Now in its ninth printing, "The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier" has a profitable but puzzling history. The Onyx Books title, which has 275,000 copies in print, attempts to tie up the loose ends of the film "The Blair Witch Project," in which three characters ostensibly vanish in a Maryland forest while filming a documentary about a legendary witch. The dossier features the supposed findings of retired FBI agent and private investigator C.D. "Buck" Buchanan and his advisor, "third-generation psychic" Diane Ahlquist.
But nagging questions persist about the identities of both individuals. When Salon Books first attempted to contact the sleuthing duo in July, they appeared to be inventions of the book's author, D.A. Stern. Letters reproduced in the book indicated a Virginia address for Buchanan and an Arizona phone number for Ahlquist, but both details proved to be pure fiction. Even Stern himself seemed to be something of a figment. Purportedly an expert on the occult and the author of "Witchcraft: The Primal Persecution" and "European Folklore in America" (neither of which is cataloged with the Library of Congress), he is, in fact, Dave Stern, the editor of "The English/Klingon, Klingon/English Dictionary," a book that can hardly be said to be based in cold, hard fact.
Several weeks after that first attempt, however, Salon Books tracked down Buchanan at his Florida detective agency. In a brief conversation, he refused to comment beyond stating that he and Ahlquist do, in fact, exist. Shortly thereafter, Publishers Weekly announced that Ahlquist was indeed a real-life psychic and was shopping around a book proposal. Several readers e-mailed Salon to assert that they knew Ahlquist personally but refused go on the record with their claims. Messages left on a Sarasota, Fla., answering machine ostensibly belonging to the psychic went unreturned.
Recently, however, Salon Books caught up with Ahlquist, who at last granted an interview. First off, she discussed her completed manuscript, "Lunar Power." "It's a book about getting what you want from the power of the moon," she said. "It helps you in times of despair." She added that her agent, Noah Lukeman, is currently seeking a publisher for it. The book, which Ahlquist says was mostly written on a houseboat off the coast of Florida, contains no references to the "Blair Witch" book or to Buchanan, whom the psychic claims she doesn't know.
"That's fiction," Ahlquist said about a transcript reproduced in "The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier," which allegedly depicts a siance Ahlquist and Buchanan conducted in the Black Hills Forest where the three students disappeared. "I've never spoken to him." Instead, she says, D.A. Stern, who helped edit "Lunar Power," approached her to participate in the "Blair Witch" book project early last summer. "It sounded nice," she said, but conceded that she hadn't heard of the movie at the time. Ahlquist confirms the statements in the book that she has been consulted by law enforcement officials in the past.
But independent corroboration of Ahlquist herself was another matter. "She does exist. She's a bit psychic and an astrologer," says Dennis Dalrymple, a New York publishing consultant who helped Ahlquist find her agent. When asked if he has ever seen her, however, he said no; his sister, a client of Ahlquist's, put him in touch with the psychic. "I do trust my sister," he said.
What about the agent Dalrymple helped Ahlquist to land? The New York-based Lukeman also couldn't provide a solid reference. "I've seen pictures," he said when asked if he had ever met Ahlquist. "I've been corresponding with her for 10 months." So does he think she exists? "I hope so," he replied, "or else I'll have to check myself into an institution."