Monstrous Myths: The Mara

The following is a continuing collaboration between Folklore consultant Ruth Gibbs and the author of this site.

Welcome back to monstrous myths everyone! Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, paralyzed with fear from nightmares? Have you ever felt a crushing weight on your chest as the darkness closes in on you and something slowly, slowly, creeps over the floor towards your bed? According to the Slavs, you might’ve had a run in with a Mare.

Art by Tumblr user @ain-individual

Just the Lore

It is fairly safe to say every person who is reading this has either had a very bad nightmare or knows someone who has had a very bad nightmare. It is part of being human, overactive brains stressed from a long day or week filtering all that pent up emotion, finding a way to release it all in a relatively harmless way. These range from a slight dread and no memory, to something that haunts your waking hours for years to come. We have brain scans nowadays. We can see what the brain is doing when it is asleep, and while the substance of a dream is open to interpretation, the mechanism of it really isn’t anymore.

However, if you lived in ancient Germany, Norway, or various parts of Eastern Europe, that stress nightmare would likely have been caused by a Mara, a small demon creature who sits upon the chest of sleeping people, “riding” them and causing asthmatic fits, thrashing, injuries during the night, and horrific nightmares that awaken the afflicted person with apoplexy and screaming…if they wake up at all. These sleeping-demons tend to be lumped in with the likes of succubi and incubi, but they don’t appear to actually do anything to their victims beyond terrorize, while those other, more well known monsters have serious consequences.
These little beasties didn’t limit themselves to humans, though. In Sweden and Norway they were known to ride horses to sweating exhaustion, causing horrible frustrating knots called marflätor (mare-locks) or martovor (mare-tangles), or ride trees that cause the knots and gnarls in bark. If something looks twisted, exhausted, and upset in the morning… the usual source was a Mare having a fun night out on the countryside. 

Physical descriptions of Mare vary from place to place. Mare’s cousins in Romania, the Moroi, are said to be the resurrected souls of the dead seeking revenge on the living for poor burial, while over in Catalan the Pesanta takes the shape of a huge cat or dog. Mare’s can be anything from foot-tall fuzzy gnomish things to ghoulish gangly things with heads scraping the ceilings. Whatever your brain creates that is the most strange, and terrifying, the Mare is, providing whatever it is you are frightened of is humanoid.

In Russia, the Mara are said to be relatives to the more friendly but no less odd looking Domovoi. Normally the Domovoi are benevolent house spirits who help with housework and scare away mice, and can get a little uppity when left without milk or a little food. However, if the Domovoi goes without appeasement, it will retaliate with more and more violent outbursts, sometimes even killing people. In some parts of western Russia Mara are corrupted, twisted Domovoi who have been separated from their homes or families long enough to forget their nature of helpfulness. 

It is worth noting that in Germanic lore, Mare are specifically female. They only cause strife and misery, but they do have a slightly more charming male counterpart, the Alp. Where Mare appear to be doing what they do for pure entertainment value, the Alp seems to gain some sustenance from his nightly terrorizing, drinking blood from the nipples of men, women, and young children in the night, and even stealing milk from nursing women’s breasts. 

Relation to Simon’s Species

Many people who experience night terrors of sleep paralysis and make the mistake of opening their eyes during this debacle, often describe strange, wriggling things at the corners of their vision, crawling closer and closer every time the sufferer blinks or moves their eyes. Any observant or clever creature could take advantage of that and use the opportunity of a terrorized awake-but-immobile person to have a little fun at their expense. 

For the most part the terror that is Mare’s and their ilk can be attributed to sleep paralysis and the ensuing hallucinations that occur, though I believe not all. If we link all these similar creatures by what they do…we can then look for a more distinct description that may tie in to some footing based in Simon’s physicality. The mare, lietuvens, moroi and pesanta as a “familial group” have striking physical similarities. While the Mare do have a very wide range of possible ways they can look, the other three do not.

Always gaunt, always pale, usually wearing the clothing of the deceased relative they’re meant to be, they are otherwise borderline unrecognizable, similar in many ways to the emancipated zombie in one of Simon’s earlier articles in this series, the Obur.

Simon has told stories of grave robbing sometimes being a necessity to obtain clothes and sustenance, so it’s not entirely infeasible that other Cousins might do the same to avoid having to prey upon living people, thereby avoiding arousing suspicion in local communities. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if some managed to survive decades on freshly buried corpses alone,  assuming the cousin in question correctly scheduled their nighttime grocery collecting and didn’t take too frequently from the same cemetery. 

It’s also worth noting that all of the listed creatures in this article also tend to correspond with similarly-timed animal attacks. Missing or dead livestock stripped to the bone is a popular and common sign that a pesanta has been roaming your farm, and the wild-eyed, sweating horses probably were positively terrified at the predator sneaking past them and into the home of whoever it was they were hunting. 

Anything that scares humans could be the inspiration for the Mara. Simon’s species has spent millennia creeping into the corners of our psyche, inspiring and being blamed for the deepest and darkest of our fears. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that the shape our brains decide is the most frightening when we are paralyzed with terror looks strangely like the creatures that live in the forest and sometimes eat human flesh. Or, just maybe, it’s a little bit of primordial fear left over from a time when we weren’t actively ignoring the threat hiding in the trees. 

Simon’s additions 

While the above draws inescapable similarities between creatures of previous articles, I would like to point out the dissimilarities. In the case of the Mara, the creature appears to be something of a trickster. It likes to torment and instill fear. Now while I may be a “nice” creature now, as some have so often framed me, I would like to say that I have not always been.

I know it seems terribly silly to humans, who judge an ancient and secretive species dwelling in secret alongside their own with human eyes and human standards, but allow me to give you a notion from our perspective.  For a moment, strip back all your human assumptions of what is odd, what is timely or “worth it”. Imagine you are perhaps somewhat on the border between sentient and insensible. I’ll make a comparison, because I know it happens to you humans often – have you ever been about to say a word, and forgotten the word itself? Have you stood there mutely unable to speak further because you were looking for that one word that escapes you? Imagine living in that place, when all your thoughts are wordless and everything is an uphill approach without the corresponding gravitational pull toward self-expression, or indeed, any closure of an idea at all.

Now imagine you live on the border of a tiny village. In the ancient areas of Eastern Europe farming communities were usually clustered around rivers upon the edges of forests, and we’re overseen by some sort of land baron. These plots were scoured for resources, the families on them eking out a living while tithing their goods. Imagine you are watching these creatures live out the strange lives, pulling their livestock in and out at different times of the day, dragging metal through the ground to make rows, chopping wood, riding animals, singing songs…

In that hazy in between state of mind…what might you make of them? Would you come closer? Would you wonder why they hang things over their lintels? Would you find their little babies fascinating? Would you be amused and take a dish here, a tool there, and then amuse yourself with their reactions? And the closer you got, the more they stimulate thought, and the more that happens…

The hungrier you get.

Man creates the monster, just as stress creates the nightmare. Perhaps in some tiny little village, a Cousin watched, was tempted, stole ever closer. Perhaps he found reason to be angry. I don’t like to pattern my own psychology onto those of my species, but I know whereof I speak, and I know that I have always been protective of certain things – trees, smaller creatures. I despise injustices on a deep level, such that it feels integral to my nature. 

It seems easy to imagine, for this not-to-creative soul, a Cousin of mine, waiting until nightfall, when the man habitually went indoors, stealing inside and having a look around, disturbing a man from sleep at just the right moment to interfere with the paralytic of sleep, to spring him to uch a degree of fright and confusion so as to utterly paralyze him, and then to lean over his prostrate and petrified form with a menacing and prophetic leer.

“Don’t cut down anymore of my trees, Mr. Human. I am not to be trifled with.”

On a more amusing and personal note, to go back to the oft heard argument “if you’re really that old, then none of those things would matter to you,” I would like to say that I am a trickster. I have many times taken revenge on humans I find insufferable. And to my doubters I say, I  bored! What else am I going to do besides toy with you mayflies? A man beats his horse? How much will I enjoy stacking every single piece of furniture from the roof while he is off in town? He cheats at cards? Well…how much will I enjoy replacing all his coins with pebbles? He abuses his fellow man? How much will I enjoy watching him sleep…while I pluck every hair from his powdered wig and strew it over the floor?

Is it petty? No. I view is as as much a natural force as you are, and all things in Nature achieve an equilibrium. Where would human character be without its tricksters? Where would you be without your nightmares? You would would be flat and two- dimensional without your shadows, my friends.

We’re only helping.

Monstrous Myths: The Lamia

I thought we might try something a little different this time. I do so dislike proving myself, and think that perhaps it isn’t up to me to demonstrate how human mythologies intertwine and overlap. It seems far better to turn it over to you to hash out. So for the foreseeable future, I will turn this series over to two colleagues of mine: an antrhology student and an artist. Perhaps they can make sense of this far better than I.

This artistic rendering was created by Ain

Hello and welcome to another entry of Monstrous Myths! Blow off the dust and settle in, we’re going for a fun ride.

In a previous post Simon went over the Gorgon, which is a very specific sort of snake monster. Today I’m going to be talking about her distant cousin the Lamia and her place in folklore and ties to Simon’s kin.

Just the lore

The Lamia. A snake bodied seductress best known for her lust for flesh of children. As the purported mother of the famous Scylla of the Odyssey, she is a far more specific beastie with a pedigree. According to myth, Lamia was once the beautiful daughter of king Belus of Egypt who, like every other beautiful woman in Greek myth, fell prey to Zeus’s charms. 

This is where her story gets interesting- compared to Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, there is some historical evidence supporting Lamia being born to actual human parents who were entirely real people. Her father Belus is recorded as having founded a colony on the Euphrates river in Diodorus of Sicily’s Bibliotheca Historica, and while he probably wasn’t exactly as he’s reported (specifically not the spawn of Poseidon and Libya), there is a very good chance he was real and very likely did have at least one daughter. A daughter whose real story has likely been entirely lost to history, though her strange myth lives on.

After being seduced by Zeus, Lamia bore him many children over the course of several years acting secretly as the king-god’s mistress. Eventually Hera discovered their tryst and slaughtered all of Lamia’s children. All but one, a girl cursed into the shape of a hideous creature sent to guard a narrow sea channel with Charybdis.  Most myths agree to all the points up to here, but her appearance has been cause for much debate.

Lamia’s now-signature snakelike appearance isn’t mentioned in older Greek stories, and it has been speculated that this deformity is the result of a Christian lense being put over classic myths, specifically with regard to her seductive nature. Lamia’s original deformity is her wide, strange, staring eyes with no lids, said to be a symptom of her guilt over her children’s deaths, and the ability to remove said eyes. Interestingly enough, the second bit isn’t part of a curse, but a blessing bestowed by Zeus to grant Lamia temporary reprieve from her horrible visions and, perhaps, give her the gift of future site. If this is the case, it’s a mythological blessing she shares with the Graeae.

Perhaps the most tragic part of Lamia’s curse is her mad unsated bloodlust for the flesh of small children. Why is debated, but the most popular interpretation of the myths claim that Hera cursed the woman to consume other’s children as punishment after killing Lamia’s offspring, or that Hera stole or killed Lamia’s children and the loss drove Lamia insane. Her madness caused her to steal and devour the children of others, and this eventually turned her into the strange malformed creature of myth.

Relations to Simon’s Species

With a first glance at the modern interpretations of Lamia, its easy to dismiss her as just a silly morality tale and another sexy clone of the snake in Eden. However, as with most myths, the further back you go in time the less recognizable they get. Lamia’s physical appearance is the first tipoff that she’s a relative of Simon. The strange eyes, gaunt appearance and man-eating appetites are especially obvious.

But let’s not forget that there seems to be evidence the Lamia was a real woman.

My humble theory is that the original Lamia was in fact a flesh and blood person with a name and a life, who got unfortunately involved in some sort of politically dangerous romantic tryst. Maybe it was an affair with a married statesman, maybe she was wed and took a lover, maybe her husband died and she was blamed, maybe a lot of things, but in the end her children from whatever sort of union she had were killed by someone involved in the ensuing dramatic episode. My theory is that the killer was Lamia herself, out of shame or guilt to conceal her crime. It’s probably that the number of children was very small and has been gradually inflated over the years for dramatic effect.

Either soon after or during all of this, a local cousin was probably hunting people without much discrimination in age. It’s feasible to guess that a few children went missing due to the monster’s hunger or from other natural causes. People get emotional when children vanish or are mauled by wild animals, and will blame just about anything to avoid confronting the harsh and painful truth. Regardless of how the people vanished, Lamia was likely exiled, executed or managed to escape and her sudden public disappearance poured fuel on the fire. Rumors of her killing her own children trickled down to the general population as they tend to, and one thing led to another. Assumptions were made, connecting this murderess with the disappearances. I can’t imagine this did good things for the local cousins larder. 

Everything about Lamia screams “thing that consumes humans”, even her name. Aristophenes claimed the name came from the greek word “laimos” or “gullet” in reference to her insatiable hunger.

One of the most frustrating things about Lamia is her gradual evolution from tragic figure to sexy seductress. Placing the two characters next to each other, neither looks like they are in any way related. Even her propensity for eating children has faded as time has gone on. Modern tellings of the myth have overlapped her with Lilith, and erased any possible sympathy the character might have. A creature who has become an interweaving of a woman who committed a historical crime and a cousin in the wrong place at the wrong time has twisted, as many myths do, to fit the moral narratives convenient to the era of a story’s telling.

Simon’s Take On Things

I think it very possible that Ruth is correct in her theory, with one possible alteration. I will draw attention to the things that I discovered about my species, specifically that we appear to be somewhat incensate when not consuming human flesh. We have a natural state, and while we are clever, we are of the earth. Eating people does something very specific for us. So it seems to me that with this knowledge, several possibilities exists for the evolution of Lamia.

It could easily be true that Lamia either murdered her own children or was the victim of some archaic form of justice. But if any children did go missing in the vicinity, it is unlikely to be the responsibility of a cousin. Sheep, yes. Children, unlikely. 

What is most likely?

Well, let us look at the very reason that Laamia is remembered at all. If her father really did found a colony and there is evidence that he did in fact exist, then it is likely that he did have a daughter. If he had a daughter her name would not have been Lamia, as this is her mythical name. Lamia was the monster. And like the gorgon, Lamia was linked with the sea and the serpeant.

But why would anyone care about this young lady? What about her specific story withstood the test of time, even as it twisted and transformed through eons? 

Perhaps because there was a local monster, a cousin of mine. Perhaps there were a few in Ancient Greece. Perhaps they were related, or not, but the Greeks seem to have taken an inordinate amount of notice of them, don’t they? Far more than the modern human does. Perhaps because they weren’t so secretive as they are now. Perhaps there was a girl and there was a Lamia, and perhaps they were friends.

Perhaps the story exists today because of the bizarre association they formed. Perhaps the girl had a bargain with the Lamia, and the two became forever tangled. If the mercenary Lamia did the girl’s bidding, and the girl was driven away or put to death, it is a certainty that the Lamia would putlive her, and if the Greeks believed them to be the same individual, the Lamia would forevermore have been confused for the girl and her controversy.

Be careful making bargains with monsters, my gentle readers.


Ruth Gibbs is an anthropology student at the University of North Texas on her way to a PhD in Folklore with a focus on stories and their cultural impact on society. Her interest in the study of stories started very early in life and has blossomed into what promises to be a very interesting academic career. Special fields of interest include Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Germanic and Eastern European stories and their origins. You can find her at ruthcgibbs@gmail.com or on her Tumblr

Otherkin-d Of Like A Platypus

“Wait, what?”

“I am told it is a state of being that identifies as a mythological creature.”

He frowns at me, which usually means that he is giving a tremendous amount of thought to what I have said, but is displeased with that. “So…like….if I feel like a dragon….I can be a dragon?”

I shrug and put away the mixing bowls. “I suppose so. I really have no idea how it works, and not being a human, and actually being something upon which many such creatures are based….my perspective is a bit different.”

Rebecca takes off the cartoon animal hat that the child has put on her head and smoothes her hair. “I know about this! I read about it on Tumblr. But yeah, it’s gotta be weird for you, I bet. Like…yo…you say you’re a vampire…but like….”

“Please let’s not devolve into vampire jokes.”

He is still frowning, but she waves her hands as she swallows the last of her drink. “No! No! I mean, that’s just one myth but there’s others! Like…goblins and whatnot.”

I let out a sigh and turn back to the sink to finish the rest of the washing. “For once, I wish that someone would find a happier myth to compare to me.”

She snorts. “You eat people.”

“So do ants,” he is quick to defend.

“Well you get what I’m saying, right?”

I make a face that she cannot see. “Yes, I have advised some of them, to whom I have spoken at some length, that they are in fact identifying as something based on me. It does not appear to matter. I have enough trouble carving out my identity from this uncaring world without adding Tumblr to it, and yet…that is the experiment.”

In my periphery, his frown evolved into a narrow eyed stare. “I have a question.”

“You always do.”

“Does that mean I can identify as you?”

I turn to look at him. He is giving me his mischievous tilt of the mouth that he knows melts the hearts of the females he manages to impress with his masculinity. I roll my eyes heavenward.

“If ever there was a human…”

“He makes a great point though! I mean…okay…” she spreads her hands across the kitchen island as if laying out a small stage peopled by fleas. “So like….you know, because you’ve been alive, that those things aren’t real, or like, you’d have seen them if they were or whatever…so like, I mean…you know that all those people are just owning your mythology.”

“I don’t even own my mythology. Humans wrote it. You deal with the blasted shit!” I toss down the sponge.

“Well what I mean is…they’re not really “other” are they? They’re just….your-kin.”

I suppose, in a way, I can see why a human would not wish to be human. I may despair of killing and eating you, but that is because I like you. I would not wish to be one of you. That seems a lamentable fate. For some time now, I have seen otherkin and all such identifiers as merely an extension of feeling unwelcome in one’s reality, or uncomfortable being a meat sack with an expiration date. Perhaps it is more than that. Perhaps it is an extension of the thing that began the experiment in the first place.

An aside, if you will.

I mean no disrespect. Not even a little. Those of you who identify as “otherkin” may carry on however it pleases you to do so, so long as none of you dragons begin demanding virgin sacrifices. I care not. What concerns me is the obvious conundrum and how it feeds into my argument with your species- to whit:

You are obviously human. I have a nose, excellent hearing, exceptional senses. I can tell that if I stabbed just here, you would cease to be…whatever you claim to be. I therefore cannot comprehend how there is any point of contention in saying that this “otherkin nature” is wholly and utterly in the mind. And please read me carefully when I say, I ascribe it no value judgement. I did not say such would be a “diseased mind”. In point of fact, I think the sum total of humanity has a diseased mind.

“I can get wanting to be a dragon and like…living like a dragon, or like how you think a dragon would live if it lived in a human body, but…I don’t know,” Rebecca mutters. “But I mean…like aren’t they sort of sucking up that fiction? Trying to be you? Trying to be a monster? Like…aren’t they trying to absorb the things that frighten humanity?”

“I doubt any of them would say they ever chose to be what they are. They often regard it with the same deference as a sexual identity.”

He shakes his head. “But they’re human. By definition anything that makes a human feel inhuman is a personality disorder.” I give him “the look”. This happens when he says things that are unqualified with facts or makes assumptions about me. He usually finds it alluring in some way. At the moment, he is still frowning, however, and shakes it off. “And how exactly does a unicorn live if it were in a human body, huh?”

“I suppose…however it is that they choose to live.” I sip my coffee and cut a fresh piece of pie.

“So, I could claim to identify as you, live however I chose, and that would be how you would live if you were in a human body?”

I am undone. There is very little I can say. The fact is, if I was suddenly transposed with a human, I imagine I would live a life very similar to his- well, with copious apologetic donations to various Human Rights organizations.

“But what do they think about people just making up a mythological being?” She lifts a finger. “Like what if I invented my own creature?”

“That would be ‘fiction-kin’. Apparently the qualification of a mythological creature is something made up by a long dead human and written about by other dead humans. If a modern human makes it up, it is just fiction.”

“But they’re all just fiction!” She shouts in exasperation.

“Yes.”

“So then its all one thing!”

“And it’s all nuts.”

I cannot help but chuckle helplessly into my mug. I spend several hours every day attempting to fathom half of the things I see on television or the internet. The arguments over memes, the needless pigeonholing of politics along the lines of personal experiences that have little to do with the sum total benefit for humanity, the dissections of certain cannons – such that there is now a phrase “head cannon”- which to me sounds like a method of suicide. You bicker over which invisible sky entity said what to which dead person in which book written by an imprisoned fortune teller in a dead language that only six people on the planet can translate. You kill each other over the stupidest of things, and while you think it has gotten better, I would argue it has gotten worse. This is what happens when the collective mind of humanity has difficulty metabolizing all the fiction it sucks down its gullet and attempts to reconcile that to the outside world. 

I would argue that if one were to consider the whole of humanity as cells in a brain and contextualize all trends as single amorphous thoughts, you would see that this is how a mind grows up…and into a disorder. First you believed everything that seemed the least bit feasible, you then underwent education, you ignored those programmed ideas, but then returned to them to simultaneously protect, idealize, romanticize, or remake them until they no longer have discord with your concept of the universe. But you are still learning, and as undeniable fact presents itself, those dreams and wishes of what magic might be are pushed even deeper into your psyche…until it becomes a secret identity, a lens through which you view existence, a modifier of all fact before it even reaches your brain.

I stand before you unamused, yet filled with dark humor, as one who has always been a mote on the currents of your frenetic clash with all that is quantifiable. I snicker because no doubt, I will one day have to contend with someone actually assuming they are me, and not simply a cousin of mine.

My two friends see this as one inexplicable quirk of their species, a subset of human they will immediately classify as “other” and then ostracize. One portion of the mind being shut off by the other. They do not realize that they do the same thing, even in daily life. Every time Chef assumes my feelings to bear even a slight resemblance to his romantic urges. Every time she talks to the child about Santa Claus. Any time any of them, even ironically, use the word “God”. It is happening all around you, and you defend it with the vicious paranoia of a mind with a complex.

Meanwhile I, saying this to you, shall be either lauded or shunned by degrees, as is the custom. And I am familiar with the process in a way that still remains irksome despite the years.

“I’m gonna just make up an animal,” he says to my silent but obvious musings. “Because it’s all myth.”

“Ooh! I feel like I might be a sloth-bear.”

“Those are two real animals,” I point out.

He grins, “Yeah, don’t you know at least one of them has to be old-fake and not new-fake? Like a platypus and a unicorn.”

I think on my several unicorn-loving acquaintances and wonder what they will think of this progression.

“What would you call it?” 

She chews her lip. “A Plunicorn?”

“I am almost certain that already exists,” I say.

They exchange a look of disbelief. Oh ye of little education, how inaccurate and uninformed is your self-image? But I suppose if one cell could conceive of the other cells accurately, it might decide to never deal with those assholes again, and completely shut down the body.

“No way!” They exclaim at once.

I take out my phone and search. Within seconds I have hundreds of references to people who have used “plunicorn” as their name on any number of sites. I hold it out to them. 

He is unimpressed. “Well, shit…a plunicorn could be a fucking unicorn from Pluto. Let’s call it a platycorn!”

Wry expression in place, I call up the search and show him the first thing to pop on screen.

His mouth falls open.

“If you can imagine it, then someone else has, and the felicity of information transit means they have already given it to someone who can draw, and that someone has sent it to 7 billion people. And now there are probably thousands of humans who identify as this stupid poisonous Narwhal. You underestimate your own insanity.”

Jaws dangling, they fall into their cups and leave me in peace.

Much later, when the children are unconscious, and he is twined around me beside the fire pit, his chin resting on my shoulder, he begins to whisper a mea culpa in my ear on behalf of his entire species throughout time.

I shush him.

“No, I’m gonna say it, because I think you need to hear it. I get it, I think. I get what you’re feeling when you hear shit like that. To you it feels like your identity is being stolen, even while other people tell you that you either cannot exist or that if you did you’d be hated. That’s a rejection on every possible level while they turn you into all their good and bad jokes all at once.”

There is nothing to be said. That is precisely the way it has felt, and while I have tried to be objective and view it from the outside, it sometimes still stings.

“But you’re missing something.”

“And what is that?”

“We are different species. You’re seeing us the way you see us, not the way we are. It’s the exact same thing we’re doing to you. Your entire theory is based on your perspective, and I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying that you haven’t considered that maybe we actually just think this way. That we tackle all the shit we hate about reality in the same way every time. Maybe it isn’t a mental illness soaking into all we do. Maybe it’s a process that gets applied to everything even a little bit similar. There’s more of us than there are of you, but that doesn’t make our way better or even logical.”

I stare at him and feel myself grow cold in his arms as I reframe all I have been thinking for the last few centuries from this new vantage. 

If he is correct, that would mean that humanity would take the inexplicable forces of nature, turn them into fictions, absorb and insert themselves into the myth and then rework it and mash it until the gods were tiny friends about their size who sometimes can be killed. If he is correct, certain men will comb derelict houses looking for traces of a spirits until their entire fortune is decimated, meanwhile broadcasting their conjecture into millions of homes so that the human mill can churn and churn until mortality has been transformed into something that can be borne. If he is right, monsters will amplify and warp us to suit their worst parts, then make the rejection or absorption of us into their newest self-awareness exercise, until somewhere, some child reads my journal, and decides that through a curious twist of an imperfect grasp of science, he is me.

“That is a very inefficient and ineffective system,” I breathe.

“No shit. In case you hadn’t noticed, we aren’t exactly the epitome of evolution.”

“It is amusing to hear you tell yourself that you are.”

“Well, it’s just the same thing, isn’t it? Maybe it’s the first thing. The first fiction we ever ate.”

Indeed. When man decided he was obviously smarter than his neighbors, he must have spent centuries trying to feel less alone. Perhaps that is the heart and all the other machinations weave around that delicate organ, protecting it from the onslaught of chaos. You need to be special. Otherwise…you are an accident, and the universe is a fickle thing. It is a beautiful, glorious, bizarre, life-giving and toxic thing.

Kind of like a platypus…if you crossed it with a unicorn.

Perhaps you’re not insane. Perhaps you’re just not as rational as some of us. I wonder what you would do, if I ever actually began to believe in the costume I wear, if one day, I simply looked in the mirror and said “I identify as human.” Perhaps I already have done, by assuming you think anything like me, or are even capable of it. Perhaps we will never understand each other, and perhaps that means we should both take off our costumes and “be ourselves” instead of trying to define what that self is in relation to perceived societal norms. Perhaps we should all confront reality for what it is, and fight that in a more direct fashion.

But then again, platycorns are apparently quite adorable, and who wants to deal with reality? Let’s continue to invent spells and imagine fairies, instead of examine all the stupefying reality that actually does exist. Fairies are easier, because I can make them think and feel whatever I want, while I cannot explain gravity or make you see my opinion as valid.

Forgive the sarcasm. It comes from years of annoyance. Please don’t be tempted to think that my examination of you in any way dims my appreciation of you as a species. It does not. I suppose I shall simply have to accept that you are this way. You have brilliance in you and perhaps your fictionalization of the entirety of existence is simply that which makes you creative.

If you want to make up a person’s that suits you, well, whatever. I suppose we all do every time we step out the door. 

But, as someone said recently, it is easy to pretend to be an asshole and then excuse your bad behavior by saying “Well, I guess I’m an asshole.” Don’t identify as an asshole. That is a terrible fiction to tell one’s self. 

Go with the platycorn.

Monstrous Myths: The Boogeyman

When I began this series of website entries, it was to demonstrate something of a “unified field theory” of monstrosity, if you will. My reasoning was simple: I am a monster, and if there were other species of hideous man-eaters shuffling over the earth, I would have seen them. For the sake of this experiment, it falls to me to demonstrate that your own mythology, as varied and complex as it is, supports my hypothesis. No monster does better in this capacity than the Boogeyman, and so, in the spirit of this Halloween season, and in celebration of the arrival of my second book, I have decided to pursue that infamous figure shrouded in darkness. My mission takes me from the rooftops to the bowels of the earth.

The Boogeyman is largely undefinable with androgynous leanings and an amorphous appearance, but notable for several key commonalities: he is ubiquitous, terrifying, and born of the shadows. In almost every culture, every country, there is a boogeyman. Spiralling away from Europe into Russia and south to Africa, these divergent stories diverge hardly at all — even their names are closely related linguistically. Variously described as dark, clothed in black, able to blend into the night seamlessly, this monster has one purpose: to torment children.

All the world over, you may goad your little ones with the horrors that could befall them for not eating their vegetables, but you also bless them to protect from such hazards.

There were cases of children vanishing. There were instances of abduction. Long before there were understandings of psychology or criminal analysis, these things were attributed to monsters. And every parent knew that the monster must be invisible to have gotten past their protections.

Every child knows that the monster will find them no matter where they cower and there is no blanket on the planet thick enough to protect them. Sometimes lurking beneath the bed, in the recesses of a closet, or in the corners of rooms by night, this devil invades their dreams. He is just waiting for a moment to gobble them up or spirit them away. The poor dears, heads full of nightmares, go to their beds certain that they have reached the end of their lives.

I think you can see why descriptions of the Boogeyman are never precise. The fear is less tangible now, but in the days of my first memories, death was everywhere, and most children did not live into puberty. The Boogeyman only takes the wicked children, but it is the wicked ones who are most likely to wilfully disregard their parents, or run away into the night to be overcome by the elements or some other horrible calamity. And as you know from reading my short stories, there absolutely were child-predators. The threat was mind-numbingly real, and thus, extremely effective.

But was it all a perfect storm of imagination? Was there ever a real Boogeyman to whom the first instances can be attributed, or is this merely the product of the universality of bad parenting, unseen criminal mischief, and the fear of chaotic reality?

I think not.

In a data set packed with noises beneath beds, knocking on walls, disembodied shadows that shift ominously — all easily explained by heightened awareness and fear — there are a few encounters that speak to me, and some of them come from you, my gentle readers.

Once in a great while, you find a child staring out a window at the man with the sharp smile in their favourite tree. Once in a while, there is the hooded figure on the rooftop next door, looking in as if waiting for something. Once in a great while, a child is saved from drowning by a dark hand. Once in a while, the forest herds a lost little one from its treacherous grasp. Once in a while, the monster with whom they live, turns up dead of a broken neck. Once in a while, the man tracking them vanishes into an orchard and is never seen again.

Once in a great while.

We are dangerous. We are killers, each of us unique. I have never willingly harmed a child outside of war, but I have eaten them. I have my ethics, my feelings, but they are mine alone. I am certain that many of my brethren have spirited your babies away. I am sure that there are many shadowy figures who wait to hear that some little one is nothing but a pain. Perhaps they are salivating in the wings, all too happy to make the baseless threat a reality.

Once in a while, however, a wild child is found.

In the twelfth century, only a few decades after the Norman Conquest of Britain, in the town of Woolpit, two children turned up in a field. They spoke a language no one had ever heard, and were entirely green from head to toe. The young boy was reportedly sickly and died, but the girl acquired English and told her benefactor of a land of eternal twilight. Called St. Martin’s land, its inhabitants were all a fine shade of green. According to this young lady, she and her brother were tending to a flock of animals, when they found a cave and wandered toward the sounds of bells, as if traversing a corridor between worlds.

The accounts that survive are extremely suspect for their vagueness, and modern historians would love to say that whether or not the events actually happened is irrelevant. Some discount it altogether as nothing but folklore, but yet again, they base this assumption only upon the few references to survive the ravages of time. Others believe it must have happened, and that the twilight realm was merely a larger cave, and they wandered out into the sun.

Before you ask, I cannot tell you if these events actually transpired, as this was before my time in England; Indeed it is before the time I remember as my awakening. I can tell you, however, that the story was extremely well-known in my day, and most everyone believed the siblings had been stolen from their beds by a vindictive witch, the fairies, or our friend, the Boogeyman. Compare the tale to Hansel and Gretel, first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, but predating them. The abandoned little siblings fed a terrible diet of sweets by their cannibalistic captor, kept in the woods until the time was right to make a tasty pie. Everyone knew the Babes in the Wood, and everyone knew that they were lucky to escape.

The girl supposedly lived a normal life above ground, and she never exhibited any magical talents. She married well and was employed. She seemingly never tried to rediscover her colony of green people. And the green people never came looking for their lost children. If it is folklore, I fail to see the point. It could be the delusions of sickly children, but there are entirely too many details for which there is no account. I find it more likely, as odd as it sounds, that it did happen and that there is an explanation for a cloister of people living underground, suffering from chlorosis.

Anyone who has studied feral children knows that they, by definition, lack language. Yet these two spoke a tongue no one, not even their gentleman host, knew— and in those days, England was a cesspit of languages; Anglo-Saxon, Flemish, Briton, Gaelic, Dutch, Norman French. Someone had to have taught them this language. In an era when traveling was fraught with dangers and very expensive, it is doubtful that their ancestors migrated from a prohibitively distant foreign land to start a colony in a subterranean vault.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of person keeps animals in a cave, herds sheep underground. It must needs be someone who never wants to be seen, but eats meat by the pound.

And then again, there is the name of their idyllic sanctuary: St. Martin’s Land. Saint Martin of Tours is the patron saint of alcoholics. If the savage children had no knowledge of faith or English, I wonder how they know to call it that.

There are many explanations for these events, no doubt. It could be a simple story carrying on the ancient trope of the mystical “other” who reveals itself to align with the tainted world of man. It could be that there was a kindly hermit hoarding orphans who had nowhere else to go. It could be that the Boogeyman meant to gobble them up, and had himself quite the collection.

Hell, it could be all three.

Or it could be something else entirely. What that is, I leave to you. Is the Boogeyman real? Who took all the lost children? What peeks out from the treetops as you sleep? Why is it, over all the world, the creature is the same? Is he bad, good, or just terribly complicated?

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Imagery

“Writing is collaborative. You’re not just perfectly rendering a world. You’re making a pact with the reader, and it’s a new agreement, every time the book is read, even with the same person. Also…If you’re still worried about your personal safety, IMHO it’s better that you don’t do it, since the readers’ image of you is always fuzzy and changes all the time.”

I stare at the words for a long while. I wonder if I can agree.

I often wonder this. Every time I confront an opinion on the internet with which I strenuously disagree — modern political discourse comes to mind — I stare at it and project forward several decades. I contemplate the world, still carrying on, after the offending individual is little more than a pile of dust. And I like Kali-ma am treading the bones on the battlefield and smiling that somewhere among all the putrid rubble of humanity, my editor is being crushed underfoot.

Chef glances at my stern face and lowers his ordering paperwork. “What’s she nit-picking now?”

“My face.”

“How can she do that from two states away? She’s never even seen you! You haven’t started putting up photos have you?”

I would never do something so rash. He knows my fears about facial recognition software, databases, and meta-data. He knows I value his privacy as much as my own, and while he will sometimes steal my phone and annoy the readers who converse with me, he prefers to keep his distance. This is my experiment or personal search, and while he respects it, he is only a tertiary part of it.

“I have considered commissioning a portrait.”

“Why the hell would you do that?”

I stare at him narrowly as I swivel my chair. “People continue to ask for pictures of me.”

“Fuck them.”

While succinct, his criticisms are not quite perspicacious. “Kristina’s argument is a trifle less derisive of my fans. But I disagree with it similarly.”

His mouth falls open and he regards me blankly. “You’re still pissed about all those big words she made you change, aren’t you? Whiny Emo kid.”

Stretching as I rise, I surreptitiously roll my eyes upward. “You only say that because you have no idea what those big words mean.”

“Like trying to suck face with a god damn thesaurus,” he mumbles. “Mouth full of paper cuts.”

“Self-inflicted, you overgrown infant.”

I wander into the bathroom and stare into the mirror. I glance over my features, those odd things I cannot seem to capture when I attempt a self-portrait. I stare into my dark eyes and let the white light sculpt my cheeks and chin.

“Would it augment their experience, or detract from it, I wonder?”

He appears behind me, arms crossed. I know the look on his face; he worries any time I change the rules. He treats it as if he will be one of the things excised by the press of time as I squeak through.

“You don’t owe them anything. They paid for the book, that’s all. Next thing I know, you’re going to be making an appointment on some national television show to have your guts exposed.”

He is adorable in his distress, his eyes shimmering and his face like alabaster, but he needn’t be so concerned. I have no intention of being the first to step forward. It would be betrayal to my cousins, who choose to live in anonymity. It would make their masquerade impossible, our disagreements notwithstanding.

“Even if I did, it would be considered a massive hoax, or did you not hear of the Alien Autopsy debauchal?”

“Yeah, but with inconclusive non-human DNA and an X-ray of your weird ass organs?”

“David Blaine can fly, and before him, Dan Brown could read minds, and oh, yes, there was Houdini and his water tank. I doubt anyone would even take my call.”

I open the plastic case for my eyebrows and lashes. They are handcrafted of mink and cost as much as a new laptop. Their application would be daunting if I had not done it a thousand times. The glue becomes tacky as he stares at me with those uncannily penetrative eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“For a drive.” But that is a half-truth. He follows me down to the car. As I extricate myself from the eager mutt, and slip into my seat, he scrutinizes me. After I have driven away, I receive a text. In my car’s female voice, it sounds strange.

“I love it when you lie to me.”

I shake my head. I know what the next message will be. Chef enjoys being lascivious whenever the opportunity presents itself. You might be tempted to think this is because he cannot accept me and is overtly compensating for my dearth of emotion, but I know that this is not true. I think perhaps, foremost on this earth, he is a person who truly understands me.

“When you come back I’ll be waiting for my apology.”

I park in front of the bank and fish the tiny key from among its many fellows. The manager jumps as I knock on his door jamb. Whether or not he realizes it, I have been a customer of this bank since its founding. I have funneled my assets from place to place for centuries, turning them over like one tills a field, rotating stock and bonds, planting wealth in fertile soil. I am here often, and the entire staff knows me by name.

“Mr. Alkenmayer! Do we have an appointment?”

“No, forgive me. Today I’d like to visit.”

He sees the key in my hand and raises his own in salute.

I almost never come to my safety deposit box. Most of my belongings are more secure in a safe in my own home. Only a few get shoved away, put in the hands of mortals. Only a few things would ever mean anything if they were found to be in my possession, but if hunters ever do come to my door, they will miss me. I will be here, collecting these few things, readying myself to move along.

I follow behind him, my mind tracking his peculiar lumbering gait. I knew his grandfather. The man was stocky, built like a lion, but with the most graceful sea legs. He could run across a heaving deck in the slick of a storm and pull a full net better than a pack mule. That his lineage have become skip-stepping bankers is an interesting development.

“Your diet is doing you good.”

“Thirty pounds!” He looks back at me. “I’ve started jogging!”

He removes my box from its sconce and gives it to me with a curious and eager smile.

“Please tell me you’re about to pull out another ancient promissory and make my week.”

He can count the number of times this has happened upon one hand, and finds my constant, dragon-like obsession with my wealth to be amusing. That is because he has no idea I have witnessed the rise of banks and still find them terribly bizarre and untrustworthy. I haunt them lest the numbers dwindle, a kind of fiduciary phantasm.

“I’m afraid not.”

With a shrug, he vanishes, but I know he will be hovering right outside.

I open the lid. The book is on top, tightly wrapped in gauze. The leather binding is nearly a century old, and the paper is yellowed with age. I crack the spine and leaf through the pages, falling through time.

My fascination with technology is as old as the subject. From the tinder box to the electric coil, from the fire iron to the washing machine, from the telegraph to the internet — I have tinkered with them all. Photography has not escaped my notice.

I stare down at the turn of the century hat, the unused side arm, the beaded ballgown I wore to a local charity event in the mid thirties. Me after me, in many forms, all assiduously collected and curated, for no one other than myself.

In the Old Age, certainty was easy. I could control exactly how and when I was seen. Now it is almost impossible, and I have given up the fight, or rather, taken it to a different front. Now I cheat time with makeup and prosthetics, human assumptions and easy gender transformations, such that even should I walk right into the manager’s grandfather, the salty dog would never know me.

The photograph I seek is on the last page. I remove it carefully and tuck it away.

Fossil Record

You know from reading my book, gentle reader, that I often discuss history — and in, quite possibly, and unexpected way — from the standpoint of someone who not only lived through it, but continues to find it fascinating. Humans tend to think of history as something that no longer has any function except as a standard, but that is not how I see it. I have a much more metaphysical perspective.

Let us craft a metaphor: I assume you know about gravity and the rules that govern the tug between very large objects, the complex and inextricable patterns that weave when many such bodies interact — for example, the solar system. These planets tug at one another, like dancers with hands clasped. History is not dead. It is not something that ceases to matter, no matter how long ago it transpired. History is, in fact, a large orb, ever-increasing in volume, dwarfing the tiny instantaneous present, rolling over the possible future. Everything you do swivels around that massive sun, though you perhaps, do not recognize it.

I do, but that is not because of any innate superiority. I merely have the benefit of perfect hindsight.

Given this, I have noticed something over the last, oh…perhaps three hundred years or so. It began with exploration— not the sort you did in the 1200’s for the sake of trade, but the sort done with science, immediately after the great enlightenment. Men began to wander around, picking up rocks and dusting them off. Men began to hypothesize incredibly simple (and therefore obviously true) things like evolution. Men began to wonder whence they came, and how long ago.

Their efforts, however, were greatly hampered, by the slow momentum of technology and one other thing — the mysterious vanishing of knowledge.

This is when I saw it: the eerie emotional state that slowly, creeping along like a fog, overtook the human mind. Psychology began to shift, and the focus of horror and revulsion became, not “the other”, but “the other within”. There is a profound gap in your mind. I compare it to walking into a room, and forgetting why you have gone. Standing around, looking at the place, wondering what it was you meant to do — Douglas Adams coined the term “woking” for this, and it is a lovely phrase I intend to utilize. So, deep in the subconscious dungeons of the human mind, a lost soul is woking…wondering what in the hell happened before the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria, wondering what was lost with war and the Dark Ages, wondering just when humanity began to be “human”, wondering if everything it knows…

Is wrong.

You maintain many misconceptions about antiquity. You look back upon tiny tablets and instruments you uncover and propose frankly insulting notions. For example: you look at the pyramids and an increasing number of you shrug and say, “Well, they could not possibly have done that, and so they must have had help from aliens.”

Aliens.

Superior beings from interminable distances away, came to this rock in craft we know not how to classify, and decided to cut up massive rocks and arrange them in clever stacks. Of course. How could I be so stupid to suppose that in fact, it is highly likely that there is a vast lack of information and that humans probably did it themselves. It is probably impossible that they moved these monoliths by encasing their ends in wooden wheels, thus turning the entire stone into an axel, and then slowly, via ropes, leverage, and sheer focus, rolled the things into place as was done in my lifetime. I suppose it is improbable that the evidence of canal and diamond saw usage found recently in the Valley of the Kings is ridiculous — I mean, they’d only been mining diamonds for… what? Ever.

Yes, this is all rhetorical sarcasm.

You have mysteries behind you, and I suppose it is not unreasonable that you will fill in those blanks with whatever thing seems to pack the space best — aliens can do anything (because they are imaginary in this context) and so they explain everything quite nicely. Until there are contradictions, until no one can agree with which aliens, how, when, and for what purpose. Rather like you did with gods, demons, and yes, my species, you can now use aliens to self-medicate your psychological defect.

But why are we discussing this?

Because I know, and have always known, that there is a disparity in the timeline of man. Nearsided men who look backward imperfectly always speak with such absolute certainty, whether or not it is warranted. They declare that civilized man is only 10,000 years old.

I defy them.

When they find things they cannot explain, like copper-lined clay jars that hold a modest charge when filled with vinegar, they shrug. When they unearth — or in this case pull from the deep — something like the Antikythera Mechanism, they make faces and say “I didn’t know men could do that! They must not have been common, the product of one single genius who died in obscurity, because we have only found one, you see.” When they look at the Roman aqueducts, their holding tanks that use properties of physics to move water uphill, their lines so straight that they deviate over vast distances by less than an inch, they often are awed.

They should not be awed. I tell you there is an enormous pocket of information folded into your blood, that no one will ever open. It is lost. But every now and again, men discover tiny hints, develop new ways of looking. First it was genetics, and you discovered that there were many races mingled together, that your entire race was actually composed of a multitude. This is marvelous enough, especially when it can be used to track your migration across the world.

Now that you know how to seek, you find.

Simon, you say, please come to the point. Why are we enduring this drawn out discourse upon the idea that already makes us cringe?

Something happened recently, and I find it fascinating. That is why.

It was recently discovered that Neanderthal, that long lost, red-headed, step-cousin of current man, built some of the oldest structures ever found, the earliest of any hominid. And they did it underground. Deep in Bruniquel cave in France, about 300 meters from the entrance, these “primitives” shaped and arranged natural mineral stalactites into little rooms. You are not the first masons. You are their descendants.

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Homo sapiens is not the dawn of civilization, a race of superior entities that resulted when the best of nature got together and “humped”. In fact, the more you look, the more you find that it is more likely that these groups of hominids had very evolved and complicated ways of existing, ways that may have been passed to you. Ways that perhaps, even now, tug at you. It is possible that the desire to build is not yours, but belongs instead, to your Neanderthal lineage. And maybe buried in sands deeper than those which surround Ur, there are other Berbebez, Gobekli Tepe, or Bimini Roads.

It is not aliens, unless you consider those ancient parts of your firmament to be wholly alien to you. I advise you to look into that dark mirror. I advise you to embrace these shadows of your ancestry, and smile.

There are pieces missing, and I know that they pull at you in nearly imperceptible ways, but this unquantifiable force is dangerous. It gives rise to the most heinous of fictions.

These fictions are what bury humanity, better than any desert or jungle.