone who might like greater insight to the tragedy that occurred on September 27, 1903. Written in an easy to follow style, it brings the event and the people affected by it vividly alive. I couldn’t put it down.

As Mr. Aaron said in his book…Joseph “Steve” Broady was barely in his thirties when he died in the wreck of Old 97. Had he not run the train that day, he probably would have lived out his life, and no one would have ever heard his name. As it turned out, Steve Broady the engineer has become a folk legend, and one must always wonder which fate he would have preferred.

Source:  THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97 by Larry G. Aaron
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Mythical Monday: The Hopkinsville Goblins by Mae Clair

On a summer night in August of 1955, Billy Ray Taylor, a native of Pennsylvania was visiting his friend, Lucky Sutton of Kentucky. Lucky lived on a farm tucked between the towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville, a rural homestead that lacked electricity and running water. At some point during the evening, Billy hiked outside to get a drink of water from the well. In the process he glimpsed a shining object which descended from the sky and landed in a gully a quarter mile away.

Rural farmstead at night with fog and moon

Hurrying back to the homestead Billy excitedly shared his tale, but the Sutton family laughed off the story. Not long afterward, the family dog broke into a crazy raucous before vanishing under the porch. Later accounts say the poor animal, terrified by something it had seen, remained in hiding until the next day.

Sensing something amiss, Billy and Lucky armed themselves with rifles and headed outdoors to investigate. In the front yard they were drawn up short by a bizarre creature with “large eyes, a long thin mouth, large ears, thin short legs, and hands ending in claws.” The being was unlike any they had ever seen, short in stature and gremlin-like in appearance.

Both men unloaded their guns. They later insisted there was no way they could have missed at such close range but the creature slipped away, vanishing into the surrounding woods. Billy and Lucky returned to the house, barricading themselves inside.

More creatures appeared, trying to gain entrance. Those gathered inside, children and adults, now realized the threat was real. Faces peered in the windows, claws grappled for screens, Billy and Lucky unloading ammo at every instance. It took several hours before family members were able to escape and seek help from the sheriff’s department.

Upon arriving at the homestead, the sheriff and his men found no evidence of the goblin-like creatures, but could readily see holes blown through the walls and screens. All the officers reported that the Suttons were sober and seemed genuinely terrified by something. They eventually left the Sutton farm around 2:15 in the morning.

Almost immediately, the goblin-like creatures descended again, peeking in windows and trying to gain entry. The strange events finally came to a halt shortly before dawn. At a loss for explanation, not knowing what else to do, the sheriff summoned the Air Force.

The story made headline news, prompting many to speculate the Suttons had fabricated a hoax. But they gained nothing from the publicity, and neighbors collaborated their reports of “lights in the sky.” All of the adults who witnessed the event−Billy and Lucky among them−gave the exact same account of events when questioned separately. There are even reports of a highway trooper citing “meteor-like objects” flying overhead around 11PM that night. Additionally, there is mention of “an odd luminous patch along a fence where one of the beings had been shot, and, in the woods beyond, a green light whose source could not be determined.”

Years later, each family member remained firm in their story, no evidence of a hoax ever discovered. Interestingly, the U.S. Air Force has denied any involvement , but it has led many to believe the events of August 21, 1955, were those of an authentic UFO encounter.

Perhaps just one of many?

Mythical Monday: The Owlman of Mawnan by Mae Clair

It’s interesting to note that many of the creatures and legends that make it into my Mythical Monday posts are decades, often centuries old. That’s why I found the story of the Cornish Owlman so interesting. Sighted near the village of Mawnan, Cornwall in England, the Owlman is often compared to my favorite “cryptid,” West Virginia’s Mothman.

The first sighting of the Owlman took place on April 17, 1976. At that time two young sisters were walking through the woods near Mawnan church when they saw a large winged creature hovering over the church tower.  The girls were so disturbed by the encounter that the family, there on holiday, cut their stay short.

Mawnan Church, Kerrier district, Cornwall

Photo courtesy of Philip White [CC-BY-SA-2.0 Creative Commons License) via Wikimedia Commons

A few months later, two other girls were camping in the woods near the church. Fourteen-year-old Sally Chapman was outside her tent when she was startled by a hissing sound. Turning, she saw a man-sized, owl-shaped creature with pointed ears and red eyes. Sally, along with her friend, Barbara Perry, originally thought someone was playing a joke on them until the creature took flight, rising straight up in the air. They reported its feet were like black pincers.

More sightings were reported the next day, and on later occasions, in June and August of 1978. All sightings took place within vicinity of the church.

In 1989, a couple reported seeing a creature “about five feet tall. The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge toes on the visible side. The creature was gray with brown, and the eyes definitely glowed.”

Another account, given in 1995 was supplied by a woman who was visiting the area from Chicago. She claimed to have seen a “man-bird…with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears.” She also said the being had “clawed wings.”

Some speculate the creature might have been an escaped eagle owl, a species that can grow to two feet with a wingspan of nearly six feet. Others favoring a supernatural angle, think the Owlman may be a phenomena conjured by Mawnan’s church unique location on a potential ley line; still others that the being could be connected to UFOs.

Whatever its origin, like most cryptids the Owlman remains an enigma, a mysterious being who occasionally—when mood strikes—shares our world. Don’t you find it interesting how many beings coexist with us, if reported sightings are to be believed?

Mythical Monday: The Cold Ghost of Gilsland Castle by Mae Clair

I’m closing out my ghostly Mythical Monday posts for the month of October with the tale of an unfortunate boy who met his demise in Gilsland Castle, a forbidding stronghold located in northern England. What the poor lad did to deserve punishment has long been forgotten, but as a lesson for some misdeed, he was locked away in an empty upstairs room. Perhaps the austere atmosphere of the fortress itself was to blame, as you have to wonder about the type of parent or disciplinarian who would forget a child.

Sadly, the boy was kept in that frigid place too long, and froze to death.Castle Steps

For centuries afterward people have told of seeing a small nightgowned figure who roams the hallways, stopping at each chamber and seeking entrance. Still freezing, his teeth chattering and body trembling, the boy endlessly searches for an open door. When he finds one, he has been known to hover at the bedside of the occupant, whimpering softly as they sleep.

Should the person be ill, he is quick to end their suffering. Placing a small cold hand upon their flesh, he whispers “Cold, cold, forever cold. You shall be cold forever more.”  With these words, and the ghostly touch of the child, the sufferer peacefully surrenders, eased from pain by the Ghost of Gilsland Castle.

Perhaps he worries they have been forgotten and neglected too…

Werewolf Folklore by Mae Clair

Wolf in silhouette howling at full moonI am in a werewolfy frame of mind today. My friend, Carmen Stefanescu, invited me to her blog, Shadows of the Past.

A native of Romania (yeah, Dracula territory), Carmen has a very cool hangout, rich in folklore and all things catering to writers.  In the spirit of Halloween, I am sharing a post with her about werewolf folklore. Drop by and say “howl-lo” while you’re roaming the blogosphere. :)

Mythical Monday: Sendings, Ghostly Assassins by Mae Clair

In keeping with the approach of Halloween, I’m staying focused on ghostly apparitions for the remainder of this month’s Mythical Monday posts. October and spooky just effortlessly go hand-in-glove. When it comes to ghosts, we tend to think of them as spirits who are reluctant to move on, or who have left something unfinished when torn from the earthly realm. But there is an additional type of specter, or at least one that makes an appearance in Icelandic folklore.

If legend is to be believed, a ghost can be magically conjured from a human bone. I find the idea pretty ghoulish—imagining some wrinkled  sorcerer or necromancer crouched and chanting over crypt bones—but apparently ghosts can be useful If you’re an unethical practitioner of magic.  In this case, the wraiths are known as “sendings” and were often employed as murderers or dispatched to perform grisly deeds. It makes you feel sorry for the poor soul whose bones were unearthed by an unscrupulous wizard!

The good news (if you were the mortal target of said unscrupulous mage) is that sendings were not without weakness. As a case in point there was once a comely widow who many men sought to marry. She refused all offers—I can’t help thinking the husband she lost was her only true love—but that didn’t stop the men who coveted her, and her land holdings, from pursuing her.Comely young woman, grieving over grave

One day as she was preparing supper a strange sixth sense came over her, warning of danger. Turning toward the doorway she spied a shadow on the threshold, velvet black but for an odd white spot at its center. As the terrified woman watched, the shadow crept toward her, inching nearer across the floor. Snatching up a knife, she struck the apparition where she sensed it was most vulnerable—the odd white blossom at its center.  Instantly, the shadow vanished, her knife claimed along with it.

The next morning she found the knife in the yard, pinioned through a human bone. Her quick thinking and her bravery had saved her life, and from that point forward she was bothered no more.

A strange HEA, but kind of cool nonetheless, and it speaks to my personal belief that some people have only one soulmate. What do you think of this tale?