Just slap some spackle over it: Castle Houska and the gateway to Hell

About an hour outside of Prague, alone among thick forest, swamps, and mountains, there sits a 13th-century castle atop a sheer limestone cliff. The castle Houska (Hoe-skuh) has no outward-facing fortifications, and is guarded only by a lone statue of the saint Ludmila, now weathered and half-covered with moss. Houska cannot be reached by bus, and is too remote to bike to. The only way in is by car.

Castle Houska
Castle Houska.

Though the years have added new structures and purpose to Houska, its original, deeply odd shape remains. It must have taken an enormous amount of time and resources to erect that original structure, but when it was finished, there was little in it that made sense, and even less to encourage human habitation.  Houska was not positioned along any trade route, political line, or militarily strategic position. There was no water nearby. There was no kitchen. Some even claim that many of its windows were fake–stone frames that looked pretty from the outside, but let no light within. 

Most strangely of all, the castle had no fortifications of any kind. At least–it’s fortifications were not facing the outside. All instead turned within, aimed toward a chapel built over layers upon layers of heavy stone slabs. 

The walls of the chapel are thick. Unusual frescos stretch along them: Saint Michael the Archangel skewers a horned demon. A left-handed centaur aims her arrow at another woman’s throat. As the sun lowers down over the mountains, light disappearing off the altar, screams can be heard echoing from under the rock. 

The chapel.

Pit of despair

One of the great things about Houska is how far back its story goes. It could well be that humans inhabited (or avoided) its site since pre-recorded history. The stories that we can corroborate begin around AD 900, when a Slavic prince built a wooden castle there in honor of his beloved son. No sooner did people start to move in did a great crack split underneath of it, releasing unspeakable horrors that quickly left the castle abandoned and the surrounding countryside in terror. 

For 300 years, giant creatures with leathery wings stalked the sky, picking off livestock and travelers that got too close to the hole. Half-human, half-beast hybrids attacked people in the woods. Crops wilted and died. Any effort to investigate or seal off the hole was met with frustration at best. It was so deep that none could see its bottom; though the villagers tried to fill it with rocks, it simply swallowed them whole.

Come the mid-1200’s, one Duke Ottokar decided that something had to be done. The Duke set up a little experiment: prisoners condemned to death would be released from their sentence if they would agree to be lowered into this pit and report back on what was down there. The first man to go was a young, eager fellow. He held tight to his rope while the crowd watched the shadows of the pit swallow him. The rope went a little further down, then a little further. Then the screaming began. 

Ludmila trying to keep them demons at bay.

The man’s howls echoed in the hole, his rope trembling in the hands of the men desperately pulling him back up. By the time he reached the surface, it was too late. The man’s hair had gone completely white, skin withered and gray, eyes wild, speech hysterical and rambling. He blubbered about a terrible smell, screams in the dark, and then lapsed into incoherence. A few days later, he would die without offering the frightened people any more information. 

Some say that the Duke repeated experiment a few more times after that, with similar results. Others say that after seeing what happened to the first guy, no other prisoner volunteered for the job. Either way, if it wasn’t obvious before, it was now: The pit was clearly a gateway to Hell. It had to be covered up.

Down the rabbit hole

The Duke set his men about the long and expensive task of saving the countryside. First the pit was covered with tons of heavy slabs. Then they built  a chapel on top of that, with the hope that its symbolism and power would keep the demons permanently at bay. Around that chapel they erected a castle, all of its fortifications built inside out: it was not meant to keep invaders out, after all, but in. 

It was a great effort, but not entirely a success. To this day, disturbing visions plague Houska’s surrounding hillside: A horse (or man) runs full speed, their headless stump of a neck gushing blood. A woman in white peeks out of the castle walls. A group of shackled men shuffle forward, carrying dismembered body parts and cringing against attacks from a great black dog. 19th-century poet Karel Hynek Mácha spent the night and not only saw a disturbing funeral procession, but also had a prophetic dream of the year 2006. It’s not exactly a walk in the park. 

A shot of Houska’s interior.

Add to that the strange, sometimes evil things that keep happening there. Houska has been used variously as a hunting lodge (it is filled with an insane number of deer heads), a dumping ground, and a sanitorium. During the ugly Thirty Years’ War, a sadistic Swedish officer named Oronto took up residence in the castle, hoping that its power would boost his black magic. In a last, desperate effort to stop him, a party of hunters set out to shoot him down. They finally managed to get him through a window of the castle, but as he died, he called out for his black hen–presumably in an effort to work some spell to keep himself around for a while yet. While he didn’t survive, his spirit did, and haunts the castle still.

Then there were the Nazis. Houska was one of several castles that they holed up in during the war, where they stored thousands of confiscated books. It is said that they might have conducted human experiments within the castle walls. Certainly they would have tried to plumb its depths for knowledge of the occult–one of their increasingly desperate tactics to get any edge they could. We may never know; when the Allies defeated them, they burned all records, leaving only nasty memories (and a set of bikes) behind. 

Flip that castle

Has the bright light of modernity made the castle any happier of a place to be? Yes and no.

“Yes” in that there are no longer human experiments conducted there (so far as I know…). The castle is now open to the public and can be visited April through October. There are brightly lit, cheerfully decorated parts of it that would fit in in an episode of Gilmore Girls. These can be rented out for various personal, corporate, and artistic occasions–you can even have your wedding there

“No” in that weird stuff keeps happening. Car batteries won’t start. A wine glass floated several feet into the air in the middle of a conversation. A couple that was winding down in the hunting lodge one evening heard a loud thump.  Alarmed, they turned and were faced with two shadowy figures, which approached and started whispering about killing little girls.

Houska, ext.

But modern science and historical sleuthing can explain this stuff away, right? The visions could be the result of noxious gas leaking out of the crack in the limestone. The reason that Houska didn’t have the usual human accommodations or strategic positioning could be that it was built simply as an administrative building. 

The Astonishing Legends podcast (besides being a great resource for those who want to dig more into Houska in general) explores the gaps where these common explanations don’t quite make sense. Why would Duke Ottokar choose to build an administrative building over a giant hole in the ground? Houska is not situated over a volcano…any noxious gas that the initial crack might have produced should have dissipated over the centuries, right? And what kind of gas would it be, exactly, that would cause everyone to have the same types of visions over the years, that wouldn’t automatically kill anyone who got close enough, and that, instead of making people tired and dull, would make them active and fearful (like the poor sap that was first lowered into the pit)? 

My favorite myths are ones that can’t be fully dismissed. Houska is one of them. If nothing else, it is a bottomless pit of mystery, and will hopefully leave us guessing for years to come. 

Did you know that “Houska” means “braided bread roll” in Czech? Figure out the significance of that sh*t in the comments below.

IMAGE CRED: A big thank you to Ladislav Boháč for Houska in the hills; Scary Side of Earth for both the chapel and the chandelier; ŠJů (cs:ŠJů) for Ludmila; and ladabar for Houska’s exterior.

Not someone to look up to: Mikoshi-nyūdō

This will by Monster Meet’s first post on a solidly Japanese monster, and I have to say: I have no idea how I haven’t written about one until now.  I love old Japanese monster mythology for the same reason that I love old Fae mythology: it is both magical and deeply creepy, and makes (to me) an unnerving intuitive sense.  

Take the name of this monster for example: mikoshi-nyūdō. Nyūdō (at least according to Wikipedia–if I have any readers fluent in Japanese, please help me out) translates to priest–specifically, a tonsured (read: the fancy haircut with the bald spot on top) Buddhist priest. Mikoshi means anticipation, expectation, and “looking over the top (of a fence).”

Is your skin prickling yet?

When met on a dark road (or a bridge or intersection), the mikoshi-nyūdō will at first appear to be a harmless priest or monk. If you’re lucky, you might get a couple of warning signs–the “wara wara” sound of whistling bamboo, the presence of a third eye, or sudden sprouting of hair.

mikoshi-nyūdō 1776
The priest’s expression may also be somewhat of a giveaway.

After that, there a set number of ways that the situation can play out. Almost none of them are good for you.

Scenario 1: The signature move

As you come closer to the mikoshi-nyūdō, his neck will stretch so that he reaches towering heights as fast as you can look up to watch him. Typically this will result in you (the victim) craning your own neck or falling back in shock, whereupon the mikoshi-nyūdō will lunge forward and rip out your exposed throat.

Congratulations! You have just become a stereotypical mikoshi-nyūdō victim.

Scenario 2: The staring contest

Say that you’re a more aggressive type (or are like me and would stupidly ooh and aah at the presence of a supernatural creature), and just stare at the mikoshi-nyūdō head-on.  Unfortunately for you, the mikoshi-nyūdō is much like a Lovecraftian Old One: You can’t look at him for any extended period without being struck dead with a fear. So whether you try to follow his towering eyes or just gape at his skeletal chest, you’re still lunch.

Scenario 3: Fly, you fools

mikoshi-nyūdō
“I’ve got the bamboo right here.”

Okay, so you can’t really look at the mikoshi-nyūdō without dying. Wouldn’t it make sense to say, walk around him? Pretend like he’s not there? Wrong again. The mikoshi-nyūdō will not like being ignored, and will run you through with a bamboo spear (or two, or several), and then maybe crush you into a pulp for good measure.

Whether you determine that that is better or worse than getting your throat ripped out is a personal choice.

Scenario 4: The attempt to GTFO

See the results of scenario 3.

Scenario 5: Grovelling

There’s a story about a merchant who was travelling late one night and suddenly felt unwell. He got off his horse to take a break, and then looked up and saw a figure standing a little way down the road. It was almost 13 feet tall, and its eyes shone like mirrors. The merchant hit the ground, trembling in fear, and the thing ran at him, jumped over him, and disappeared.

Badly shaken, the merchant made it to a nearby house and asked if there were strange things or ghosts around those parts.The family replied, “what, like a mikoshi-nyūdō?”

The merchant made it to his destination, but lost all appetite and fell ill with a fever. He died 13 days after the encounter.

So no, grovelling doesn’t work, either.

Scenario 6: Calling the bluff (or, the only thing that might actually work)

Mikoshi-nyūdō with cigarette
“Womp womp.”

The only real way to survive a mikoshi-nyūdō encounter is by calling the monster out. If you encounter a priest late at night and his neck starts to grow, look down, not up, and tell him “You lost! I anticipated your trick!” This is supposed to make the mikoshi-nyūdō so furious that he vanishes.

Other methods of pissing him off so much that he goes away include smoking tobacco (to show how not intimidated you are) and calculating its height by a margin (say, your thumb) before he can try to bamboozle you.

In conclusion…

What have we learned today? Meeting a mikoshi-nyūdō in the wild is not recommended. All in all, the best policy seems to be to cover and just yell “you lost!” at any priestly passerby.

Also maybe turtlenecks. The jury’s still out.

Happy new year! My resolution is to do more neck stretches. Share yours in the comments below.

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.

And you’re not going to reach my telephone: Satoru-Kun

If you know anything about millennial stereotypes, you know we hate talking on the phone. Nothing spikes anxiety like the implication of someone’s choice to call rather than text. Fortunately, internet spawn Satoru-Kun has saved my generation face: thanks to him, breaking out into a cold sweat when your phone starts to buzz may no longer be an overreaction.

Satoru-Kun is one of those CreepyPasta-esque urban legends whose origin is unclear. Sources put his “birth” sometime around 2011. Supposedly he’s Japanese, though a Google search reveals that most of the content about him is in English, Spanish, or Portuguese, so do with that what you will. He’s not Slenderman-famous, but he’s well known enough to have a piece of fan art or two, as well as to be featured by a few blogs and several Youtubers–my primary source material for this post.

Youtube for Saturo-Kun
Thank you kindly for the perfect image for this post, Maurits Knook of Flickr.

In brief, Satoru (whose name means “to know” or “understand) is a ghost and/or demon who looks like a 8-year-old boy but houses such a repository of knowledge that he can answer any question about the past, present, or future. Ostensibly that’s why people risk calling him: to get the answer to a burning question. But because Satoru-kun is a creature of the internet, let’s be real: people are calling him for with the hope that his arrival will get them views or likes.

Most content about Satoru borrows from these instructions, which detail how to summon him. The ceremony seems relatively simple, and requires only a cell phone (if you’re smart, you’ll make it a burner), a payphone, and any necessary change to operate it. But if Youtube has taught me anything, it’s that simple in theory does not mean simple in practice.

Payphone for Saturo-Kun
On second thought, you might want to include a fourth requirement: hand sanitizer. (Photo courtesy of By Paul Sableman over at Wikimedia Commons.)

First, you approach the payphone. This task alone baffled several Youtubers, especially American Youtubers. (To quote one that provides a lengthy explanation of what a payphone is and why they have passed out of favor: “Like, finding a pay phone is nearly impossible, guys.”) It does not matter what time you approach said payphone, but if you are a Youtuber asking viewers to “smash the like button,” it might serve you to do it at night for the best effect.

Next, insert the requisite coins into the payphone. (This, too, proved difficult for for a couple intrepid Youtubers, but I digress.) Tradition says it should be 10 yen, but depending on what country you’re in, yen may not get the result you’re looking for. It should be coins, though, and not a calling card.

Now, dial the number of the cell phone you have reserved for this task. Once you have answered your own call, speak into the echoing abyss:

“Satoru-kun, Satoru-kun, please come here. Satoru, Satoru, please show yourself. Satoru, Satoru, please answer me if you are there.”

Once that is done, you hang up and then turn off your cell phone. For many, this was a more harrowing trial than the prospect of facing a ghost.

Now the fun begins: within 24 hours, if you have done everything correctly, Satoru will call you back, even though your phone is off. He will whisper his whereabouts and hang up. A short while later, he will call you again, only this time he will be closer.

And then again, closer.

The process repeats until he is in your building, then down the hall, and then, at last, right behind you.

Let us be clear: there is no room for tomfoolery here. You do not hesitate, you do not turn around, and by god (do people really have to be told this?), you do not touch him. You ask your question quickly, listen to his answer, and then stay the hell put until you are 150% sure that he is gone. Do that, and you will survive as a wiser person; you can destroy your phone and move on with your life. Fail, and he’ll take you home with him, and by “home” I mean the burning bowels of hell.

Shockingly, Saturo did not show up for any Youtubers I watched.* One (who called using his brand new I-phone…apparently he wasn’t on the up-and-up so far as the “destroy your phone after it is done” part goes) did receive a call while his phone was off. It showed up in his call history as a series of red zeros with a call origin of…wait for it…Canada. There was some excitement over this mystery in the comments, though a few pointed out that red numbers simply mean that you missed a call. I did some Googling and found that a number of people have received calls from 0000000000, and when they’ve picked up have gotten everything from total silence to the Republican National Committee. So not sure if we can call that one a success.

Regardless, the concept of Saturo-Kun is a fun one. The next time I can’t decide what to have for lunch, I might just give him a ring.

What sort of mystery caller would get you to pick up the phone? Or is that a line that you would never cross, even when faced with death? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

*One commenter wondered if that might be because they were summoning Saturo in the wrong language. That might be. It might also be because several were aggressively mispronouncing his name.

ENJOYED MAURITS’S FLAMING YOUTUBE IMAGE? FIND MORE HERE.

Dead baby jokes: Lamashtu

This month, let’s talk about old fear. Ancient Mesopotamian religion kicked off as much as 6 thousand years ago, but the spirits of its deities can still be recognized today: Tammuz, god of food and vegetation; Dagon, god of fertility; Enlil, god of breath. All were thought to be like humans, but immortal, shining so bright that they could not be looked at. They were not mystical beings, but masters that humanity should obey and fear.  Most of them were good, or at least chaotic-neutral. One of them was not.

Lamashtu was a deity that destroyed lives. She did it not because she had to, but because she wanted to. She was distinct in that way from her peers, who might be destructive, but were so under obligation, or with some purpose other than destruction for destruction’s sake. Lamashtu personified a fear as old as the human race: fear of losing a newborn. She took the already bloody, dangerous process of delivery and made it that much worse.

Known for her signature move of ripping babies from breasts to slurp their blood and gnaw on their bones, Lamashtu appeared as a mythological hybrid with a hairy body, a lioness’s head, donkey’s teeth and ears, a set of long fingers and fingernails, and sharp bird talon feet (what is it with female monsters and taloned feet, anyway?). She was often depicted standing on a donkey, simultaneously gripping snakes and nursing a pig and  a dog. When not terrorizing the living, she traversed the underworld in a boat. Her name meant “she who erases.”

lamashtu_name
Lamashtu’s name in cuneiform, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The style her name was written in signaled her power and deity status. 

Beyond kidnapping, Lamashtu’s rap sheet included (but was not limited to):

  • Killing children
  • Killing unborns
  • Killing infants
  • Torturing/attacking mothers and expectant mothers
  • Eating men and drinking their blood
  • Disturbing sleep
  • Bringing nightmares
  • Killing foliage
  • Infesting rivers and lakes
  • Bringing a lot of disease/sickness
  • Bringing death

lamashtu_plaque_9161
The plaque in question, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Lamashtu appears at the bottom center. Pazuzu is the dude to her left, as well as the guy grinning over the whole scene like a Disney villain over the front of a 90’s VHS tape.

Understandably, the Mesopotamians were terrified of Lamashtu and did everything they could to discourage her visits. Expectant mothers wore amulets with the sign of Pazuzu, Lamashtu’s husband/rival who was not super great in his own right (he tended to bring famine and drought), but was the only person who might get her to stop. Amulets are hardly the only protective artifacts we’ve found, however. Especially in the first millennium, anti-Lamashtu paraphernalia was everywhere. Fun tip: there is (or was recently) an actual Lamashtu exorcism plaque on display at the Louvre (field trip, anyone?). It depicts the exorcism scene with Pazuzu watching. The patient reaches out in pain; priests in the fishskins of the god Ea crowd around him. Lamashtu appears large and terrible at the bottom, barely held back by Pazuzu. The inscription describes her as furious and cruel, a dazzling goddess; she is a she-wolf; she snatches the young man on the path, the girl at play, the child from the arms of his nurse.”

I’ll leave you today with an ancient Mesopotamian ritual and incantation against Lamashtu-induced illness. Those of you who fear for your family’s safety–or who see long, strange fingers peeking around your doorframe when you’re lying sick in bed–perhaps will find the information useful. The ritual goes as follows:

  1. Procure a Lamashtu figurine. (This is stumbling block #1. Good luck.)
  2. Place a sacrifice of bread before the figurine, and pour water over it.
  3. Put the figurine on the back of a black dog.
  4. Have the black dog carry the figurine to be placed at the head of the sick person for three days.
  5. Stuff a piglet’s heart in the figurine’s mouth, and leave it there for the duration of those three days.
  6. Offer further food sacrifices, and recite your incantation thrice daily:

Great is the daughter of Heaven who tortures babies

Her hand is a net, her embrace is death

She is cruel, raging, angry, predatory

A runner, a thief is the daughter of Heaven

She touches the bellies of women in labor

She pulls out the pregnant women’s baby

The daughter of Heaven is one of the Gods, her brothers

With no child of her own.

Her head is a lion’s head

Her body is a donkey’s body

She roars like a lion

She constantly howls like a demon-dog.

7. At dusk on the third day, take the figurine outside and bury it near the wall.

Easy-peasy, right? At least the stakes aren’t life or dea–oh, wait. Yes they are.

I’ll leave you to it.

How many dead houseplants and brutal sinus infections can you blame on Lamashtu? Share your story in the comments below.

Spring-heeled Jack: An Energetic Victorian Nightmare

Eighteen-year-old Jane Aslop did not want to go outside. It was dark, cold, and too late at night for any ordinary visitor, but the ring at the gate and her curious family compelled her to investigate. As she crossed the yard, she picked out a cloaked figure hunched just beyond the wall.

“Hello?” Jane asked. “Can I help you?”

“I am a policeman,” the figure snapped. “Quick, bring a light! We’ve caught Spring-heeled Jack!”

Jane knew that name, and trembled as she ran to fetch the officer a candle. He snatched it from her, pulling her arm. Then, instead of turning away, threw back his hood and held the light to his face.

Jane screamed. The man was not an officer, but a hideously ugly devil, with bulging eyes and a strange helmet. He grabbed her face and neck with metal talons, pulling her towards his chest, and then opened his mouth and vomited blue fire.

Jane screamed again, and, struggling, managed to break away and run back to the house. The thing caught her at the doorstep, pinning her down and scratching her, ripping out chunks of her hair. Her sisters, hearing her cries, came and managed with difficulty to pull her away. They stumbled back inside as a group, slamming the door her attacker’s face. The fiend did not stop, but pounded at the door.

Afraid for their lives, the family rushed upstairs and hung out the windows, screaming for the police. Only then did the devil laugh, turn, and vanish back into the dark. Jane collapsed against the door and sobbed with shock.

Spring-heeled Jack had come again.

springheel_jack
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Though he might be familiar to British audiences (as well as fans of the show Luther, as I learned after writing this article), Spring-heeled Jack is, at least to me, new news. Most accounts put him in and around London from about 1837 through ‘67, though there have been sightings of him as late as the 1930’s. Miss Aslop’s was one of the first–and biggest–cases that brought real attention to his name. Jack was said to be a tall creature (with some reports putting him at ten feet), often dressed in a light-colored suit or oilskin and a dark cloak. He had talons in place of fingers, bulging eyes, and a strange lamp held to his chest. Most important of all, Spring-heeled Jack was said to be able to bound fifteen to twenty feet in the air, which he often did to attack his victim or escape the police. He was impervious to bullets. More than once he breathed fire.

Jack was fond of leaping through the night to terrorize people on the street–especially women walking alone–and, when that didn’t entertain him enough, attacked people at their own homes, playing games where he rang the bell and waited to reveal himself as a monster. He sexually assaulted, scratched, slapped, and beat people, tore chunks of hair from their head (as mentioned in the Aslop case), and caused carriages to crash by jumping suddenly into the middle of the road. People were driven into fits of fear at the sight of him, and did not recover for days. Many efforts were made to apprehend him, but none were successful–scapegoat after scapegoat passed before the local judges, but even when a few men were put away, the attacks continued.

As time passed, the monster morphed: a flame-spitting demon became a transparent ghost, a poltergeist, or just a good, old-fashioned assailant. Toward the end of his heyday, Jack took to torturing a group of sentries, sneaking up during the night watch to slip a cold, clammy hand over one of their faces, or slap them, hard, before laughing and bounding away again. Those in charge of the station issued threats, but to no avail–Jack continued to torture them, even giving one guard two black eyes. The attacks only stopped when the guards started to carry guns with live ammunition with them during their shifts at night.

And there was the curious thing–the thing that has led many to believe that Jack might not have so been supernatural after all. He seemed to respond to violent defense, even as people claimed he was impervious to their weapons. There were those that whispered, too, of a wager between a handful of young aristocrats to scare the public–a wager that got out of hand. Perhaps Jack was human, after all.

But if that were the case, not all of his appearances could have featured the same person. Fire breathing alone, for example, is a very particular skill. The money and time one would have to have to buy and craft so convincing a costume limits the candidates who might have pulled it off, as well–never mind the time it could take to do the pranks themselves, and in varying parts of the country. Even if the game was solely that of those aristocrats, and if two or three of them spread out to do it, they surely would have aged over the thirty years that Jack reined, which would make his exploits rather difficult at the end.

There remains also the issue of the jumping–even an Olympian champion might struggle to make the types of bounds ascribed to our bogeyman. Though we cannot underestimate the power of public imagination, the original claims must have come from somewhere. In his comprehensive and well-researched paper on Jack and his legacy, historian Mike Dash discusses the possibility of a special type of shoe that might assist such dramatic leaps, but ultimately dismisses it as an invention as likely to be dangerous to the wearer as to his victim, especially on as varied terrain as that of London and the English countryside. So if it wasn’t a shoe, and the accused aristocrats weren’t all better than Olympians, how do we have accounts of Jack bounding over carriages, or onto buildings?

Even if we ignore the issue of the jumping, and how particular a person would have to be to able to convincingly pull off Jack’s antics, the fact remains that, if we accept that he is human, more than one person must have done it. And that brings us to the true horror of the story. We know for certain that the original Sping-heeled Jack spawned dozens of copycat criminals who sought to hide their rape, burglary, and murders under his supernatural guise. Add the possibility of several people acting as the original Jack himself, and we have an enormous number of brutalities committed under his name.

Perhaps it does not matter so much whether or not Jack himself was real, if the horrors he inspired were.

spring_heeled_jack-penny_dreadful
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Have an excellent full moon my friends, and a better Thanksgiving.

If one can jump for joy, can they also jump for horror? Perhaps Jack was merely trying out a new aerobic routine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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.