Wake up, sheeple! It’s the Sheepsquatch

Once upon a time, in the low mountains of West Virginia, a former Navy seaman decided to eat some mushrooms he found on the forest floor. The man–Edward Rollins–was in that forest to hunt for either the Mothman or a UFO, but after his choice of snack, he was in for a greater treat: Out of the woods came a bipedal creature the size of a bear, with matted, white wooly fur; curved goat horns; and hands like a raccoon. This monstrosity–half sheep, half ‘squatch–knelt at the edge of a nearby creek to lap at the water. 

A raccoon hand, for the uninitiated.

One could presume that if Ed were hunting for supernatural stuff, he would have some sort of camera or other recording equipment on him. But if he did, the terror of this strange beast (or maybe it was just the ‘shrooms again) stayed his hand. The creature reeked of sulfur; Ed could smell it from where he hid. When it finally stood up to lumber away, he bolted to his car, and the legend of the Sheepsquatch began.

Lambchop redux

The Sheepsquatch was spotted several times thereafter, and not just by people tripping balls. Other encounters cast it as a sort of ‘roided out version of Baphomet: 8 feet tall, a head half that wide, fangs, frightening speed, a humanoid scream. The same year that Ed had his little mushroom encounter, the Sheepsquatch startled a pair of children playing in their backyard and later a group of women driving on the icy roads of the TNT–the same area famous for all the Mothman business. In both cases, it spooked and ran away, leaving broken branches in its wake. 

A little mood setting.

All of this was in 1994. By ’95, the ‘squatch became pissed enough at people interrupting its business that it started to get aggressive. The next time a couple came upon it along the highway (it was squatting in a ditch at the time, and sporting an extra set of red eyes), it launched at them and nearly ran them off the road, leaving long scratches down the side of their car. In ’99, the ‘squatch emerged out of the dark to snarl at a group of campers, chasing them out of the woods and then destroying their campground so thoroughly that it looked like the soil had been tilled. 

Over the next few years, the Sheepsquatch would frighten various hikers and documentary crews. The last sighting was in 2015, with yet another group of ill-advised campers. This time, the story played out a little differently: One of the campers saw the Sheepsquatch silhouetted against the night sky and hurried to warn their friends about its presence. The campers stumbled out of their tents in time to see Sheepsquatch hesitate on the other side of the creekbank before wading toward them with murderous intent. But a guttural screech stopped its progress. The ‘squatch looked up, eyes wild, snout twitching in the moonlight, and then barreled away. The campers thought it best to follow its lead, stopping just long enough to warn the locals before getting the hell out of town.

Baa-ad company

The Sheepsquatch is sometimes categorized as one of West Virginia’s White Things, possibly because encountering either feels like a hallucinogenic nightmare. 

An image one might use were they to take the Sheepsquatch seriously.

The White Things haunt the same area as the Sheepsquatch, and are characterized as pale, ghostly harbingers of death. They move with unnatural speed and are prone to fiercely attacking their victims, driving them insane with pain but leaving no visible marks. A 1929 account by coal miner Frank Kozul describes a dog-like something launching at him out of nowhere, tearing at him in a frenzy with no sound but the gentle rustling of trees and the singing of birds. Another account describes a white figure knocking a hunter down a hill. He screamed with inconsolable terror that it was “ripping out his guts,” but to his fellow hunters, there appeared to be nothing physically wrong.

If we group the Sheepsquatch with the White Things, we get to imagine fun scenarios like it scarring a child by floating alongside a car at 65 mph. The theory goes that these White Things might all be different species of one phylum of interdimensional beings, ghosts, or cryptids. If the Sheepsquatch isn’t a mushroom induced hallucination, it really could be anything.

Spawn of Sheepsquatch

Regardless of where the Sheepsquatch came from, it has inspired some excellent creative activity. One gem comes in the form of a book elegantly titled “Sheepsquatch” (“Sheep” in white; “Squatch” in a messy, bloody red) and featuring some of the best cover art I have ever seen. The book appears to be one in a series of “Vapid Vixen Horror Romance,” authored by the subtly pennamed “I. Ronik.” I tried to buy a copy, but alas, they are no longer for sale. 

Art!

On a slightly more mainstream scale, Fallout 76 (an online roleplaying game, for the uninitiated) included a “Shear Terror” Wild Appalachia update that features the Sheepsquatch stealing a character’s brother. From the pictures that I’ve seen, the designers have elected to remove some of the Sheepsquatch’s skin for a more dramatic effect.

My hope is that these and other works of ‘squatch art will help raise awareness about this important issue, drawing more people into the woods of West Virginia and giving us more ‘squatch sightings. 🤞 

Until then, ewe will just have to stay put. 

Would a Sheepsquatch wool sweater be more or less itchy than a standard wool sweater? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PHOTO CRED: Gaby Müller for the manicure inspiration; Estelle Pizer for the flock; the Internet Archive Book for Mr. twisty horns; Suju for the mirror sheep.

Call me Ishmael: the great white Ningen

Sea monsters! Out of all cryptids, I find them to be the most plausible. We’ve only explored about 20% of the world’s oceans, and in that 20% have already found a lot of weird crap. Who’s to say there couldn’t be something stranger out there?

On an unspecified date in the early 90’s, on the lonely, icy waters of the Antarctic, a 60-foot long, pearly white something broke the waves next to a Japanese research vessel. Fearing that it might be a foreign submarine, crewmen ran to the railing to get a better look at it. Then they noticed that it had skin. And arms. And a face.

Before they could scream, the thing resubmerged, and the legend of the Ningen began.

Arctic
Sploosh.

It’s worth pausing to note the significance of the word “ningen”: In Japanese, it means (roughly) “human.” Naming a giant horror of a creature “human” suggests that behind the Ningen’s humanoid shape, the crewman perceived some uncanny intelligence or spirit. Given that the Ningen can get up to 90 feet long, that is something to be reckoned with.

Typical descriptions of the Ningen make it sound like an f-ed up mermaid: giant, bald, and white, it has (as I have mentioned) two arms and even five-fingered hands. Its nose-less face features only black eyes and a slit mouth. Its feet are often combined into an enormous fin, so that it can shoot through the antarctic waters at killer whale speed.

Those are the typical descriptions. Other descriptions characterize the Ningen as a roughly human-sized blob on two feet. How that and the god-like whale thing are categorized as the same creature, I’ll never know. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with the behemoth mermaid version, because clearly it is the superior one.

You can find the Ningen mostly in the cold waters of the Antarctic, possibly relying on hydrothermal vents to warm their freakishly human hands. What little information there is on them originated from an online forum called 2channel, and later a 2007 article in Mu magazine. The rest is internet speculation frenzy.

Ningen
I don’t even know, man.

There have been plenty of photos and videos released of supposed Ningen (or artistic interpretations thereof), but most of these are pretty clearly faked (or hilarious, as in the example to the right). Ningen believers claim this is because the Japanese government freaked out when researchers brought back photos of their definitely-not-a-submarine; they say officials buried those pictures deep and then entered into ongoing campaign to have further evidence destroyed. Much like with the U.S. government and aliens, non-specific government agencies have supposedly flooded the internet with a bunch of crap to make the public think that the whole thing was bunk and move on, all while they work on Top Secret Research about the creatures in the background.

It’s not impossible that there is something weird out there in the deep, cold ocean, and that there were real researchers that really saw it. But what was it that they saw? Cryptid and mystery-hunting sites have offered a number of explanations.

1. Ice.

Unsexy but fair. A lot of the pictures (especially this one and this one) look like ice chunks.

2. Funky-looking sharks, whales, or squid.

This is to say that the Ningen could either have been one of these creatures that was misidentified as a strange and god-like being, or could be a new species of one of these.

Manta ray
No.

3. A giant new species of manta ray.

I find manta rays horrifying enough that this, for me, would be worse than a 90-foot humanoid whale thing.

4. An aquatic sloth.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

5. Some kind of killer whale-type dealio that looks kinda human because of convergent evolution.

Unclear what exactly we’d be convergently evolving to handle, but hey.

6. A U.S.O.

Remember Lake Baikal? The counterpoint to U.F.O.s are U.S.O.s–unidentified submersible objects. This author offers that the Ningen might be some kind of alien ship. Go big or go home, right? And since we’re on the subject…

7. Aliens.

I mean…a lot of sea creatures do look like aliens. Proponents of this theory point out that it’s really weird that nobody noticed the ginormous Ningen swimming around until the 90’s. Rather than presume that’s because someone made them up, what if it was actually because the Ningen weren’t around until then? This would go a ways toward explaining why the government might be so eager to cover them up.

Anyway. With our ongoing climate-change-and-ocean-acidification nonsense, I think it’s safe to say that we’re probably pissing the Ningen off. Maybe they’ll use their strangely human hands to rip a ship in half, or at least to give Google Earth a rude gesture. I, for one, can’t wait.

What is your favorite fish-related pun? Let minnow.

Photo cred: Pixabay for the Arctic ripples, Michael Van WoertRodin for the two-legged Ningen, and asands for the manta ray.

How ribbeting: tales of the Loveland Frogmen

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.

frog eye
Like this, only much, much larger. (This might actually be a toad. The Frogman legend does not seem to be aware of any difference between the two, so we’re going to roll with it.)

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.

loveland frogman illustration
A helpful diagram, courtesy of Tim Bertelink over on Wikimedia Commons.

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

Frog
You say logic, you get this look.

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.

Trussst in me: the Flathead Lake monster

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?

sea monster
You know, the one with the humps?

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.

Per Julia: “The first feeling I had seeing it was just shock. I knew I was seeing it, but it’s so unbelievable to think about it–”

sea_serpent_cape_ann_1639
Like this, maybe, only the monster’s head wasn’t showing and also it was 2005.

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.

Consider this combined with with the accounts people have shared of schools of fish jumping out of the water, as if fleeing a massive predator.  Or the account of a man’s fishing nets having enormous, unexplainable holes in them. The account of the fisherman whose boat was violently rocked by a “monstrous shadowy shape.”  The account of the 3-year old that fell in the lake, and when asked how he survived, said “the Flathead monster lifted me up.”

Flathead lake Monster
Legit.

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.

All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. See map image here; old-timey illustration here, and glow-in-the-dark eyeballs here.

Dogs of war: the Hound of Mons

Ah, World War I: an especially large-scale example of humanity getting itself into way deeper water than it was prepared for. 18-year-olds marched bravely with bayonets, just as their fathers and father’s fathers had done before them, to face enemies with mustard gas and machine guns. Add to that a dash of corpse-clogged trenches, a pinch of aggressive rats, and a heavy dose of feet-rotting mud, and you start to run out of adjectives that would adequately describe the experience. When I think of that war and what it did to people psychologically, I think of this photo:

Shell Shock 1916
A Canadian Soldier in 1916 who is pretty damn far from okay.

So that’s pretty much the baseline for this post. When your world is that inside out, what sort of supernatural monster could keep you up at night?

Let’s situate ourselves in the Belgian city of Mons. Mons was the place where the British entered the war, and the place where its last shot was fired. The official Battle of Mons is nigh legendary, where a group of British soldiers defied the odds and held off a large number of Germans for two weeks before being forced back. During that battle, men reported visions of angelic archers coming to the Allies’ aid. But we’re not here to talk about inspiring things. We’re here for what happened after.

According to Canadian Captain F.J. Newhouse, on November 14, 1914, a man named Captain Yeskes took four men out to patrol no man’s land. They never came back. This in itself was not unusual–”no man’s land” was not so named for its hospitality. But when another team went to recover their corpses, they found them not riddled with bullets as expected, but punctured with teeth marks, throats torn out.

Corpse in Trench
I think this post has the best ambience images yet. (Courtesy of Anders on Flickr)

That was bad enough. Then, a few nights later, as the Allies shivered in the mud of the trenches, an animal howl ripped through the camp. The link between the sound and the bodies was easy to make. They gave a simple name to this new, unknown terror: the Hound of Mons.

Over the next two years, many more soldiers would be found ripped apart among the blackened tree stumps and strings of barbed wire. Cries of pain and that long, terrible howl would echo through dark, either uncomfortably close or at a distance, near the trenches of the Germans. Some reported a grey shadow flitting through no man’s land, fast and low to the ground. It seemed that something had come up from hell itself to frighten the men to death.

And then, without warning, it all stopped. The beast was never seen again.

Civilians looked down on these stories as hysteric fantasy–British propaganda–but Newhouse claimed there was proof that the creature that been real. Secret papers had been recovered from the residence of the late German doctor Hochmuller–notes from an experiment as terrible than the war itself.

According to the papers, Dr. Hochmuller had hunted down and then cut the brain out of a man driven insane by his hatred of the Allies. Hochmuller transferred said brain to the body of a giant siberian wolfhound, abandoning the man to die.  After a few months of training, he let the wolfhound loose on the battlefront. Sure, there might have been some friendly casualties, but by and large, this experiment had been a success. The hound had been the ultimate German weapon.

Now, many have noted that there are issues with Newhouse’s story–his dates don’t line up with historical events, for one. There is no record of Hochmuller ever existing, and Yeskes almost certainly didn’t. Even with today’s scientific advances, a transplant of that caliber is not possible. Yet I don’t doubt that the terror in the trenches was real.

World War I was the first time dogs were used in a large scale, organized manner; one website postulates that the Hound of Mons might be an exaggerated, politicized account of the breeding of the German Shepherd.  It could be that soldiers saw stray dogs eating the corpses of their friends, and lost it.

Even if it wasn’t dogs, the hound could have been a desperate effort to rationalize what was happening with the rats. That is where my money would be. There are accounts of rats as big as cats, fat with human flesh; rats gnawing through up people’s eyes before they burrowed into their corpses; rats attacking and eating injured men who couldn’t defend themselves. Seeing something like that could easily leave a soldier spinning tales about hell hounds as a method of comfort.

In the end, demons might have been preferable to reality.

What’s your favorite type of puppy? Any adorable Youtube recommendations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

WANT MORE HORRIFIC WWI PHOTOS? Check out Anders on Flickr here.

I spit at thee: the Mongolian death worm

Ivan Mackerle–Czech cryptozoologist extraordinaire–was well-known throughout the 1980’s for his work on the Loch Ness monster. But around 1990, his eye turned east, away from wet, green Scotland to the dry sands of the Gobi desert. There was a creature there that the western world had only heard about 50 years before–a species of monster that had never been photographed, and for which physical evidence had never been found, but which the Mongolian nomadic tribes feared and swore was real. Mackerle aimed to find it.

His guide warned him that it would not be safe. Some years ago, the guide said, he had been on a team with another scientist, a geologist visiting the Gobi as part of a field trip. One night the geologist, bored and deep in thought, idly poked an iron rod into the sand. He screamed and crumpled half a second later, dead before he hit the ground. His horrified friends rushed forward to see what had happened, but stopped short when the earth beneath the corpse began to churn.  Something heavy and red crested through the sand, and then out burst a fat, hideous, writhing thing: thick as a man’s arm, eyeless, angry. It was the olgoi-khorkhoi, the large intestine worm, or, as it was known to the west: the Mongolian death worm.

allghoikhorkhoi
Juicy!

Mackerle knew the score. The death worm–reported to grow to almost three feet in length–was said to so aggressive and dangerous that you’d be a fool not to flee from it, never mind look for it. It not only spat a thick yellow acid strong enough to corrode metal; it was said to be able to send electric shocks powerful enough to wipe out an entire herd of camel. Indeed, camel and other livestock were some of its main prey: after they were dead, it would lay its eggs in their intestines, baptizing its spawn blood-red for life.

In the 1920’s, Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinzabar desperately asked Mackerle’s predecessor Roy Chapman Andrews to bring him a specimen to study. “It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death,” the minister described. “It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert.”

Andrews swept all over the Western and Southern Gobi, but failed to find anything. He concluded that the creature must just be a myth.

Mackerle wasn’t so sure. Contrary to Andrews’ experience, he was finding that people did not want to talk so much about the worm anymore. They seemed afraid. That just made him want to find it more.

SAMSUNG TECHWIN DIGIMAX-230
The Gobi desert.

Mackerle gathered enough information to learn that the worm was active mostly in June and July–the hottest months of the year, where temperatures could hit 122 degrees Fahrenheit.  He noted that the worm was said to hang out around the strange parasitic plant goyo, from which it might derive its poison. He thought it might leave marks in the sand as it passed–the only warning a traveler might get before it thrust out, bloated, and exploded acid in their face. He borrowed a page out of Dune and tried to summon the creature with vibrations, then with explosions. Nothing ever came. Still, the whispered rumors of the Mongolian nomads infected him–the creature had to be real, he thought. He couldn’t stop looking.

He came back in 1992, this time with more cameras and video equipment to make a documentary. Monks at a buddhist monastery warned him to stop. The creature, they said, was supernaturally evil, and should not be pursued. His life was in danger. Mackerle didn’t listen. There were too many mysterious deaths, too many second-hand stories that coincided too well. Andrews had failed, but he wouldn’t. He was Mackerle, the great cryptozoologist.

Then, one night, he visited the chilly white sands of the Gobi in his dreams. There, at last, he saw the great, red, terrible beast. When he awoke, there were blood-filled boils down his back.

Mackerle never found the worm. Nor did his successors in 2005, 2007, and 2009. Perhaps the creature lived in the forbidden area along the China-Mongolia border, some said. Others claimed it might be a cover-up: conspiracy theories cited a rumor that someone had actually captured a dead specimen, only to have it stolen away by Russian scientists. Regardless of the reason, no one could argue with the result. There was (and still isn’t, to my knowledge) not one shred of proof that the Mongolian death worm existed: even with all modern technology, not so much as a blurry photograph.

Biologists argue that the worm probably could not exist. There are no known land animals that can produce an electric shock–that’s the domain of electric eels and other fish. They also say that the worm could not actually be a *worm*…something that large would need a vertebrae, never mind some kind of outside protection to be able to survive the arid desert. Perhaps the worm is a misidentified snake, or some kind of legless lizard. But if that’s the case, why have we never seen a body? Wouldn’t the desert preserve it perfectly?

Some argue that if the Mongolian death worm ever lived, the lack of recent sightings signal that it’s now gone extinct. I am not so pessimistic. The Gobi desert is rapidly expanding, swallowing 1,390 square miles of grassland a year on its southern edge alone. As usual, humans are to blame. As the sands creep toward more densely populated territory, other things might creep with them. We might get our death worm picture sooner than you think.

What’s the best Instagram filter to bring out the color red?

Have you ever spat into someone’s face before? How about laid your eggs in their intestines? Share your story in the comments below.

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.


Hot diggety dog: Black Shuck

I lived in England for a few years when I was little, and had an imaginary friend. If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you might remember the Shadow People and the nightmare that scared me so badly. This was the counterpart to that. Some kids imagine happy-go-lucky playpals; I had a silent jaguar made of shadows. He was so real to me that I could almost make him out if I squinted in the dark.

Browsing for a monster interesting enough for a Halloween post, I came across a British phantom not unlike my long-lost companion. Given that this full moon is the Hunter’s moon, I figured the topic would be especially appropriate. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Black Shuck.

blackdog
Liza Pheonix’s artist depiction, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. (CC license 3.0)

There’s quite a bit on ole’ Shuck out there, as he’s been haunting Britain’s East Anglia (just northeast of London; coincidentally the area I lived in) since at least 1577. On August 8th of that year, during one of the worst storms in memory, an enormous black dog burst into a crowded Blythburg church. Racing through the panicked congregation, he killed two people and then made his escape, leaving scorch marks on the door. Almost at the same time in Bungay (a few towns over), the scene repeated itself with another black dog and another church and more of the faithful slaughtered. There’s a lovely rhyme that goes with the legend:

“All down the church in midst of fire, the hellish monster flew, and, passing onward to the quire, he many people slew.”*

The countryside erupted in terror. Was this demon canine a manifestation of the devil? Retribution for everyone’s sins? The Black Shuck obsession was born.

Though Shuck may have existed before–black dogs were common additions to the dark party of the Wild Hunt, and people accused of witchcraft were said to have called upon beasts much like him–after Blythburg, the legend really took off. For the next five centuries, people would see horrible hounds lurking in churchyards, blocking crossroads, peering out of bushes, bearing down roads. Shuck didn’t enter a church again, but seemed to be everywhere else. Anyone who laid eyes on him was doomed to death or misfortune. The fear was common enough that Conan Doyle picked up on it for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Those unfortunate enough to behold Black Shuck described him as a hellhound. As his name suggests, he was entirely black, with ragged, matted fur (‘shucky’ colloquially meant shaggy or unkempt) and big, shining, red (or often red) eyes. He was usually large (could get as big as a calf), and was sometimes accompanied by clinking chairs or curling mist he might float on. Some people heard or felt him without seeing him directly. He surprised others by appearing without a head.

Mike Burgess’s site Shuckland analyzed 261 accounts of the creature (comprised of legends and actual encounters), and found that in most cases, Black Shuck would first appear to witnesses in rather ordinary (if creepy) ways. This included crossing their path, coming up behind them, or just appearing on the horizon, watching them get closer. Burgess notes that in such cases, people might not immediately realize what this black dog was, especially if his eyes weren’t glowing and he wasn’t floating or missing a head. Many times Shuck would ignore the witness entirely, but now and then he would follow them or become suddenly hostile.** Shuck’s exits were what really marked him as supernatural: he would stand unharmed as a car ran through him, or vanish into walls or shadows, or simply disappear into thin air.

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Abraham Fleming’s original 1577 description, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Black Shuck sightings do still happen now and again, but not with the regularity that they used to (encounters peaked in the early 20th century and then again in the 1970’s). Those who don’t believe in monsters blame the birth of his legend on a mishmash of leftover Nordic myths*** and tales spread by 16th-century clergymen looking to put a little fear of god in their peers. But recently surfaced evidence suggests that at least at one time, Black Shuck may have been terribly real.

In 2014, the bones of a very large dog–we’re talking 7 feet high on his hind legs–were unearthed in a shallow, unmarked grave under an abbey just a few miles from the original church attacks. Analysis revealed that the dog would have weighed over 200 pounds, and could have been buried  between either 1650-1690, 1730-1810 or post 1920 (I know…I’m not sure how carbon dating works, either). All signs pointed to Shuck. Who so hastily buried this beast under the church? What damage was done before they could?

This Halloween, I wish you a new pet at least as exciting. I hope he does all kinds of tricks. Be it the shadow-jaguar of my childhood or a floating, headless hell beast, may your friendship be lively and your nights very, very long.

Happy haunting.

What sort of imaginary friends did you have as a child? Has any animal ever stuck to you a little too close? Share your story in the comments below.

*Presumably the author of this rhyme meant “fire” to signify either lightning, church candles, or an ethereal glow; as for “quire,”my guess would either be the bible or a literal “choir” (just spelled rather differently).

**Shuckland has a marvellous wealth of encounter descriptions; if you have a few hours to kill, I would recommend checking them out.

***Burgess disagrees with this theory.