When I first announced the Lazarus taxon Project, Anya was one of the first to to volunteer. It wasn’t long before she joined on to this project that we first started following each other on Twitter. Since then, she has become a positive force in my writing and reading tendencies. Her story here, “I Will Rise,” is a jaw dropper. It left me dumbfounded by how good it is! A beautiful story, wonderfully executed. You can follow her @Traumahound23
Her subject was the Jersey Devil and above, is the original sketch of the creature. The legend goes that Mother Leeds, supposedly a witch, had had twelve children, and was pregnant with a thirteenth child in 1735. She claimed that this child would be the Devil. The child was born normal, but suddenly morphed into the stereotypical image that we associate with the creature. Since then it’s been haunting the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
Whether it’s true or not, the legend is responsible for this fantastic story. Get ready for “I Will Rise” by Anya J. Davis!:
The screams do not wake me this time. They echo on the edge of my consciousness like a distant radio signal, fading in and out. It is the voices, the footsteps, far too close to the canvas, that draw me back. I roll onto my side and reach out instinctively. For one blissful moment, everything is calm. For a split second, as I lie cosseted in my sleeping bag, I am swaddled in denial, cocooned in a dreamlike world from the past.
But there is nothing to touch, nothing to hold on to. As my hand falls on the cold, rough groundsheet, images flash through my mind, a montage that makes my heart contract and the familiar dread wash over me. Every day for two years, I have endured this. One brief moment of contentment, before I am dragged to the edge of the void.
This time, I do not cry. I open my eyes and struggle out of my sleeping bag. Grabbing my torch, I crawl towards the tent flap. I fumble with the zipper, cursing my incompetence before eventually managing to slide it upwards, and I scramble out. The chilly night air makes me gasp as it hits my lungs. Autumn is staking its claim on the forest, creeping in through the trees under the cover of darkness.
Somewhere, beyond the burning embers of one of the campfires, there is movement and a murmur of voices. I switch on my torch and walk towards the sounds. As I get closer, the beam reveals a concerned man and two teenage boys. They stare at me for a second, as they try to discern the figure behind the light, but their attention is drawn away from me by another distant, unearthly scream.
‘Did you hear that?’ The youngest boy’s eyes are wide, his body poised ready to run, although whether towards or away from the sound, it is hard to tell.
‘You know what that is? It’s…it’s…’ Breathless, he stumbles over his words. I do not wait for him to finish his sentence. I step past him and shine my torch towards the treeline before replying.
‘It’s the Jersey Devil. I know’.
I’d heard the screams before, here in the darkness of Wharton State Forest, ten years ago, almost to the day. They had haunted me since then, not because they scared me, but because hearing them had been a sign that we were close, so close. We came no closer after that. The noise that had initially been a source of so much excitement became a symbol of our failure, of my frustration at the fruitlessness of our search.
It was the searching that had brought us together, Simon and I. We continued searching throughout our relationship, sometimes together, although as the years went by, more frequently alone.
Looking back, of course, it should have been obvious that the passion we shared for cryptozoology wasn’t the same at all. I was searching for proof that there was still something magical in this world,something that hadn’t been corrupted and ripped apart. Simon’s obsession was examining the evidence with the sole intention of proving that no such mysteries remained. We were both searching but we were searching for different things.
At the time though, our paths led us to the same destinations. We wandered the shores of Loch Ness, watching the waters for signs of the elusive monster, and we clambered to the top of Cornwall’s granite tors, scanning the wild moorland in hope of a glimpse of the Beast of Bodmin. We pored over books and newspaper reports of sightings of creatures around the world, and had heated debates about the latest theories. Our fieriest disputes, however, were reserved for the times when we discussed the object of my personal cryptozoological addiction, my beloved Jersey Devil.
Simon was adamant about the matter. The Jersey Devil did not exist. It was nothing but the protagonist of cautionary tales propagated by parents keen to ensure that their little ones did not venture into the vast Pine Barrens alone. Its non-existence was indisputable fact and, as far as he was concerned, the case was closed. And yet, as the ultimate declaration of his love, on the morning
of our wedding, he revealed his gift to me. A honeymoon in New Jersey, hunting the Jersey Devil.
The romance of the trip was punctuated by argument after argument as we trekked through the forest each day. But on our final night, when we both woke with a start to hear the legendary screams for ourselves, something changed. We exchanged barely two words on the seven hour flight back to England and the Jersey Devil was never mentioned again.
But I never let go of my Devil. It was my constant companion, my secret love. And now, I am back in the Pine Barrens continuing my search alone.
This time, I take the screams as a different sign. A sign that I am on the right track, on the path to some kind of closure. We stand, the four of us, listening, peering into the darkness, but no further sounds emanate from within the trees. Five or ten minutes pass and I return to the warmth of my sleeping bag, although fear of staring into the abyss again prevents me from drifting off.
By 9 A.M, I am already on the trail, the packed sand crunching beneath my well-worn hiking boots. Rays of sunlight fight to break their way through the shade of the pines and a soft breeze causes the leaves to whisper as it caresses them.
Whispering. I had heard so much whispering in the past two years. Whispering in the street, whispering in the aisles of the supermarket, whispering at the Doctor’s surgery, whispering at the bus stop. At first, it was low and secretive, packaged together with pitying looks and wavering smiles. But as the days and weeks went by, it became louder, more pointed, more accusatory.
‘She must have known. How could she not have known? I would have known, wouldn’t you?’
But I hadn’t known. I hadn’t known a thing.
I watched in horror as the grim-faced officer pushed Simon’s head down to guide him into the back of the car. I stared at the television screen in disbelief, curled up under a blanket on my sister’s couch, as they tore our home up, piece by piece. Even when the proof, the indisputable proof, was revealed, I still did not know anything. A kitchen knife, a blood-stained shirt. The tiniest fragments of a black evening dress, an azure blue top and a pink angora sweater. Stashed away under a loose floorboard in the guest bedroom, they confirmed the facts and yet left so much unresolved.
I did not know until I saw him standing in the dock, his pleading, apologetic eyes gazing into mine. Suddenly, I saw it all, the deception, cowardice and lies, and I fled from him, whoever he was, whoever he had become or had always been. I fled from the packed courtroom, from the prying eyes and the incessant whispering.
The whispering of the pine trees, though, is soothing, free from judgement, lulling me as I trek along the snaking path. I move on, a stillness within me, something strong and serene.
It is a stillness so different from the unnatural calm that overcame me when the news arrived from the prison. I wasn’t shocked. It had come as no surprise. He could never have survived life behind those Victorian granite walls and so he had found a rapid solution, a permanent way out.
I grieved, but more for everyone who he had destroyed than for him. I grieved for someone I had lost so many years ago, for a man who had never existed. I grieved in private, wearing a mask of cold, hard stone whenever I left my new and sparsely-furnished rented flat, wary that any sign of emotion would be taken as a sign of guilt. And I tried, minute by minute, hour by hour, to find the strength to reconstruct my life.
I couldn’t escape the whispering though, or the stares that followed me everywhere I went. I moved away, I changed my name, I dyed my hair, but the past still found me, blocking me at every turn.
And so, I used the last of my savings to come in search of the only thing I still had faith in. I came back to the Pine Barrens to seek solace from my Jersey Devil, in the midst of the whispering trees.
I leave the main path and make my way deeper into the forest, keen to avoid any other hikers who are trudging along the trail. I crave peace, the absence of gossiping, chattering voices. I stride further and further onward, until my muscles burn and my feet feel like I have walked over hot coals. Eventually, I reach a clearing and sit for a moment on the trunk of a fallen tree, savouring the tranquility, before removing my boots and massaging my weary calves.
Just to my left, there is a rustling of foliage, a scuffling. I expect a deer or another hiker to appear, but nothing does. Curious, I put my boots on again, hurriedly lacing them while trying not to make a noise. I pick up my backpack and move into the forest as stealthily as I can, searching for the source of the sound. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see something. A dark shape, a strange shape, a shape taller than any man, moving between the pines. My heart feels like it’s slamming against my rib cage as I try to make sense of what I have witnessed.
And then it emerges from behind the mottled, moss-covered trunk of a nearby tree and takes a tentative step towards me. I am frozen to the spot, my limbs no longer my own, and a rush of fear makes me dizzy. It stands in front of me, its vermilion eyes glinting, its antlers majestic, and I hear the crackling of leather as it unfurls and then closes its wings. Transfixed by the creature, I am overwhelmed and all my mind can do is to repeat the same three words over and over again.
You are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are beautiful.
And then he is gone, slipping away into the forest, and I am left alone, lost and so alone. Hours seem to pass as I stand here, although it is only a matter of seconds. I fight the urge to follow him and return instead to my makeshift seat in the clearing, looking over my shoulder every few steps to check that he is no longer there.
I sit, trembling, wondering what to do next, shock and exhilaration clouding my mind. Suddenly, the fog clears and all I can see is the creature’s eyes staring into mine. And I know, I know for certain, this is no monster, no demon, no child of Satan. The legends and whispered tales that have circulated for centuries are wrong. I know, for all I saw in those eyes was fear. And I know that my beautiful Jersey Devil and I are kin.
And I know, I know for certain now, that unlike my Jersey Devil, I will hide away no more. Tomorrow, I will return to my home town. Tomorrow, I will not flee from the gossip and the whispering. Tomorrow, when I look in the mirror, I will see something beautiful, not a monster tainted by the past.
Tomorrow when I will reveal my wings, I will soar above them all.
Like most of the writers I know, I know them on Twitter. Andrew Shaw is no different, except that he’s a comic writer. A pretty damn good one, in fact. And this is his first stab at a short story, ever, and it’s pretty damn good. Most of our bonding has been over various comic titles, including Hoax Hunters, which lives on in its own way through this project. Andrew has also been a supporting force in my own writing. I can always count on him for a retweet or feedback on a particular story. You can follow him @andrew_shaw23
The Lizard Man has a greater mythology than most may realize. The writing of David Icke features them heavily as the masterminds behind our society now. Pat Lee’s Extraterrestrial Compendium puts them in league with the Grays for the fate of humanity. Andrew’s story is on a smaller, but more infamous scale. His story is based on Christopher Davis’ encounter with the Lizard Man on June 29, 1988, which left Davis with a mauled car. Andrew takes this tale and flips the script, turning it into a survival tale from the Lizard Man’s perspective.
Now presenting “Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp” by Andrew Shaw:
The pink things keep cutting me off.
Every time I near their black pass, the shiny beasts they travel in zoom past, scaring me further back into the forest. I needed to cross; my female and offspring await me.
Our food sources had run dry, and no food means death to us all. I had journeyed far, crossed under the pass of shiny beasts, looking for prey. Then the rains came, cut off the passage, stranding me on the other side. Now my only way is to cross where the pinks things are.
I got to the edge, hidden by bushes. The shiny beasts scream past, the noise is terrifying. I waited, hoping for a break.
A smaller beast came towards where I hid. A loud popping noise caused it to slow, then come to a complete stop right in front of the bush I was hidden behind. A young pink creature got out, heading around to the side. He was draped in strange coloured skins, covering his whole body and feet. Only his paws and head were uncovered. The smell coming from the open door was awful, stale food and body odours.
The creature opened the back of the beast, lifting up its backside and pulling out several strange looking objects. He also removed a spare leg of the shiny beast. Seeing this, I knew these pink animals were not to be trusted. I came to the conclusion that the pink thing meant to amputate the broken leg, replacing it with this new one. Another device, a small, diamond-shaped thing, looked like some kind of trap. The creature obviously was to use this to trap me, and do the same to my leg. I needed to get away, but I needed to cross the black pass, which was now behind the pink thing.
I had no other choice.
Rising from my hiding spot, I ran towards the side of the shiny beast, where the pink thing had moved with his trap. I slowly snuck around, until I was directly behind the pink thing. It had finished the amputation, and had attached the new leg. The diamond trap lay on its side next to the pink creature. I let out my biggest scream, trying to make myself sound more terrible than I actually was. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was more terrified than I have ever been in my life. I had never come so close to one of these things, and it might’ve been my last moments. The pink thing let out an even bigger scream, but this one was filled with panic.
It was terrified by me.
I used this to my advantage, slashing at the shiny beast. Sparks flew from it as my claws ripped at it’s hard flesh. I slashed more and more, carving bits off. I was starting to enjoy being this frightening animal, when I remembered where I needed to be. I took off running, heading away from the pink and shiny beasts, and into the dense forest on the other side of the black pass.
When I felt safe, I stopped and turned back to look at the pink beast. It had scrambled into the metal beast and was leaving, quicker than I had ever seen either type of beast move. I let out a sigh.
I was safe.
As I wandered back in the direction of my female and offspring, I thought of my encounter. The pink creature was more frightened of me than I was of it. From then on, if I was ever to encounter them again, I would use this to my advantage, and to keep my clan safe.
Mothman may be the most frightening cryptid on this list, at least as I’m concerned. After reading The Mothman Prophecies by John. A Keel, I was genuinely scared. It also stands as the last book that ever frightened me. And it’s that book and a documentary that sparked conversations about the creature between Angi and I.
Angi Black is the writer I envy most on Twitter. Her skill is polished, and even a fun story like this makes my jaw drop. We have bonded over our fandom for Supernatural, which comes through in this story, as well as countless other pieces of pop culture. She’s also great for hugs. You can follow her on Twitter @AngiNicole722.
I’m not going to tell you the story of Mothman because The Mothman Prophecies is a book that deserves to be read.
And now… “Mothman: Harbinger of Doom” by Angi Black
The headlights cut a swath through the fog as the Camaro rounded the corner.
All I wanted was a little peace and quiet. Is that too much to ask? Can’t a winged-guy get a little R&R? The car slowed to a stop in the middle of the road. The driver, a smug twenty-something with more looks than brains, walked around and coaxed his girl out of the car. She shivered in the cooling night, her arms drawing tight around her, the blond ponytail attached to her head swaying. Smugly handed her his letter jacket and took her hand.
“I swear to God this is where they saw it. Right here. It flew down, plucked them up, dropped them down, then flew away.”
Ponytail looked around with a not-impressed-in-any-way-face. “I don’t see anything.”
“Well, that must mean nothing bad is going to happen. He only comes out before that, like a…”
I could almost see his mind go blank.
“Omen?” Ponytail offered.
“Yeah. An omen. The Mothman. Harbinger of doom!” Smugly said it like you would announce a villain on a weekly superhero serial.
This guy, for crying out loud.
Somehow, this act of idiocy had charmed Ponytail. I decided to make a break for it while they made out. I really did have to cross the road. Chickens, Mothmen, we all have our reasons. I was already late for dinner and Ma would never let me hear the end of it. I’m sure my brother and sister were on time and that would make it worse.
I crept along, trying not to disturb the leaves and twigs in the thick woods. Thick woods. I chuckled to myself and kept on my way to the road. Five steps in I snapped the first branch beneath my foot. Ah hell.
Ponytail pushed Smugly away. “Did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear anything.” He moved in for another kiss just as I took another step and broke a second twig.
It was like amateur hour. But in my defense, I am a mothman. We’re not really known for grace and agility.
“That! Did you hear that?”
He’d heard it all right. His head swiveled in my direction, fear glazing his eyes.
“Yeah. C’mon. Let’s go.”
She stepped away. “Let’s go? Really? I thought that’s why we came out here. To see the Mothman. “
“It was. I mean, but I didn’t think we’d see it.” He scurried around to his side. “C’mon, Betty. Get in.”
She crossed her arms and stomped her foot. “No. I came out here to investigate and I’m going to investigate.”
Luck finally landed on my side when a semi rounded the corner and honked their horn. Betty jumped in the car and Smugly sped off to avoid getting hit. I waited for them both to pass and went on to Ma’s place.
After dinner, drinks were poured and conversation began. My brother bragged about his latest scare and how he’d crashed two cars and even been sighted. “You shoulda seen the write up in the paper over that one, I tell ya. It was so sweet. Almost half a page.”
“I don’t understand you at all, Robbie,” my sister, Lucie chimed in, “why do you let people see you? All it does is scare them and make it harder for the rest of us.”
“Luce, I told you. It’s our legacy. We are the terrifying Mothmen. This is our immortality.”
She rolled her eyes and slammed down her vodka. “Easy for you to say. You’re not a girl who has man in her name.”
I chuckled as Ma yelled at them to knock it off.
Robbie turned his venom on me. “Oh, what are you laughing at, Larry?”
“Nothing. But are you two ever going to stop acting like teenagers? Jesus. You gotta stop showing off. Getting back here once a year for this weekend is hard enough. It’s damned near impossible when people are looking for us all the time. And plus, you’ve given us a horrible reputation.”
Robbie stood, shoulders squared and ready to fight. What a hothead. “Like I knew that bridge would collapse or that what’s-his-name had a heart condition and would die so soon?”
“That’s just it, you don’t think. Bad stuff happens every day, but when you let us be seen, we get the blame.”
He grinned and sat down. “I know. Immortality, bro.”
Huffing, I got up and refilled my glass.
Ma spoke up. “I don’t understand why we can’t just go back to the city? I mean why West Virginia? If we moved back to Jersey at least there’d be others to blame.”
Dad woke up with a snort from his recliner. “Martin? The Devil? No. I don’t want to be associated with that little bastard. He leaves his little footprints in the snow and all hell breaks loose. Chump.” He promptly fell back to sleep.
It’s like a loony bin here.
I walked to the door.
“Where you going?” Lucie was all big eyes with the hope I’d ask her to come with me. She wanted adventure. This life was hard on her. No one knew we even really existed, just speculation, but even in that, no one thought any of us could be girls. I smiled.
“A bit of fresh air. I’ll be back soon, little sis. Ask Robbie about the real reason he shows himself.”
My brother frowned, his eyes turning red. “Shut up, Larry.”
Lucie looked from one of us to the other. “What’s the reason?”
I poured a tall glass of vodka for the road. “He wants them to write an episode of Supernatural about us.”
“Shut up! Weren’t you going for a walk?”
My sister and Ma let loose shrieks of laughter.
I heard him as I left the house. “I don’t understand it. The fandom has made the leap, why can’t the writers?”
I chuckled as I walked through the woods. I didn’t have to come back every year, I supposed. I could go on my way and never look at this place again. We were the only Mothman family that had stayed together. Of course, it meant we were also the lone survivors. We lived exceptionally long lives but when we were gone, it would be over. Robbie was right about that. It was only our legend that would carry on.
I sat down on a bent-over branch and sipped my drink. So lost in my thoughts, I didn’t register the flashlight cutting through the trees until it was too late. The beam of light froze on my face. It quivered, fell away from my eyes, and I heard fast footfalls running away.
I tossed back my drink and set down my glass. Ma would be pissed if I broke one of her favorites. I covered the distance between me and the explorer in no time. A blond ponytail swished back and forth in front of me.
She froze. “How do you know my name?” Her chest rose and fell, but I had to give her credit. I smelled very little fear from her, much more excitement.
I rolled my eyes and got my best Dracula voice on. “I’m Mothman. Harbinger of doom!”
Two beats of silence passed before she turned, laughing.
“That’s what Brad called you. So you do exist. You were watching us earlier?”
“Of course, his name is Brad,” I muttered. “Why are you laughing? I’m terrifying.”
She looked me over with her flashlight. “You were sitting on a log, drinking. And I thought…”
“I’d be bigger? I know. That’s my brother.”
She walked right up to me and held out her hand. “Betty.”
“Larry.” I met her with a firm shake. “Why aren’t you scared?”
“What an unfortunate name for a terrifying beast.”
“I know.” I slumped back against a tree. “That and the fact that I’m five-five doesn’t help. But that doesn’t explain your non-fear.”
She sat next to me, notes of her perfume and light sweat filled my nose. “I don’t know. If you were watching us earlier, that’s pervy by the way, and now here you are not hurting me. I guess I figure you had chances and didn’t take ‘em.”
“Huh.” I weighed her words. That was it, wasn’t it? What scared people. My brother swooped at their cars and something his size, the threat is what meant something. With me, there was nothing really. I couldn’t fly because of my short wing span and honestly, who has the energy for scaring?
“Quite the conversationalist, Larry.”
“I’m not around people much. Just my family. And lord, it’s like an insane asylum.”
“I know what you mean. My house is the same way.”
I smiled at her. “I doubt that. But be honest, aren’t you freaked out to be here with me?”
She looked me over again. “Nope. I hate to tell you, but you’re not very scary, Larry.” She giggled. “I mean, even your name…the moth? The least scary of winged-bugs.”
“We could’ve been the butterfly men. That would’ve been worse. Like being Mr. Pink on the heist crew.”
“Reservoir Dogs? Forget about it.”
And then we sat there, Betty and I, just looking at the clouds roll past the moon. When the sky started to lighten, she stood to leave. “Can I come back tomorrow?”
“I don’t know.”
“I won’t tell a soul, and if I do, I’ll make it gruesome. Wouldn’t want to damage your reputation.”
I smiled and shook her hand. She made her way off through the woods and I back to Ma’s house.
I pushed my sister out of the way of the mirror.
“Larry, quit it!”
“Lucie, you’ve been in here for an hour. We all have to go to this damn thing and I don’t want to look worse than I do.”
She huffed and left the room. This was the one event of this yearly weekend gathering I hated most of all, The Monster’s Ball. All the night time creeps and crawlies venture to a spot and meet up. Like a deranged class reunion, except no one was ever friends to begin with. There’d be food and stilted conversation and then I’d head back to Ma’s for a drink. Same every year. But it made my dad happy and so, here I was.
I adjusted my tie and stepped into the hall. “Ready to go.”
Ma, Pa, Lucie, Robbie, and I headed off to the Local 549. Robbie wanted to pass close to the road, in case there was a chance to freak someone out. Lucie stayed tucked behind me and Ma and Pa held hands to lead the way. I took sips from my flask, hoping the night would pass quickly.
By the time we saw the lights from the Local, I was tipsy and Lucie wasn’t far behind. Loud music poured from the door.
“Ah, damnit. The little bastard is here. Happy now, Larry?” Pa asked me as he spotted The Jersey Devil at the door.
“How is that my fault?”
We made our way inside to the land of freaks and found a table near the wall. After food and chat and more beverages, I took a good look around. “This will probably be the last year I come back.” My family just laughed. They’d heard this speech before but this time I meant it. My brother’s eyes grew big as I felt someone at my back.
I turned to find a blonde ponytail bouncing, conveniently attached to Betty’s head.
“What are you doing here? I mean, hi. I mean, this is my family. Family, Betty.”
Robbie stood and tried to be suave. Lucie glared. Pa drank and Ma gave her a once over.
“Nice to meet you. Care to dance?”
I stood and followed Betty to the floor. “What the hell are you doing here? This is a Monster’s Ball.”
“And you’re the Harbinger of Doom, yeah, yeah, I know.”
I grinned like an idiot. “I am terrifying.”
She laughed. “Clearly. I’m all aquiver.”
We swayed to the music, moving closer and closer together. “Seriously, Betty, why are you here?”
“I don’t want to tell you. People don’t like me—“
“When you’re angry?”
“The Hulk isn’t real.”
I chuckled. “Fair enough. What could be so bad?”
She took a breath. “Can we go outside?”
I nodded because all I could think about was kissing this girl. But no cheerleader is ever going to let a Mothman kiss her. I was pretty sure that was Robbie’s problem. He’d never get the get the girl. Betty took my hand and we stepped outside the door.
She whirled on me and planted a big, fat kiss right on my lips. I wrapped my pitiful wings around her, holding her close. It felt like hours, but in reality, only a couple of minutes passed before I broke away. “Tell me anything. I’ve never felt a kiss like that.”
“Me either. Wow, Larry. You should change your name to Mothman….yeah, I can’t think of anything clever. Your kiss scrambled my brain.”
I laughed and kissed her again. She pushed me back after several more minutes.
“I don’t know how to go about this. I guess insta-love is real for our kind.”
“They say it is but I’ve never felt it until now. Which makes sense if it’s instant. And holy crap, I should stop talking.”
“Wait,” I cut her off, “Our kind?”
She looked down at her beat-up Doc Martins. “Yeah. I’m not from here. I’m from the South.”
I stepped back. “How far south?”
She raised an eyebrow. “The Swamps? I’m a rougarou.”
“What? Insta-love and it’s with a rougarou. Great. My mom is going to kill me.”
“Very romantic, Larry.” Tears pooled in her eyes.
I pulled her inside my wings. “You’re the cutest rougarou I’ve ever seen. And I can understand you, so that’s a plus.”
“I know, most of them are so Coonass you can’t even hold a conversation. Why do you think I came here this year? And then I met you last night and I knew.”
“Shall we go tell the parents?”
She kissed me again. “Sure. I mean, if you think they’ll accept me.”
I laughed as we walked inside. “They won’t. But at least you’re not a Jersey Devil.”
I’ve had countless conversations with R Scott Whitley about “the unknown.” Aliens, Georgio Tsoukalos’ hair, and Bigfoot are just some of the items that populate those conversations. We laugh, we poke fun at Ancient Astronaut Theory, and we poke fun at ourselves.
Reggie is the first writer I ever followed on Twitter. In a sense it was blackmail: a mutual friend had a Kickstarter project going and Reggie said he’d donate if he got a couple reviews of his book The Gathering. From that point on, I became an R Scott Whitley fan. I’ve read unpublished novels, and countless published short stories. He’s proven himself, time and again, to be a highly skilled writer. “Scene 3” is no different, and contains my favorite tonal shift since Groundhog Day. It’s also a story that will wreck you by the end.
I also nominate him for the best hair on Twitter. You can follow him on Twitter @_RScottWhitley_
Bigfoot sightings date back to Native American times, but the phenomena started gaining foot in the 1950’s. It really took off when Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin captured highly controversial film of the creature, a still of which is at the top of this blog post. Since then, Bigfoot has lived within the American conscience, and has been making asses out of people since Finding Bigfoot aired on Animal Planet.
And now… “Scene 3” by R Scott Whitley:
“Looks like goddamned rabbit fur,” a pudgy man in a Stetson said in a mock-whisper, “my grammy has like nine pelts that look exactly like that.”
He was shot several glances, some laughing, some hateful. That was pretty much what the Southeastern Bigfoot Enthusiasts was – some laughter and some contemptuous hate for those laughing. If you believed you were a nut. If you didn’t believe you were “one of them” who tried to hide the truth.
Kirby Griddle believed, but that wasn’t why he was here. Kirby Griddle knew that people would pay to see Bigfoot artifacts whether they believed or not. He had hair of different colors and textures. Blood, dry flecks of it, and stained cloths. Fingernails and toenails. Casts made of Bigfoot tracks. Pictures – some blurry, some close up.
He had anything that believers or doubters wanted to see… well, what they would pay to see.
DNA testing had been done on his samples. It was never by any known genetics group because they wouldn’t touch it. They had no reason to, if they did people would laugh when they were found wrong. If they passed on it, they were hiding something.
“Mr. Griddle,” the man in the stetson spoke up, “how is it that YOU have all of this? Why do you have so much when others have nothing?”
“Good to see you again, JR,” he said seeing the face in the crowd that always followed him. Every single event the same questions. “Well, I’m a tracker. I guess over the years I’ve just been better at finding this.”
“And over the past couple of months you must have really stepped up your game,” the man named JR said, crossing his arms. “You seem to have a much nicer truck than you had when you started. Business is good?”
“Well, you’ve come to all my events,” Kirby said with a laugh that was echoed by the audience. “No, seriously, I’ve been very lucky. I can’t put it all on my skill. Some of this is luck.”
“How do you find most of this stuff?” a woman asked off to the right. She was shortish with an ‘I Saw Bigfoot at Joe’s by the Bay’ t-shirt.
“Well,” Kirby said reaching down onto the table in front of him, “the fur is relatively easy… well… easy for a tracker… to find. He held up clumps of reddish brown, coarse hair. Lifting it to his nose he sniffed, “it smells sort of like takeout food that has sat outside for a few days.” He put the fur down on the table and picked up a huge brownish yellow thing that looked like a piece of wood, “toenails are harder.”
“You mean hard, like they are hard?” another lady off to the left asked. She had stringy gray hair. Kirby was pretty sure he’d seen her at these before too.
“They are hard like stone almost,” he said holding it up higher. People in the back craned their necks to see over the crowd. The events now were crowded and his table was one of the most crowded. Kirby was happy with that.
“That’s not a toenail,” he said.
“And how is it that you know that?” Kirby asked cocking his head to the side. “How is it that you know my things here aren’t real?”
“That could be from YOUR toe for all WE know!” JR barked out, a laugh forcing the words out.
“You could come take my shoe off if you want, friend,” Kirby said and folks laughed. “I’ll be glad to let you check it out, but I’ll warn you, a tracker’s feet can get awfully sweaty.”
JR waved him off and made his way back through the crowd and away from the table.
Kirby was always glad to see JR. While his friend in the Stetson thought he was making a case against him, all he was doing was reinforcing the beliefs of the enthusiasts. The people who wanted to believe would believe more.
“I found this toenail lodged in a rotting log just off the Appalachian Trail, a tuft of fur was caught with it. And a bit of blood.” He held up a little vile of brownish stuff. “Lots of sightings had been in the area. I spent nearly three weeks up there before I found it.”
“Is that the blood you sent off for testing?” a young guy asked from the back.
“This and several other samples,” Kirby said, “and I don’t want to be a total asshole, but that’s in my book, DVD, and iTunes download.” The crowd got quiet. “The one thing my buddy in the hat IS right about,” Kirby said with a smile, “this truck and my equipment ain’t cheap.”
A couple of folks laughed.
“You can come and touch, smell, feel…” he said gesturing to his table, “any of this stuff. You don’t have to buy anything. I’ve got a flinted stone over there that I could make the argument might have been made by a Sasquatch. I don’t have proof… but I’m working on that.”
Kirby then did his thing. He stood up and he showed his things. He showed them to regular folks who were curious. He showed them to Illuminati nuts who thought Bigfoot was part of something bigger. The hunters tended to smell the stuff more. Whispers about how it was like dog fur were always there. The toenails weren’t touched usually.
And the DVD’s flew off the shelf. The books sold. People would download the DVD on their smart phones.
And Kirby was making lots of money.
The Spike TV had approached him about a special.
Spike TV wanted a Bigfoot. They wanted it dead or alive, but they wanted a Bigfoot.
Kirby had a big decision to make. If he failed at how he produced a Bigfoot it would be his entire career. He would never be at one of these things again.
But if he did it right…
He would be forever famous.
It would be all in the presentation.
Kirby made the three hour drive from Boone, NC to his home in southern Union County, North Carolina, an area not terribly far outside of Charlotte, but far enough away that it was completely country. He lived far away from other people. His house was down a long gravel drive that circled hills that were more like small mountains than most people expected in the area. He lived on the side of a hill in a small, old home that had been modernized inside with a nice kitchen, and entertainment center with all modern equipment, hardwood floors throughout. Business was good. He had friends who would come to visit, but they weren’t encouraged to hang around. He had an on and off girlfriend who was more off than on.
It was part of his life to be a bit of a loner. He literally couldn’t afford to have others around.
But soon… soon…
His artifacts weren’t kept in his house. That wasn’t completely true. He had some things framed and on show in the house, hair that was professionally framed. A perfect footprint cast, the first he had ever done. He had pictures with important people in the Bigfoot world, a few celebrities.
This house. These pictures. This life… couldn’t be shown to the public.
Staring at the first cast he ever made, Kirby whispered to himself, “it will all have to end one day anyways. If you do this right you’ll be able to retire as an expert in the field.”
TV shows where people screamed in the forests, shows where they never found anything at all. They were on every single week, they found nothing, but they were back on, talking to people who hadn’t seen anything at all. Kirby could pick them out.
“I want that. I want that…”
He walked to the window and looked down at his shed down the hill. It was where he kept his artifacts. It was where he would have to make his decision.
Kirby walked out his door and went to his truck. He had a gun rack in the back with a very nice, highly polished rifle with a high tech scope on top. It was part of his show. That rifle was fired once a month to keep it in working order, but he never used it.
He pulled it down from the rack and loaded a round in.
Under the seat he pulled out a small revolver and put it in his jacket.
And grabbed his small black kit.
The one with the syringes.
He wanted the show.
He wanted to be an expert.
There was one sure way.
Something about that walk down the path to his shed made him nervous tonight. He guessed it was his decision. This was the end, and he wondered if it would know. Maybe the thing that had lost its will two months ago would act differently if it saw the end coming.
He’d seen its eyes.
It would know.
Approaching the shed, he listened for its breathing. He was loud and rattling like it might have fluid building up somewhere in his throat or maybe even his lungs, which was more of a reason to do what he was about to do.
The shed looked old, but like his house, Kirby had taken the grayed-wood, tin roof thing and sealed the inside. There was no light that would get out. The generator in the back could cool and heat the thing. It was a place that kept the thing from dying.
Kirby propped his gun just by the door and unlocked the two padlocks on the heavy wood door. Picking up his rifle and using the barrel to open the door, he looked inside the dark room. He still only heard breathing. It was asleep or dying or both.
Stepping in the room, he flipped the light on and looked across the room.
It smelled… acrid…
There, on the floor was his greatest artifact.
Chained with enormous links that were connected to the concrete floor, the enormous chains snaked around its hairy body, now only patchy, a mange-like fungus had given his skin a slightly paler appearance than it had had. Its fur was brown but was reddish in some areas. Its face was thinner even though Kirby had fed it every day for the past four months. The ‘experts’ said these creatures were vegetarian, but they were wrong and his wallet proved it. It ate six pounds of ground beef a day and bananas. The bananas were forced on it because the ground beef was expensive enough, bananas were pretty cheap, and after a few days, it ate them.
Kirby stood back and looked at the creature that had changed his life.
He always felt a tinge of guilt looking at it, but then he knew how much pain medication he injected in the thing. It couldn’t feel anything at all, so he shouldn’t care about what the thing felt like. When he first got the thing it would flinch when fur was jerked out, but once he started loading him with drugs, toenails would come off without it moving. Even when the two fingers were sawed off it didn’t move.
Except it always watched him. Always.
That’s why Kirby always made the most of any of the large removals. When he pulled the toenail off, he gathered tissue from the toe and it was his first submission for DNA testing – a test that came back negative! It came back as a chimpanzee, which was ridiculous and just spoke to the inexperience of the tester. It was neither here nor there because Kirby realized it brought him attention, gave him a name, and that gave him money.
When he took the fingers he realized that it was probably too much – how would he explain that he had FOUND two fingers of a thing he thought was a Sasquatch. He could only say “Appalachian Trail” so many times before people would start to doubt him.
One finger he still had on ice in the mini fridge under his work table, the other he had cleaned off and used just for the bone.
It took two weeks of antibiotics to get the thing over that. The antibiotics gave it the shits so he had come to simply hosing it off every two days.
He looked at it lying there, it’s hugeness just breathing, mouth swollen from when Kirby had pulled out its large right upper canine. That thing had probably made him thirty thousand dollars! He wondered if it was infected now though.
It opened its eyes and looked at him.
Kirby could see that something was in there.
“You ready to finally make me rich?” he said raising the rifle up looking through the scope. It’s eye was the only thing there, its left eye. It had hazel eyes, he’d never realized that. Liquid seeped from the corner of its eyes and even though Kirby knew it was from being near death, he saw it as a tear.
Kirby looked around the scope at the whole thing lying there, wheezing, likely slowly drowning in its blood.
It wouldn’t move, it couldn’t move. Huge chains held it’s thinning body down. Blood stained the floor where hair had been jerked out, where six toenails had been removed, where two fingers had been removed. The thing had raw skin where the chains had been for so long.
It looked a mess.
But it was a Bigfoot, and a dead Bigfoot – proof- would change his life.
He looked back through the scope at its eyes.
Kirby closed his eyes and put his finger to the trigger.
He remembered the animal walking up onto his property those months ago. Kirby had been outside, he was about to inject a dog he’d had for eighteen years with enough pain drugs to kill it, to put it out of its misery. The dog could no longer walk, its eyes were dead and only the body was there, suffering.
Kirby remembered the thing was standing over him and his dog before he realized it. It looked down on him, brow furrowed, skin shiny black, brown fur framing the non-human, but also non-primate face. When it roared at him, Kirby tried to defend himself. He defended himself with a syringe of pain medication, just enough to put the animal down to the ground.
One month later, Kirby had his show on the road, and his cash cow sat chained in his shed by the pond.
With his eyes closed Kirby squeezed on the trigger, but not hard enough to fire.
He opened his eyes and looked through the scope at the animal again.
It wasn’t an animal lying there.
The thing wasn’t an it. The thing was a HE.
It had spent two weeks begging to be free, struggling, begging, crying in a grunty, throaty sound that was something like a language. It wasn’t a bark, he had made sounds, sounds like a voice.
Kirby chose the money.
Looking down the scope into the hazel eyes of the intelligent thing lying in front of him, Kirby chose the money.
He fired and heard the thud as the shot struck the tortured thing, a thing that’s soul cried out when he killed it.
Kirby dropped his rifle.
Blood was pouring out of it’s head.
It’s body slumped in death.
Kirby dug in his coat pocket past the revolver to his phone. Not waiting, physically not able to wait, he dialed the number.
“Yeah, I’ve got what you asked for,” he said into the phone. He looked at the body. “I’ll do the show now.”
Welcome to the kick off of the Lazarus taxon Project! First up is Beau Barnett’s “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi.” A story about Champ, the Lake Champlain monster.
First, a confession. I’ve lived about an hour away from Lake Champlain all my life. Champ is more personal to me than any of the cryptids in this project. On many a trip to Vermont on the ferry’s, my mother would say, “keep an eye out for Champy.” I would watch from the side of the ship our car was on, but I never saw Champ.
Champ’s legend is infused into Vermont and Plattsburgh NY, heavily. A plaque of recorded sightings sits on the bank of Lake Champlain, going back to Samuel de Champlain, himself. A Class A baseball team, affiliated with the Oakland A’s, called the Vermont Lake Monsters, is often featured on the local news. Sandra Mansi herself is a local legend, and is responsible for the photo at the top of the blog. The photo mentioned in Beau’s story.
In giving this cryptid to Beau, I had confidence that he could do this creature justice. He went above and beyond. If you don’t know Beau, a lot of what he’s about comes through in “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi.” He has a big heart, and he extends it to everyone. His proclivity for following sports of all kinds reminds me a lot of my dad. He’s the Stats Guy on Friday night’s for Write Club, and can convince you that Weredragons are real. You can follow him on Twitter @INukeYou.
Without further ado, “The Redemption of Sandra Mansi” by Beau Barnett:
The bemused look on my boyfriend’s face was the only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes. I had heard this story so many times — I didn’t believe a bit of it. My grandmother always got a kick out of telling someone new, which Daniel was. I loved him for being decent enough to listen to her story without ridiculing her. After her story, which I had heard what felt like a million times, it was time for us to go.
“I love you, Gran,” I said, standing up and making my way to her chair. “I’ll see you Tuesday.” I gave her a hug, which she returned, weakly. She was starting to get so feeble.
“I love you too, dearie,” she wheezed, “see you Tuesday.” Turning to Daniel, she added, “you come back, too, ya hear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with a wave. I stepped outside into the warm Vermont sunshine. Daniel dutifully followed, shutting the door quietly behind him. He took me by the hand and we walked to my trusty Honda. He was quiet on the drive home, which was most unlike him. As I drove, I stole a couple of glances over at him, by the thoughtful look on his face I was sure he thought I was a silly little girl who still believed in ridiculous fairy tales.
Turning into his neighborhood, I spoke. “I’m sorry for my grandmother. As she’s gotten older she has believed in her little story ever more fervently.” He said nothing, looking out the window at the passing scenery. “I know she’s crazy.”
“Baby, stop,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve always believed that story.” I was so taken aback by this admission I drove right past his driveway. He chuckled something about women drivers under his breath; the fire of my embarrassment warmed my cheeks. I turned around and pulled into his driveway.
“You do?” I asked, shutting the car off.
“Of course. I mean, you can’t live here and avoid hearing about it. I’ve seen the photo, and always believed it to be legit.” I rolled my eyes at him, making him grin, and got out of the car. He followed, hurrying over to take my hand, walking up the steps to his front door.
“You can’t be serious. There’s no way that legend can be real.”
“Whatever,” I said, not hiding my irritation. “Anyway, I’ll see you tonight.”
He nodded. “Love you, Holly.” Daniel leaned in and gently placed his lips onto mine. My heart soared. One simple kiss and I practically forgot my name, much less why I was annoyed. He pulled away much too soon for my liking, though I couldn’t help but smile when he kissed me again on the forehead before turning to go inside.
I drove home thinking about the story my grandmother had shared with Daniel. See, my grandmother is Sandra Mansi. If you’re from here, or are interested in stories about creatures like Bigfoot, you’ve probably heard of her. She’s “famous” for taking the definitive picture of Champy, an alleged monster that makes its home in the waters of Lake Champlain. The funny part? The picture is obviously of a log. Even if, somehow, a prehistoric beast had managed to survive the often frigid waters of the lake, one of the innumerable searches since would have at least found some hint of evidence. Despite this, bless her heart, my grandmother’s belief in the existence of Champy grew only more fervent over the years.
That night, Daniel came over with some take-out. We were going to watch The Princess Bride, one of my favorites. He had never seen it. Weirdo. We sat down at the dining room table with our sesame chicken and dug in.
“So, hon, can I ask you something?” he asked, around a forkful of rice.
“Sure,” I said.
“Meeting your grandmother today got me thinking. Isn’t Saturday the anniversary of her sighting?”
I dropped my fork. To say I wasn’t pleased with the direction this conversation was taking would be an understatement. “It is. It’s also my birthday.” I said, evenly.
He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. This meant he was aware I wasn’t going to be particularly fond of whatever harebrained idea he had come up with. “I was thinking,” he began timidly, “that maybe we could go up to the lake Saturday mor–come on, sweetheart, don’t give me that look–it’ll be fun.”
“Why not? It’s the anniversary!”
I sighed. “You know much I hate everything about that stupid picture. I hate that I’m even associated with it.” The smile on his face faded away. He looked like his puppy had just died. As usual, I relented. “But, I guess…if you really want to go, we can.”
“Really?” he asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. As long as it doesn’t ruin our dinner plans that night.”
“We’ll go early, before any crowds are there. I promise it won’t affect your birthday plans.” He reached out and tentatively placed his hand on top of mine. I took it and smiled up at him. He exhaled slowly; the tension and worry in his eyes just dissolving away. We finished our dinner in relative silence. The movie, of course, was awesome. Experiencing it, cuddling on the couch with my love, just made it that much better. He’d never admit it, but there were tears in his eyes at the end. I’m pretty sure that our kiss afterwards would have to be added to the movie’s list of perfect kisses, rivaling even Westley and Buttercup’s.
That Saturday morning I woke up nervous. I had this terrible feeling the lake would be crawling with reporters and tourists hoping to have their own Champy sighting. I called my grandmother to see how she was doing. She was ecstatic to hear I was going to the lake, hoping I had finally come around after years of dismissing her story. I had just gotten off the phone with her when Daniel rang the doorbell.
The sky was overcast and altogether dreary when we arrived at the lake. That, and the sizable chance of rain in the forecast must have scared everyone away. There was no one else there. Daniel and I staked out a spot for our things and stripped down to our swimsuits. The lake was cold but manageable. We were having a grand old time splashing and trying to dunk each other. Periodically, a fish would brush against my leg as it swam by. A break in the clouds had filled the lake with brilliant sunshine, making for an idyllic scene, the kind you’d see on a postcard.
Laughing and giggling as we frolicked, Daniel said, “See, Holly? I told you you’d have fun.”
I splashed him good in the face. “You were right. I am having a good time.” I swam over to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Thunder rumbled off in the distance. Daniel, face serious, raised his eyes skyward, worry lines appearing on his forehead. “We probably need to get out of the water with the lightning close by.” I nodded, though I was disappointed that what had turned into a fun trip to the late would be coming to an end so abruptly. The thunder sounded again, closer, making me jump in the water. I really hated storms. Daniel wrapped his arms around me and held me close against his chest. “It’s ok, hon. Let’s go.” He broke free and started heading back.
Just before I turned to follow, something caught my eye, floating in the water. I laughed, and pointed at the object. “Look, Daniel, ‘Champy!'” I chuckled derisively. Daniel turned and muttered something under his breath about belief. Again, the thunder boomed, much closer this time… and the log, sticking a couple feet out of the water, clearly lifted it’s head to look at the sky. The thunder roared, the thing turned, and started gliding right towards us.
“It’s real,” Daniel said, eyes wide and mouth open in shock.
“We have to get video!”
Daniel tore off swimming for shore. I treaded water where I was, watching the beast. I probably should have been afraid but somehow I knew that the creature would not hurt me. It approached quickly, its eyes never blinking or moving from my own. Lightning streaked across the now foreboding sky and the thunder roared again, loud enough to hurt my ears. Champy came up and nudged me with its neck, the wet, slimy texture making me shudder, though I held firm. Again, it nudged me, pushing me slightly towards shore. Trembling, I reached my hand out towards it in what I hoped was a friendly manner. It twisted and swam away, then screeched, it’s mouth opening wide. It came back up to me and cradled its head against my chest and started swimming forward, forcing me towards shore. I turned and made my way towards shore, where Daniel was waiting, iPhone in hand, recording the monster. I got out of the water and stood next to Daniel. He kept recording for several minutes while the friendly beast swam aimlessly around the lake, until a fairly heavy rain started falling and the beast dipped back under water.
We stood in an awed silence for several minutes, ignoring the rain. Finally, Daniel broke the moment, saying, “That…was…incredible.” He pulled it up on his phone and we watched the ordeal. There was no question it was the legendary Champy.
“We have to tell my grandmother,” I said after watching it a second time.
“We’ll go back to your place and change, then we’ll go see her.”
“Ok, let’s go.” We hurried into his car and he drove as quickly as he dared through the storm to my house. My parents weren’t there, and if we took a while to make out some before we went to see my grandmother, then we did. It’s my birthday.
By the time we left, it had stopped raining and Daniel was able to get us to Shady Acres in just a few minutes. We ran into the apartment. My grandmother was sitting in her chair, with the television on, much too loud. When she recognized me, she reached for the remote and turned off the TV. “What brings you hear, child?” she asked. “It’s not Tuesday already, is it? Oh, heavens to Betsy, your Gran didn’t miss your birthday, did she?”
“No, Gran, my birthday’s today,” I replied. “Daniel and I went down to the lake this morning,” I smiled at her, “and we saw something you might be interested in.”
“The lake, child? Champlain?” She had forgotten we were going.
“Yes, ma’am.” She wriggled in her seat excitedly, her face appearing younger.”
“Well, what are you waiting for, let me see it!” Daniel took his phone to her and showed her the video. She watched, mesmerized, gasping every time it screeched. When it finished, she looked up, trying to blink tears out of her eyes. “That’s Champy.”
Daniel, kneeling, put his arm on her back. “Yes ma’am,” he said. “It sure is.”
“I’m sorry that I ever doubted you, Gran.” I gave her a huge hug. “Nobody else ever will again.” Gran wept in my arms. She had always known I didn’t believe her. “I love you.”
“I love you too, child.” She pulled back from the hug, and looked up at Daniel. “Can I watch it again?”
“Of course, Mrs. Mansi,” he said, handing her his phone.
: the study of and search for animals and especially legendary animals (as Sasquatch) usually in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence.
Welcome one and all to the Lazarus Taxon Project!
Cryptids have long since captured the imagination of the world, relayed through first hand accounts and hand-me-down stories. Creatures like Bigfoot and Mothman have influenced our culture through books, film, and Television. While cryptozoology is not a recognized form of science, it has been used to discoer new and previously thought to be extinct species, such as the mountain gorilla and the komodo dragon. Today, this branch of science is seen as largely a joke, at the mercy of such terrible drama as Finding Bigfoot and The Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty (We get it, Dean Cain. It’s hard for you to find employment!)
To us, the writers, they are no joke, and it’s through these stories that creatures like the Dover Demon, Chupacabra, and the Mad Gasser of Mattoon come to life. Over the month of June, you will be treated to a plethora of stories from some of the finest writers I’ve ever known. To challenge our writers, the only stipulation they’ve been given is that they cannot write in the horror genre. A simple, but difficult challenge to be sure.
So stick around. A tale about a sea creature could bring you to tears; a story about a dinosaur could make you laugh. Anything goes here.