Part of your world: terror in the depths of Lake Baikal

I’ve always loved marine biology. Aquatic creatures and plants are so distinct from what we experience normally that they often border on the fantastic. Deep water life is a special treat: it remains a poorly-known frontier, and so excites wonderful, terrible possibilities. We humans have felt the weight of those possibilities for some time, which is why I think there are so many monster stories that come from the water. This month, let’s visit a few in a Siberia.

olkhon_island_and_lake_baikal
Lake Baikal, courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

To call Lake Baikal a mere “lake” might be doing it a disservice. Formed by the slowly yawning gap between two tectonic plates, it is the largest, deepest, and most ancient freshwater body on Earth. To be specific, Lake Baikal has more water than all of the U.S. Great Lakes combined, and reaches a depth of 1,642 meters (or, for us Americans, a little over a mile). At 25 million years old, it has been around more than 4 times longer than the human race.

That’s not the only way Baikal is impressive. The lake is also considered one of the world’s clearest–one source says that you can see as far into it as 130 feet. Surrounded by Siberian mountains, it is teeming with rich biodiversity: over 80% of the life in and around Baikal is made up of creatures that can be found nowhere else on earth.  In short, the lake is an extraordinary place. It’s no wonder people have attributed magic to it.

Let’s start with the happier stuff. If you take a dip in Baikal’s waters, rumor has it that you’ll live a longer, healthier life–provided you don’t suffer hypothermia (in the winter, the ice can get to be over 6 feet thick). The lake is also associated with a couple of historical celebrities: Genghis Kahn was born on one of its islands, and Jesus himself supposedly once visited, as well. Looking out over the waters, he raised his hand, and proclaimed with satisfaction that “beyond this, there is nothing.” (This was said to account for the problems 19th-century Duaria (the land beyond the lake) had with growing corn.)

Frozen Lake Baikal
A frozen Lake Baikal, © Sergey Pesterev via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond that, Lake Baikal has proved to be a bit of a deathtrap. Earthquakes strike every few years. You can walk over the lake when it freezes, but woe to the man who goes unprepared. In 1920, the retreating White Russian Army attempted the cross, only to find themselves buffeted by freezing winds over the open expanse of ice. Many died of frostbite and hypothermia. Their corpses had to be left behind, frozen to the surface until they sunk with the spring thaw.

Locals living around the lake have reported ghosts boats that appear and disappear without warning, as well as boats (and crew) of their own that disappear. As recently as 2011, 4 experienced men piloting the Yamaha vanished near an area of the lake known as the Devil’s Crater. There, whirlpools are said to suck ships down like toys in a bathtub train. At the bottom of the pools, some whisper, lies Hell.

But out of all the delights that Lake Baikal has to offer, my favorites are the extraterrestrial ones. According to UFO enthusiasts, those deep waters are not going unused.

I’m not well-versed in UFO lore, and so was surprised to learn that it’s common to see crafts around–or in–bodies of water (though “in” would make them Unidentified Submerged or Unidentified Underwater Objects). Lake Baikal is no exception: not only mysterious in its own right, it is one of the biggest UFO hotspots in Russia. The surrounding villages have witnessed hovering lights in various colors and formations, as well as silent discs that have floated low in the sky for so long people threw rocks at them from sheer boredom.

On more than one occasion, these UFOs have dove into the lake to escape human pursuit. For a long time, Baikal was too deep and dangerous for anyone to go after them, or indeed to explore very deep under the surface at all. Thanks to modern technology, that is no longer the not the case.

Underwater cave with diver
Some say that the many tight, poorly explored caves under Lake Baikal might be a good extraterrestrial hiding place.

The first reported underwater anomaly came in 1977. A pair of scientists took a submersible some 3900 feet below the surface and turned off their lights to study how far sunlight could penetrate. After a few seconds of darkness, they were blinded by two spotlights shining at them above and at their side. Before the men could figure out where they had come from, the lights went out, leaving them alone in the dark once more.

The second incident happened in 1982, this time with military divers using Lake Baikal as a training ground. In the middle of their drill, a few strange underwater vehicles zipped past them, going much faster than anything the Soviet navy was capable of at the time. The ships were gone long before the soldiers could follow.

Then there was the third–and probably most famous–incident. Just a few days after seeing the strange vehicles, the same navy divers swam right into a group of 3 other, unexpected divers. These were almost 10 feet tall, decked out in silver suits and helmets, but with no other signs of scuba gear.

The men were ordered to capture the swimmers (referred to by the commander as Ihtiander, a shark-boy from modern Russian mythology) . The soldiers tried, but the silver suits evaded them. Each human found himself blasted to the surface of the late, riddled with decompression sickness. 4 of them managed to get in a decompression chamber in time to save themselves. The other 3 died shortly thereafter.

All this came out a few years ago, when (allegedly) military documents describing the event were declassified. The Russian government, of course, claims that nothing of the sort ever happened.

Lake Baikal circles in ice
One of the circles in question. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons and the ISS Crew Earth Observations Experiment

Regardless, interest in the lake and its possible extraterrestrial inhabits persists. In 2009, strange circles in Lake Baikal’s ice led to arguments over what might have created them: global warming or underwater spacecrafts. There’s a lot of stuff to explore, and a lot of people passionate about it. Ex-navy officer and UFO researcher Vladimir Azhazha says it best:

“I think about underwater bases and say: Why not? Nothing should be discarded, skepticism is the easiest way: believe nothing, do nothing. People rarely visit great depths. So it’s very important to analyze what they encountered there.”

 

What horrors have you found at the bottom of the pool? Share your story in the comments below.

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Tall, Dark, and Phantom? The Shadow People

This topic is of particular interest to me.

When I was a child, my family moved to a small house. I had a small room, and a bed crammed next to a long closet with a sliding door. It was a difficult time in my life–my mother was sick, and I was too old to go to my parents after waking up from a nightmare, though I had several. I was careless, and often slept with books on the floor and my closet wide open. That would change in a matter of seconds–after that, I wouldn’t sleep without it shut–and tight–for almost a decade.

It was late night, or very early morning. I’d had another bad dream; I no longer remember what about, and it doesn’t matter. I was awake. I’d left the closet door open, and right next to my head. I could see into it, shadowy in the grey light of the night.

Someone waited inside.

He came out slowly, though it wouldn’t have mattered how fast he moved because I was frozen to the mattress, scream caught in my throat. He was large, black, and featureless, with a shape like Frankenstein and movement like a sprite. My stomach dropped to my feet, and he reached one square hand toward my face and lunged toward it.

“Nightmare,” he whispered, and then dissolved.

I went to my parents’ room after that.

By ]Timitzer on Wikimedia Commons

Encounters with shadow people are so common that dozens of forums, blog posts, podcast episodes, and Youtube videos are devoted exclusively to them. The most comprehensive source seems to be shadowpeople.org, which hosts everything from accounts  to advice on how to rid oneself of any supernatural guests.  While experiences vary (some shadows only appear in a person’s peripheral vision, while others see multiple shadow people head-on; some feel merely unsettling, while others are actively malevolent; some occur only once, while others happen every night), there a few uniting patterns. A visit from a shadow person often involves:

  1. A humanoid black spot–often in the shape of a male–where there should not be one.
  2. A feeling of being watched, though the shadow in question will have no eyes, nor any features to speak of.
  3. The dissipation of the shadow as soon as light is cast or prayers are said.

There is ordinarily no attempt at communication, nor any particular violence, though that is not to say there can’t be. An Australian woman by the name of Ann Williams claimed to be sexually assaulted by a shadow person, and pointed to scratches and bruises left by the encounter. Other people have been burned, stalked, and chased. Generally, though, the shadows just watch, and more often than not, they watch while you’re sleeping.

This latter fact has led many to blame the sightings on sleep paralysis, a lovely state in which the victim is caught between sleeping and waking. In this, the sufferer’s body remains immobile, even as his mind fights to wake up; this often leads to terrifying hallucinations. While the sleep paralysis theory tidily explains the numerous bedtime visits, it does not account for the sightings people have had while up and about–in their kitchen, in their living room, in their yard. For these, skeptics point to mental illness, drugs, or flat-out fabrication. But with as many sightings as there are, isn’t it worth entertaining the thought that these visions might be something else?

There are as many theories about what shadow people could be as there are types of people who have seen them. In an interview with Art Bell on Coast to Coast Radio, a man calling himself “Thunder Strikes” claimed that we have indigenous North Americans to thank for the first record of our immaterial friends (dated around 1153 b.c.), though it would seem that theirs is far from the only culture that featured them. Most thought of the shadow people as demons, or as a type of ghost. Many people today agree with them, and claim the only way to end a visitation is by praying, invoking the name of God, or clutching a cross. Others say that the shadow people are aliens come to spy on us before they take us away, or take us over. But here at Monster Meet, we hear about demons and ghosts and aliens all the time. There are more interesting theories out there.

One is that the shadow people aren’t malevolent at all. Instead, they are impartial time travelers, come to observe our era in a way unrecognizable to us. This is a wonderful thought, and if it is the case, hello, future humans! So nice to meet you, but if you could please explain why you tried to grab my face?

The second–and even more interesting–theory is that shadow people are beings from a parallel dimension. Most scientists agree that other dimensions exist, and that some are just a short shift away from our own. Is it so much of a stretch to say that a more advanced species might be able to break that barrier? Proponents of this theory often point out that as our world gets closer to discovering the fourth dimension, shadow people sightings have increased; they point to the outbreak of encounters beginning in 2001 as evidence. Our friend Thunder Strikes goes a step further, claiming that these beings are drawn to our world to feed off our emotional energy and chaos. This casts the shadow people a sort of “energy vampire,” and might explain why they often reveal themselves to the troubled or emotionally disturbed.

Regardless of what they are or why they’re here, many agree that the shadow people aren’t going away. An about.com poll asked whether the shadow people were a new or old phenomenon, and the results were divided between “It is an old phenomenon just getting more attention now” (45%) and “It’s an old phenomenon, but one growing in frequency and intensity” (39%). All in all, 2319 people responded, making this a more popular issue than other polls on anniversaries, arthritis, and compliments.

If–oh. There’s–there’s something over your shoulder. Anyway, off for the night now; best of luck!

Have you ever encountered a shadow person? Cloaked or hatted, solid or immaterial? Have you seen the one with the red eyes? Share with us in the comments below.