Hey, everyone! For those of you who don’t know, I took last summer off to attend the mind-bogglingly challenging and wonderful Odyssey Writing Workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire. I wrote a blog post about exactly how transformative the experience was, and it was just published here:
If you are a writer interested in attending Odyssey (my humble opinion is that any neopro fantasy/science fiction writer who can manage to take off for 6 weeks should strongly consider it*), please get in touch. I’d love to answer any questions you have and convince you to fill out that application.
The early decision deadline for the 2019 workshop is January 31. The regular application deadline is April 1.
*Yes, 6 weeks can be very hard, financially and otherwise. It’s worth noting that Odyssey does have financial aid and work-study programs. I considered it an investment in myself instead of going to grad school–hundreds of thousands of dollars cheaper, yippee for me!
You can also check out Odyssey’s winter online courses, one of which I am taking right now and is also great. Those classes only meet once every other week, making them easier to manage with one’s work and family schedules.
Any of my long time readers will (should? Meh; I won’t take too much offense if you don’t) notice that the site now looks different! I will continue to make incremental updates over the next few months–one big update might make more sense, but that would require admitting to myself that this is all one giant exercise in procrastination.
Seriously though: jmplumbley.com has been around since 2015 and not once have I altered its look or user experience. It’s about damn time. There are a few shiny new things that may be of interest to you:
A new series of “What’s New” posts (like this one) that are not about monsters (???!!!), but things in my actual life. And by “actual life” I mean fiction things, because let’s be real–I have no life outside of that.
Coming up, a (hopefully) better user experience re: sorting through old Monster Meet posts.
A new icon for the browser tab. It’s so small that you can’t really see what it is, but it’s a candle, folks. And I think it’s cool. WordPress logo, begone!
Hopefully these things are of at least mild use and/or interest to you. Otherwise, this is even more an exercise in procrastination than I feared.
Happy holidays, everyone! To celebrate the season, let’s talk about a flesh-eating scarecrow that sometimes maybe hangs around with Santa Claus.
Hans von Trotha (who now is better known as Hans Trapp) was a real 15th-century figure who lived on the woodland border between Germany and France. He was six and a half feet tall–which is tall even now, but at the time was near monstrous–and had a reputation for being kind of salty.
A high-ranking official gifted Hans two castles. The first was a piece of uninhabitable junk, but the second was Berwartstein, an impressive fortress on a hill. Berwartstein technically belonged to a nearby monastery, but Hans didn’t care. He loved the castle and hated the monastery’s abbot from a previous dispute over a church fine. So Hans accepted the gift and moved in, essentially giving the abbot a giant middle finger.
I’ll tell you the mythology first. The story goes that Hans became greedy and power-hungry to the point of being insatiable–he even made deals with the devil to consolidate his wealth. When the church found out the extent of his godlessness, they excommunicated and put sanctions on him.
Hans retreated into the woods, where the solitude (and his growing dependence on Satanism) drove him slowly insane. Along with insanity came the desire to feast on human flesh, specifically (because this is a Christmas story!) the flesh of children.
Hans concocted a brilliant plan to trap his first child: He would disguise himself as a scarecrow and lay in wait in a nearby field. Passing children would never realize who he was until it was too late.
Sure enough, before long a 10-year old boy came wandering past, oblivious to the presence of a madman under the stuffed shirt and straw. Hans stabbed him with a stick and then merrily carried him back into the woods, where he salted and roasted him. Hans was just lifting the first bite to his lips when a lightning bolt shot out of the sky and into his skull, killing him on the spot. God had had enough of his crap.
Coincidentally, Santa Claus happened to spring up in the same area around the same time. Santa took on silly, reanimated Hans Trapp as a helper–one who would not-so-subtly reinforce the dangers of being naughty. Now Hans travels with Santa each year, always reaching for–but never quite getting–that first bite of flesh he so badly desires.
Hans von Trotha: The Legend
If you’re like me, you got caught on Hans’s property tiff with the church, and then called B.S. when suddenly there were stories about him being a flesh-hungry Satanist. Of course it would be in the abbot’s interest to spread stories like that–he was pissed off that Hans had taken over his castle. It’s a throwing around of political power so that you hear about so often in history that it borders on becoming stereotypical.
So what actually happened?
It turns out that while (perhaps) not being a flesh-eating monster, Hans was still a dick of legendary status–enough to make everyone even outside of the church hate him. Not only did he refuse to give ground to the monastery that had once owned his castle–he built extra fortifications on it, and then, when the conflict reached its head, dammed the river leading to the town the monastery was in, completely depriving it (and all of the innocent townspeople) of water.
The abbot complained, and complained again, and then finally Hans said “careful what you wish for” and unleashed the water without warning, completely flooding the town and devastating it economically.
So there was no love lost between the townspeople and Hans. It was even said that he was a “robber baron”–a landowner that would tax roads inappropriately and kidnap people for ransom. By the time the abbot escalated the fight to the pope and Hans was excommunicated and sanctioned, the townspeople might have been a step away from storming the castle themselves with torches and pitchforks.
Hans survived the sanctioning, however, and died of natural causes in the walls of his beloved Berwartstein less than a decade later. The excommunication was posthumously lifted, but the townspeople didn’t fear him any less. In addition to the scarecrow Hans Trapp legend, they cast him as a “Black Knight” (not the Batman kind) whose spirit restlessly wandered the forest hills. They also passed around a story about him trying to rape an innocent virgin.
What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that even if things get a little tense between you and your neighbors this holiday season, do your best to de-escalate. You don’t want a little argument over who gets the best seat on the sofa to end in an accusation of eating babies.
Who would win in an epic rap battle: Krampus or Hans Trapp? Share your opinions in the comments below.
IMAGE CREDIT GOES TO: AdinaVoicu on Pixabay for the scarecrow sunset; Ji-Elle (of Wikimedia Commons) for Hans in the corner, and Ulli1105 (also of Wikimedia Commons) for the castle shot. The last fantastic illustration (or print?) is courtesy of the public domain.
Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers (and to anyone else who enjoys eating a lot and being appreciative generally)! For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time when we visit family and reminisce about decades past. Sometimes we even become something of the selves that we were in those years: Siblings rib on each other; younger generations roll their eyes at old-timer’s antics; and parents lecture their children about the dangers of the world, especially after dark.
As the nights get longer and colder, there’s a lot of dark to go around. This full moon, we’re going to visit a monster that is just as concerned with keeping you safe as the most paranoid of parents.
Welcome to Abbeville, land of free hugs
Abbeville is a town in southeastern Alabama that’s been around for almost 200 years. For at least half of those, parents there have been warning their children that after sunset–especially on those nights that are the blackest and most quiet–it is not advisable to be caught out of home. The familiar warning carries a special weight in Abbeville: There, anyone wandering the streets after dark is liable to get a visit from Huggin’ Molly.
The stories about Huggin’ Molly comprise a fairly transparent effort to get children to behave. Still, I’ll be damned if they aren’t effective.Molly is said to tower in the shadows, almost seven feet tall, wide as a door, and dressed completely in black (either a shroud, a cloak, or a dress and wide-brimmed hat, depending on who you ask). She moves quickly, often too quickly for anyone to escape. And if she catches you–when she catches you–you learn how Huggin’ Molly got her name: She wraps her arms tight around you, presses herself close, opens her mouth wide next to your ear, and screams.
Herding children since the late 1800’s
When discussing Huggin’ Molly, many cite the story of Mack Gregory, an Abeville native who had a run-in with the monster when he was a teenager in the 1920’s. Mack worked for a grocery store at the time, and had just finished his final delivery as it was getting dark.He was walking home when he sensed someone behind him. He turned and made out a figure following in the shadows: very tall, very wide, all dressed in black.
Mack walked faster, and the figure increased their pace to match. He slowed, and the figure, coy, slowed too. Knowing that he was unlikely to be able to outrun Molly entirely, Mack hurried at a jog until getting in sight of his front door, and then sprinted with all his might to get inside, slamming the door behind him.
When he looked back out again, Molly was gone. Her message, however, stuck around: From that point on, Mack refused to do another night delivery.
A similar story comes from the mother of another teenager who was out late. A sixth sense told her that he might be in danger, and she was compelled to run out to the porch. There, in the dim light of the night, she saw him hurrying up the way, a dark figure coming up fast on his heels. She screamed at her son to run, and held the door open until he could rush into the safety of the house.
In both cases, although the child got away, Molly still achieved her goal: She got their butts inside. Her legend was powerful enough to motivate not only the kids who actually saw her, but any who heard their stories.
Will the real Huggin’ Molly please stand up?
I love the Huggin’ Molly not only because she is odd and profoundly creepy, but also because at least at one time, she appears to have been based in reality.
Some say that Molly was never a ghost (contradicting what I had initially assumed), but a human with a supernatural talent for making people poop their pants. The original Molly might have been a mother distraught from the death of her only child, seeking comfort by forcing her love on other children. Another theory is that (especially given her size) she might actually have been a “he”–some grown man with an unusual interest in public safety, a cruel sense of humor, or both.
There are at least three situations in which Molly was definitely a human.The first involves a disgruntled professor from the Southern Alabama Agricultural College, which used to be local to Abbeville. Students from out of town liked to go out and visit friends at night, roaming the streets and generally causing a ruckus. The professor hated that. He donned the Molly disguise to scare them back to their beds. It is quite possible that he was the original Molly, and the legend simply outgrew him.
“Some unprincipled person is parading the streets of Headland at all hours of the night dressed as a ‘Woman in Black.’ It is frightening the women and children and causing our large number of dogs to be kicking up a racket at most any time of the night. I have been requested to notify the person or ‘Thing’ that it will be shot on sight by a certain husband and father whose wife and children were frightened out of their wits the other night. Somebody is likely to get ‘hurted’ if they don’t learn to behave themselves.”
No word on whether the announcement had any sort of effect.
Huggin’ Molly today
There are many who still remember the tales of Huggin’ Molly that they heard as kids–some who even might tell the same stories to their kids now. Either way, her legend is still going strong.
The last time that Molly was seen (that I have found recorded) was in 2010 during the annual Yatta Abba Day, a celebration of the Abbeville’s heritage. A local teacher was leading a tour through the cemetery when a dark figure appeared between the headstones and stormed away, scaring the living daylights out of everyone present. It is unclear if this was just a publicity stunt; if it wasn’t, at least no one got hugged.
Happy (almost) Halloween! To best illustrate the topic of today’s post (and in the spirit of the season), let’s start off today’s post with. . .
A spooky story
Late one fall night in Norway, some 300 years ago, a man (let’s call him Daniel) decided to take a shortcut through the woods. He was familiar with the path–the way was not long. He had spent all day in the next town over, and wanted nothing more than to wrap himself in a blanket in front of his own fireplace, and to sleep in his own bed.
The trees stood quietly as Daniel made his way down the path. Finding the soft noises of the night to be peaceful, almost soothing, Daniel paused for a moment to enjoy them.
A dark shape jumped out at him from the corner of his eye. Daniel looked up.
A child stood in the middle of the path. It was a little girl, no more than two or three years old and badly underdressed for the cold. She sucked on one knuckle morosely.
Daniel started to take a step forward. “Are you alri–” he stopped. Something was wrong. Her skin tone was off–gray, patchy; her hair was limp and matted; her eyes were too large, too flat, as if she were–
Dead. Daniel’s stomach dropped; he tried to scramble away, but the girl moved faster. With fantastic agility, she leapt onto his back. Daniel screamed and struggled to get her off, but she clung on tightly, clammy arms wrapped around his throat so that he could barely breathe.
“Take me to a cemetery,” she whispered into his ear. “Please, a cemetery, please.”
Daniel bellowed, feeling like his eyes were straining out of this head. He stumbled a few steps forward. The girl’s grip tightened.
“Hurry,” she said.
The nearest cemetery was i the next town over–Daniel’s hometown. The trip should take no more than 30 minutes, less if he ran. Daniel saw no other way out. He started to run.
The trouble was that the girl was much heavier than she looked, and with every step, Daniel swore that she was getting heavier. Though he was an agile young man, it wasn’t long before he was sagging under her weight. Daniel panted, and then wheezed. Still, he pressed forward.
Then his left foot sunk deep into the cold, muddy earth, and he nearly toppled over. The girl’s weight was literally driving him into the ground. Heart richoteing off his ribcage, Daniel pulled his foot out and lumbered forward. If he stopped, he was worried that the ground might swallow him entirely.
The trees were getting thinner now–he could see patches of the field by the church in the pre-dawn light. The church and its cemetery were right at the edge of town. He could make it. He had to.
But now every step sunk him deeper into the earth. Daniel cursed as he struggled to pull free his feet, then his ankles, then up to his knees.
They came out of the trees, into the field. A lone bird began to sing as the sky slowly brightened. Headstones loomed up ahead. They were so close. The girl’s arms tightened around his throat. She weighed as much as another man, as a horse, as a–Daniel’s ankle twisted, and the incredible weight on his back made something snap.
Daniel screamed, black dots crowding his view of the headstones and grass.
“Hurry,” the girl whispered.
“Hold on,” Daniel sobbed. “Please, I just need a minute–”
Light shined over the curve of the hill–the first rays of the sun.
“Too late,” the girl said. She gripped the sides of Daniel’s head and twisted. Daniel heard a pop, and the sun went out.
What in the Sam Hill?
We have Scandinavian folklore to thank for this one. A Myling is the vengeful spirit of an unbaptized or abandoned child that seeks to be buried on consecrated ground. Many encounters look like the one in our Spooky Story–Mylings latch on to unwary travelers and demand passage to a graveyard before sunrise, or else. Other stories feature them haunting the homes of their mothers, leaving behind bloodied corpses, and otherwise seeking revenge on those fortunate enough to have parents that kept them.
In all cases, the Myling is roughly the same age as it was when it was abandoned, and appears not nearly as decomposed as it should. It is often very large, very heavy, or both, and only gets heavier as you attempt to get it to consecrated land.* If by some miracle you succeed, it will leave you alone.
Otherwise, you can kiss your head (or innards, or whatever) goodbye.
The Myling are born from a practice that no one wants to talk about. Back in the day (and still in some places today), if a woman had a child out of wedlock, she could be faced with severe punishment, even death. (No word on any punishment for the man who made up the other half of the equation.) As such, incriminating babies were sometimes left out in the cold. Ditto for children born to families who didn’t have the resources to feed them.
In both cases, burials in Christian cemeteries were out of the question–not only could they be expensive, but to have a funeral, you would have to be willing to explain how your child died in the first place. Yet without a proper baptism or burial, the unwanted child’s soul could never be at rest. Hence, Mylings.
Ugly practices beget ugly monsters. A lot of angry spirit myths are born out of shame and tragedy, and this is no exception. Out of all of the Scandinavian ghosts, the Myling is said to be the most malevolent. Only they are willing to finish the business that the living are too cowardly to tie off.
On a less heavy note, you’re welcome for trotting out the creepy child trope.
When running to the nearest cemetery with a malevolent child ghost on your back, what is your first choice for footwear? Is arch or ankle support more important? What kind of tread works best for off-roading? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Special Message: Happy 50th, everybody!
In addition to being 2018’s Halloween post, this is our 50th post to this site overall. I think that merits some kind of celebration. Monster Meet is what I like to call a (Very) Slow Blog, but it has been a pleasure to return to these three years. I appreciate those of you who have stuck with it throughout. Here’s to the next 50 posts (which at this rate we’ll celebrate sometime in 2023…HAHAHAHA)!
*And good luck if you don’t know where the nearest cemetery is. Is there an app for that?
This full moon we’re going to Loveland, Ohio, a residential town cut in two by the Little Miami River. Loveland gets muggy in the summer and cold in the winter, and is home to lots of bridges, trails, and (according to some) foggy nights full of waist-high Frogmen.
An amphibious faceoff
Our first encounter comes to us in May of 1955.A businessman was driving down a poorly lit Loveland backroad around 3:30 am, so exhausted that he was struggling to keep his eyes open.Then he noticed three shapes standing standing off to the side (or on a bridge or under a bridge, depending on the story). Frowning, he leaned forward to get a closer look, and then woke up real fast. The figures were leathery, frog-faced bipeds between 3 and 4 feet tall, chatting and gesticulating at each other with webbed fingers.
The man slowed his car to a stop for some (rather justifiable) rubbernecking, and one of the Frogmen looked up.It lifted a wand up into to black sky, and shot a spray of sparks. As might anyone upon encountering a frog sorcerer at 3 am, the man hightailed it out of there, and the legend of the Loveland Frogmen was born.
Looking through the Frogmen literature (such as it is), one has to wonder if that faceoff didn’t start something.Most sources agree that the Frogmen are not generally aggressive, yet that first warning shot would be followed by an ominous watery encounter just a few months later, in late August.
There’s something in the water
Mrs. Naomi Johnson was swimming in the Ohio River (which Loveland’s Little Miami River branches off of) with her child and some friends. She had gotten about 15 feet from the shore when a clawed, furry hand wrapped around her knee. Mrs. Johnson screamed, struggled, and tried in vain to get away as the thing pulled, intent on dragging her under. At last she broke free and splashed toward land, only to have the hand grab her a second time.Mrs. Johnson seized an inner tube in desperation, and the slap of the plastic finally scared the monster away. She scrambled ashore, sobbing, and found her leg covered in bruises, scratches, and a giant green handprint that would refuse to fade for weeks.
Frogmen have been known to throw rocks at people who get too close, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a price to pay if someone stumbled into their watery home. Mrs. Johnson’s incident was pretty far from the initial sighting, and no one saw the actual assailant, but the connection isn’t impossible. Anyway, the next sighting, almost two decades later, would be pure, uncut anura.
Frog in the headlights
It was another late night, this time around 1 am, on March 3, 1972. Police officer Ray Shockey was driving carefully due to the icy conditions. It was a good thing he was–he and had just enough time to slam on the brakes when something scurried across the road ahead.
Like the previous Frogmen, the thing was between 3 and 4 feet tall, about 50 to 75 pounds, and with leathery skin reminiscent of a frog. Fully illuminated by his headlights, the creature rose from its crouch to stand on two feet next to the guardrail on the side of the road. It regarded Shockey frankly, eyes glinting in the light, and then hopped over the rail and disappeared down into the river.
Of course the other officers made fun of Shockey when he shared this story. But then his friend Matthews went down the same road a couple of weeks later, and the same thing happened to him. Matthews saw something on the shoulder and, thinking it might be an injured creature, got out to investigate. Then the Frogman stood up, looked at him, and smirked. It matched Shockey’s description exactly.
Matthews drew his weapon and shot it dead.
There is some debate about what happened next. Matthews claimed in later years that upon further examination of the thing (he put it in his trunk to show the others and vindicate Shockey), he discovered it was not a Frogman at all, but an enormous, tailless iguana. He hypothesized that said iguana might have been someone’s pet but either got loose or got too big and so was abandoned. “[The frogman is] a big hoax,” he told one reporter. “There’s a logical explanation for everything.”
Sidebar: boring logic
There are logical explanations for the 1972 sightings, as well as the ones in 1955. The year before that businessman had his fateful run-in with the Wizard Frogs was the year everyone saw The Creature of the Black Lagoon.It could have been that both he and Mrs. Johnson were influenced by this (as well as other cultural phenomena such as UFOs), and simply connected dots when there were none. Maybe something that looks like a giant tailless iguana is actually just a giant tailless iguana.
But it’s more fun to consider the other side of the coin. Proponents of the Frogmen emphasize that it was until later that Matthews came out with this iguana story–he said nothing about it at the time. Mrs. Johnson might also have gotten a visit from the government requesting her not to talk anymore about her little incident at the lake. And though Matthews said that the creature was almost dead when he shot it, the sightings haven’t stopped.
Frogbomination, I choose you!
The latest headline-creating Frogman sighting comes to us courtesy of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game that encouraged everyone to actually get out of their house for a few months. One night in August 2016, a teenager named Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend wandered over the train tracks to the dark shores of Lake Isabella. It was then that, as a local Cincinatti station (somewhat dramatically) put it, “a night of fun turned into a chilling tale of horror.”
They were looking for Pokemon, but found so much more. A giant frog sat by the water and, as they watched, got up and walked on its hind legs. Jacobs even taped some video of it (or, at least, some very bright eye reflections of it).
Jacobs recognizes that people might not believe him, but insists that the video is real. “I swear on my grandmother’s grave that this is the truth,” he said. “I’m not sure whether it was a Frogman or just a giant frog. Either way, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Neither have I, Jacobs. Neither have I.
Really, though, these guys shouldn’t always be hanging out in the middle of the road. What would be the repercussions of hitting a Frogman with your car? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
I love old maps. Maps used to be full of monster drawings, especially pre-17th century ones created for the upper class. Cartographers weren’t just trying to dazzle people–they were trying to educate them, and illustrated creatures based on real sailors’ reports. Why is it, then, that so many include a beast like this?
This full moon, let’s take a look at a specific example of one of these serpentine horrors: a Loch Nessian-style monster right here in the U.S.
Flathead Lake sits in northwestern Montana, and is the largest lake in the contiguous U.S. west of the Mississippi. It’s nearly 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, and can get up to 370 feet deep (over 34 stories). In short, it’s a lot of water. 75 million years ago, Flathead Lake was actually an inland sea, one full of sharks and the aquatic reptiles of the dinosaur era. Some people–lots of people: lawyers, doctors, policemen, engineers, biologists; locals and non-locals alike–say that not all of those monstrous species have left.
Take Julia and Jim Manley, who had considered themselves skeptics of the strange sightings. One beautiful, breezeless summer day in 2005, they went out on it in their boat to enjoy the water. When they tried to go home, their engine wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. They were stranded out in the open lake, with not a single other soul in sight.
Anxious, they called their daughter, hoping that she could come rescue them. She said she was on her way. But as the Manleys settled in for their wait, they heard a loud, heavy slap against the water. They heard the sound again–it was close, worryingly close. Then they looked over the side of their boat and saw it.
There were black, sinuous humps slithering through the waves–a giant chain at least as long as their 24-foot boat. As they stood in horrified silence, they saw something else coming at them over the horizon: their daughter’s boat. The monster slipped away into the water before she could see it, and the Manleys realized that now they were the ones who would have to convince those skeptical of the monster of Flathead Lake.
The first Flathead monster sighting recorded in writing was in 1889, when 100 steamboat passengers saw the beast and someone freaked out and shot at her. Before that, there was a Kutenai legend that involves a giant monster breaking through the lake ice and drowning half the tribe. All accounts are surprisingly consistent, in spite of people not knowing each other and outsiders not knowing what might be in the lake. “Flessie” (as the locals call her, a play on the very similar “Nessie” of Loch Ness) is between 20 and 40 feet long, eel-like, with dark brown or blue-black skin and dark eyes. Sighting reports roll in at a rate of about 1 to 2 per year, with 92% occurring between April and September.
The only time this varied was in 1993, when there were a whopping 13 sightings, some within 20 minutes of each other. With how big the lake is, that temporal proximity leaves us with a few possibilities: a) someone is lying, b) someone saw a log, or c) there might not be one Flathead Lake monster, but two.
Some reports say that nearly all people local to Flathead Lake have seen Flessie at some point; others say that there are fisherman that have been out on the water for decades without catching so much as a ripple. Regardless, the monster has been around for a long time, and doesn’t seem to be going away. Skeptics blame sightings on everything from a dead monkey to an escaped buffalo, but belief persists. Many who come forward to share their stories have been reluctant to do so, not wanting to seem crazy, but needing to share their story with someone. Perhaps it is to all of our benefit that they do.
You never know when it might be important to know where there’s a monster on the map.
What’s your favorite water-based cryptid? Share your thoughts in the comments below.