Friday, October 29, 2010

Paranormal fright is where you find it

By Mary Margret Daughtridge

It's almost Halloween, the time of year when we celebrate the frightful.

You know what scares me? Warning signs—the kind you don’t know exactly what to do with. Like Warning: Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty Of Law.

I’ve been thinking recently about the sort of advice/warning that I never know what I’m supposed to do with. Which makes me feel stupid. And alarmed in a misty, amorphous way.

The issue came up this weekend as I traveled to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway. The leaves are spectacular this year. But I didn’t see all that much of them. I had forgotten that on the Parkway, you’re on a road that’s hugging the nearly vertical side of a mountain.

Now see, right there, I’ve got a problem. I spent my formative years on the coastal plain of North Carolina where the land is F.L.A.T-flat, and the only time it’s not, is when it’s lower than flat. In which case it’s filled with water so the visual impression is still flatness.

My deepest intuition tells me that the earth is located under my feet, and the sky is above my head, and air surrounds me. You can fall off a bridge, off a roof, or out of a tree. If you got real unlucky, those things could fall on you. But you can’t fall off the earth, and the earth can’t fall on you.

In the mountains I’m expected to deal with earth that tilts? That rises up beside me higher than my head, blocking my view of the sky? That’s just wrong, friends. The kind of wrong that’s very bit as scary as encountering a werewolf, or touching the undead skin of a vampire. The kind of wrong that makes the hair stand up on your neck.

So, I’m driving in the mountains, and my paranormal detector is already red-zoned. I’ve got a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel because the only safe, understandable space is the width of the road.

Then I see a sign, sticking horizontally out of the side of the mountain.

Did I mention that I have an issue with directions? As in sense of direction which is non-existent, forcing me to rely totally on following directions. I see and read every road sign. (I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I learned some people don’t—but that’s another blog.) To the best of my ability, I do what the road sign tells me to do.

But this sign says, “Watch for falling rocks.”

How, I ask you, am I supposed to do that?

If the sign said “fallen rocks” okay, I could look out for them. In fact, I’m not sure I need to be told that anything larger than gravel would pose a hazard.

But don’t the sign makers know this car has a roof? I can’t see up. But if I could see above me, and there was a boulder in the air, could I hope to avoid it? Stopping would be the wrong thing to do, and hyperbole aside, I could stomp the accelerator, but the car wouldn't leap forward—not without a perceptible lag during which the rock would hit me.

But anyway, would trying to look up, instead of forward, really be a good idea? I could drive into or off of the mountain.

"Either one shouldn’t even be possible," the paranormal detector shrieks.

But really, it's all about following directions. If someone else is driving, I'm fine.

What feels paranormal to you--whether it's the classic definition or not? Got any signs that freak you out?


  1. Love this post. Husband and I always point out stupid signs. Love the one with the bird on the top ... can't that stupid thing read? Another one that is scary, though, is the one that says, "Slow Workers Ahead". Just how are we supposed to interpret that? Are they slow as in getting the go and stop sides of the signs turned around and we're going to kiss a semi head on in one lane traffic with concrete barriers so close that I can file my fingernails as Husband drives down the highway? OR does it just mean they haven't had their morning coffee yet?

  2. I try to stay away from anything that gives me a fright including my dentist! :-)

  3. You must have heard about my nightmare about me with the oral surgeon, Amelia! I'm in bed, on heavy medication, with a heating pad on my face as it looks like I'm sucking on a watermelon the right side of my jaw is so swollen--and he said this would be no problem and I could even go to work. Yeah right...when the pain level is 10,000 on a scale of 1-10, I'm on heavy narcotics and they make me nauseated. I don't think so. *sigh*

    The warning signs that worried me, MM, were the ones in Scotland that we had no idea what they meant. :) Squiggly arrows pointing on the road toward us! Were we headed in the right direction or what? Never did figure it out! LOL

  4. I am so afraid to cut the tags off things. I don't know why. I mean, what happens if I cut the tag? I'm getting my scissors right now!

  5. Fun blog! When I was a kid and we had to drive through the mountains to visit my grandparents each year, I was always freaked out by those "faling rocks" signs. Didn't seem like a safe place to build a road to me. ;-)

  6. My California-based coworkers and I often talk about weather or natural disaster-type risks inherent to each of our geographic regions. The CA-based folks think that dealing with all of Minnesota's tornado warnings would be horrifying. As the Minnesotan, I know that there's inherent risk to tornadoes, but only a very slight risk that I, or my house or town, will be specifically impacted. Earthquakes, on the other hand, give me the willies. The ground? It's supposed to stay stable under your feet.

    My coworkers shrug this concept off. I guess it's a matter of what you get used to.

    A couple of years ago went to the Mothership for work, and my meetings spanned a weekend. I decided to play tourist and go see Hearst Castle in San Simeon, about 200 miles south. Without thinking about it overly much, I mapped out an inland course from San Jose south, visited the castle, and took Pacific Coast Highway north for a scenic drive. Yeah, it was scenic all right - but not the least bit relaxing, with the white-knuckled driving I was engaged in along the sheer cliffs and drop-offs.

    Because I was driving north, at least I was on the inside lane, hugging the cliffs, rather than driving along the edge.

    Already nervous, I then thought about earthquakes. And immediately started looking for the first exit inland.

  7. Thanks, Mary Margret. This post was so funny and I needed a good laugh this morning. You can't fall off the earth and the earth can't fall on you. Love it!

    I'm with you. Those falling rocks signs are freaky. I love riding on Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia. My parents and my brother's family just went up there this weekend. I was at my son's football game and couldn't go. It's a gorgeous drive, very scenie, but really high up, with long drops to the valley below. In fact, in one of my books I have a car accident where the vehicle almost goes off the mountain. There are falling rocks signs, but most of the signs are for deer crossings.

  8. Up in the mountains in Colorado, you sometimes see signs that say "In Case of Flood, Climb to Safety." Apparently the high-altitude lakes can give way, dumping their water down the mountain in a sudden torrent. But what am I supposed to climb? The mountain itself? A tree? And what did they think I was going to do - dig myself a hole? Silly sign.
    Fun post, MM! I love the seagull sign with the rebellious seagull on top:)

  9. One of the times we were in Hawaii, I brought home some lava rocks from the volcano. A year later I saw a show where they talked about curses and how taking them would ruin your life. I packed up the rocks and sent them back to the park.

    A couple months later, we were audited and to date I know it was because I sent the rocks back! Everything was absolutely fantastic before I gave them up. That'll teach me.

  10. Yes Carolyn, Slow workers. And equally ambiguous is Slow Flagman Ahead.

    I always want more information, like, how slow is he going to be?

  11. Words to the wise, Amelia. Words to the wise.

  12. Oh Terry! That's a nightmare of the very real kind. I'm so sorry.

    Squiggly arrows coming toward one...that doesn't sound good. Glad you survived.

    Sign-reader that I am, when I'm in another country, I always read all signs--whether I can understand them or not. And then of course, I worry. Suppose the sign said something I really needed to know?

  13. Shana,

    Tag removal used to be forbidden in such strong language I think we're all a little neurotic about it.

    I notice tag makers have tried to soften the sense of threat in recent years. Furniture tags now say something like, "Tags can be removed only by the consumer"--a piece of information that was lacking for many years.

    So if you own those pillows, I say, "Go for it!"

    Otherwise, only do it at night with the doors locked, and if asked, take the fifth.

  14. Catherine,

    "Didn't seem like a safe place to build a road to me."

    Why didn't THEY think of that?

  15. Tamara,

    Gotcha on the earthquake thing. Can you imagine living some place that the earth won't stay where it belongs?

    But since you mention tornados...I live in a micro-climate subject to tornados and straight-line winds. Within a sixty-mile radius, there's one every couple of years. Don't give it a thought.

    And that kind of underscores my premise that what's paranormal and scary depends entirely on what you consider normal.

    I'll bet vampires and werewolves think we're the paranormal ones!

  16. All right, Anita. You caught me. The falling rock signs are most numerous on I-40 (which was closed for about a year by a rockslide.) And which shows Catherine was right!

    In fact, once you get to the Parkway, you're so near the tops of mountains that the chance of you falling on a rock is greater than one falling on you.

  17. Joanne, glad you liked the seagull sign.

    I included it because it made me think of an alternative world in which birds CAN read. And some of them are sick and tired of humans ordering them around with signs. And they...

  18. Linda,

    I've never seen a lava flow in the act of flowing, but when I see it on TV, it makes the hair stand up on my neck. Talk about paranormal-looking!

    What you're saying, if I read you right, is that the Hawaiians need to add signs warning tourists that messing with lava will mess with one's luck.

  19. This was a fun post! Loved the "no seagull" sign.

  20. Love the picture of the seagull on the no seagull sign. LOL!

    Some driving situations freak me out, too. Mostly when I'm on a bridge next to a semi-truck. I hate that feeling of claustophobia and knowing if s/he comes into my lane I'm going to be swimming soon. Assuming I can escape my crumpled, little car.

  21. Sara,

    Glad you liked the seagull. It was actually a second choice.

    I wasn't able to include the picture I found of a "falling rock" sign that had been knocked down by falling rocks.

  22. Oliva,

    On a bridge, next to a semi? Got to admit I never worried about that. but you have a point. Who wants to swim in a car?

    I'm okay as long as the bridge is flat, but if you have to go up--like way high up--shiver! Are you sensing a pattern here? I am.

  23. LOL, MM! Those 'falling rocks' signs have always freaked me out, too. I mean, come on, by the time you notice a falling rock, it's too late. You can't exactly drive off the mountain to avoid it. Great post!