Thursday, June 6, 2013

skulking along

Those strange creatures are out there for sure, skulking along at the margins of believability, much as they move at the edges of our vision, ever only seen fleetingly. I’ve seen inexplicable lights in the sky that I always end up explaining away as orbiting satellites, but that’s not to say the appeal of that Close Encounters of the Third Kind sort of thought about stepping aboard the mothership hasn’t occurred to me—though the starship is not so much about escape as it is about transcendence. Imagine the chance to live among the stars.
Kal-gonn, take me away 
Much as I’ve seen such lights, I’ve also heard strange noises back in the woods in the dead of night. Heavy footsteps, snapping branches, and the huffing breath of some unseen, and so unknown, creature. They always keep their distance from the campsite, moving deep among the trees the way a pike swims through the thickest weeds when it knows you’re there, and if I were the kind of person who watched too many gory slasher flicks, I might worry that a windigo was out there, its lips chewed to shreds (because until it claims a body for a meal, it gnaws on itself).

I know though, even without seeing it, that that huffing, stomping shadow out there beyond the reach of the firelight is in no way malevolent. I have every faith that it is Sasquatch, a creature not unlike myself, and he, she, or it is just trying to get along from day to day, seeking after the rudiments necessary for survival, but still willing, or perhaps needing, like myself, to be drawn away from the mundane grind of doing those things that need to be done to stay fed and warm in order to indulge his, hers, or its curiosity and marvel at the sight of a pair of relatively hairless creatures sitting near fire, making peculiar gestures with their hands and arms and vocalizing in odd, thin voices that really have little to no chance of carrying from hilltop to hilltop.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


In the coming weeks, I will be posting excerpts from a set of essays I am writing and rewriting with the intent of collecting them in a book tentatively titled Strange Creatures: Windigos, Tricksters, and Bigfoot. I need a clever addition to the subtitle to convey the fact that I'm writing a book about the way that American culture draws on American Indian stories as sources for these creatures.

There are strange creatures out there, my friends, and you know it—even if you find it hard to believe sometimes.

The Lone Gunman?
You’ve heard about aliens who rocket their way over vast stretches of space to find us, but you’ve also heard that maybe they’re so advanced spiritually and technologically that they just fold the dimensions of space like some spectacularly gifted origami artist and step from their world to ours and perhaps you’ve wondered, as I have, if have they have such unfathomable abilities, why do they torture innocent humans with rectal probes. Along with myself, you’ve wondered how long this has been going on.

Other strange creatures are out there as well, homegrown so to speak, as they live deep in the trackless forests. You’ve heard about them, even if you haven’t seen them. You’ve heard about the hulking shadows that leave deep footprints in soft earth, that knock branches against tree trunks in the dead of night and howl and yowl from distant hilltops, warning others of their kind against our intrusions into their place. You’ve heard tell they smell like that dense muck that composts in the black waters of backwood swamps. You’ve heard the stench will make your eyes water.

Lord Sarku
Some of you have heard about the emaciated figures that look like the people they once were but have now grown as tall as the trees and hunger endlessly for human flesh. They overtake you like a swift winter wind, seizing you in their cold arms and then consume you; worse, if you ever indulge in their diet, if you ever taste human flesh, even if it is the only way to stave off starvation—that is, even if it is seemingly justifiable—you become like them, a voracious and never sated monster with a heart of ice, feeding on the people you once loved—and who, from love, will seek to kill you. You lose your name when you become one of them; you cease to be you; you go windigo and you don’t come back.

In a less monstrous but nevertheless still uncanny manner, others of you have seen Coyote sitting at the side of the road while you’re stuck in traffic and you swear that smile on his face is near human and when you stare too long at him, he turns tail and bolts for the brush, and what at first thought strikes you as dog-like yipping turns into wild peals of undeniably human laughter. Despite your eminent good reason, you find yourself wondering if that creature was a man dressed in a coyote skin, which would be strange enough, but then you recall hearing about shapeshifters on some half-remembered documentary or reading about them in some online article, and you think maybe you saw a person in coyote form, or stranger still you wonder if what you heard laughing was a coyote in human form. You wonder why he laughed at you, until you realize that one of you is free to run and laugh while the other is stuck in the car listening to the engine idle. He’s quite the trickster, that Coyote.