Today I'm proud to present a guest post from author Tam MacNeil, who's just launched her paranormal thriller Salt and Iron. It's about the youngest member of a monster hunter family trying to make his way in the world - while the world is crawling after him, looking for a bite. To commemorate to the book, Tam wants to introduce us to some of her favorite monsters that you've probably never seen in a novel or movie before.
Monsters are one of my favourite things. Like pantheonic gods they often represent some aspect of human life - fear of mortality, personification of tragedy, unutterable pain, or mental illness. They are expressions of the uncertainty of human existence, which makes them familiar, and that is part of what makes them so proudly horrible. -Tam MacNeil
Gashadokuro - Japanese
One of my old Greek History professors once told me, “History is a body count,” and she was right. Anywhere you’re standing, odds are good somebody’s spilt somebody else’s blood, either through murder or neglect. Well, in Japan there seems to be some social anxiety about that, because Japan has the gashadokuro, the colossal ghost-skeleton.
Usually to be found stalking the unwary traveller with a broken-down car or hurrying home through the countryside at night, gashadokuro are voracious ghosts made up of the bones of those who died violently or of starvation. "Ravenous" is an inadequate little word for these colossal creatures, which are said to devour anyone found on the road at night.
Since they’re said to be invisible, the only way to know if there’s a gashadokuro in your vicinity is by a sudden ringing in your ears. What do you do when your ears start to ring? Run. And hope you’re running away from the monster.
Soucouyant/Ole-Higue/Loogaroo - Caribbean
If you encounter the Soucouyant by day, she'll just look like an old woman , but at night she removes her skin and travels as a ball of fire to the homes of her victims. If you're in the Caribbean and you wake up with puncture marks on your body, you might have had a visit from the Soucouyant, a visit which will invariably kill you. (Alternatively, you might have been bitten by a bat - you should probably get that checked out. Rabies will invariably kill you too.)
Being a linguistics nerd, I was drawn to this creature because I thought the Loogaroo must be related to the French Loupe Garou. I'm not sure if there really is any connection, but the Soucouyant is plenty scary all on her own.
Shroud Eaters - European
Okay, so they’re vampires, and, sure, vampires are a staple of our culture. But these vampires are from a time before the aristocratic blood-drinker was the norm, a time when vampires were also called The Chewing Dead, or Shroud Eaters. They were closer to the modern Anglosphere's idea of a zombie than their current pop culture iteration; considerably less worried about their hair and considerably more concerned with spreading plague and devouring the living.
Because the action of the bacteria of the facial orifices causes anything placed over that area to decay rapidly, including shrouds, early would-be van Helsings would invariably have their fears confirmed. Open up a grave and find the body intact, but a decaying hole in the shroud around the mouth? You've got yourself a shroud-eater.
Depending on where you lived, you might cope with shroud eaters differently. In some places (eastern Europe, for example) a green stick through the chest was thought to kill the beast, but if you were an Italian, you might rest better knowing you’d stuck a brick in the creature’s mouth.
Ghul - Arabic
A djinn, but absolutely not the kind you sometimes daydream about summoning. These guys are terrifying, possibly undead, and certainly superhumanly powerful. Not only will they devour your body, they'll happily wear your face around town. Probably best to avoid.
Incidentally, up till reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, the only time I had encountered any iteration of this monster, it was as a low-level D&D enemy, and not particularly scary. But Ahmed’s ghuls stay true to their fiendish roots. Maybe the ghul is due for a resurgence. As someone who is a total chicken and can't even watch zombie movies, I, um, am not sure I'm excited about that.
Chanekeh - Mesoamerican-Catholic
One of the things I am fascinated by is the way Catholicism and Mesoamerican folkways wrapped around each other and made something new.
You might be familiar with Santa Muerte, the folk saint of death whose cult is springing up all over Mexico and the southern US (she features as a major character in Salt and Iron), but maybe you’re not so familiar with Chanekeh.
Originally, these little guys were sort of the equivalent of Irish sprites or Germanic elves, or the duende of the Iberian peninsula - troublesome little blighters who liked to steal your soul and bury it in the ground and then make you hunt around for it. If you don't find it in time? Too bad for you, you drop dead.
As Catholicism moved into Mesoamerica, an extra-creepy twist came into the tale: Now the chanekeh aren't just capricious elemental beings. Heck no. Now they’re the malevolent ghosts of babies who died before they could be baptized - willful, fiendish, and deadly to lone travellers.
Dullahan - Irish
Possibly the inspiration for the Headless Horseman of American folklore, the Dullahan is an omen of death.
The Dullahan, like a lot of Irish monsters, appears to travellers on the road, sometimes in advance of a funeral cortège. And that cortège isn't just any old cortège. It's the cortège of a doomed person, the wagon sometimes covered over by dried human skin. The Dullahan rides a dark horse, carries its own head under one arm, and whip made of a human spine in the other hand. If you have the intestinal fortitude to stop and speak to the Dullahan, it might utter the name of the one doomed to die. Maybe it's better not to ask.
Fear Gortagh - Irish (again)
I know, I'm cheating here, but Irish is my heritage, and the Irish have no shortage of really horrible monsters in their bailiwick.
Said to spring from a patch of grass where a victim of starvation lay down and died, the Fear Gortagh, or the Hungry Man, is a hungry ghost. He's emaciated, dressed in rags, and begging for food or money. As you pass him, you'd better give him a share of anything you have. If it's money he's asking for, throw a little something in his hat. If it's food, share your lunch. If you don't, guess who becomes the next Hungry Man on the road? That's right. You.
Yee Naaldlooshi (Skin-walker) - Navajo
There are plenty of were-beasts in the monstrous world, and I for one grew up on tales of the good kind (selkies, swan maidens, what have you) and of course encountered some of the bad kind (I Was a Teenage Werewolf!) but there’s something about the Navajo monster yee naaldlooshi or skin-walker, that makes the hairs on my neck stand up.
I don’t know much about skin-walkers, except that the Navajo aren’t the only Native American peoples to tell stories of this creature, but theirs is the one I’ve heard the most about, and that's mostly thanks to Wikipedia.
They can run as fast as your car, and might lope alongside while you’re driving. Incidentally, making eye contact with a skin-walker gives them the power to wear your skin as well. So maybe if that weird looking coyote is keeping up with you while you drive down the highway, don't look right at it.
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