Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Tearful Squonk by Mae Clair

It’s always fascinating when I stumble upon a new creature in my ongoing searches for all things odd, mythical, or cryptozoological. Even more rewarding when I discover a beastie from my native state of Pennsylvania.  Today, I’d like to introduce the Squonk.

Doesn’t the name sound like something out of Dr. Seuss or Jabberwocky? I love saying it. Give it a try… “Squonk.” It makes me want to cuddle the poor thing.

As it turns out, the squonk could probably use a good cuddle— assuming you could get past its ghastly appearance.  A mid-sized animal that goes about on four legs, the squonk will never win a beauty contest. Its skin, which sags and flops on its frame, is covered in a mish-mash of warts, boils, and moles.

Illustration of the mythical Squonk, a creature rumored to haunt the hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania

Illustration from “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods” illustrated by Coert Du Bois and by William T. Cox, 1910 PUBLIC DOMAIN . By Coert Du Bois and by William T. Cox;Tripodero at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Said to favor the dense Hemlock forests of Northern Pennsylvania, this pitiful creature spends most of its time hiding and weeping, ashamed of its grotesque appearance. Bashful and retiring, it usually ventures out at dusk when it is less likely to be seen. On nights illuminated by a full moon it prefers to stay completely hidden, fearing it might otherwise catch a glimpse of its reflection in a pond.

Numerous hunters have attempted to capture a squonk, tracking the animal by the trail of its tears. All have failed. If cornered, or even frightened, the squonk will quickly dissolve into a puddle of tears.

How terribly sad is that?

Legend tells of a particularly clever hunter who was able to lure one of the creatures into a sack. He quickly tied the bag and hefted the beast over his shoulder for the stroll home. Halfway there he realized his burden had grown incredibly light. When he looked inside the sack he discovered nothing but liquid—all that remained of the woefully despondent squonk.

Although it’s not entirely clear from the research I’ve done, I tend to think the squonk reverts back to its physical form when the threat has passed—and most assuredly begins weeping again.

Given its pitiful existence, I hereby nominate this Mythical Monday as “Hug a Squonk Day.” Assuming, of course, you can catch one long enough to brighten the poor thing’s dismal existence!

Mythical Monday: Visiting a Haunted Hotel by Mae Clair

One of the ponds in the TNT Area of West Virginia

One of the ponds in the TNT Area of West Virginia

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I recently took a trip to Point Pleasant, West Virginia in order to continue researching my Mothman series of novels. This time, I was able to garner a much better understanding of how the “TNT AREA” is laid out, and visited a few specific locations I wanted to see. Originally used to store munitions in World War II, the TNT is now a wildlife management area that encompasses over 3600 acres. Riddled among dense woodlands, overgrown trails and algae-covered ponds is a network of concrete “igloos” where ammunition was once stored. These are built into hillsides, and covered by trees and grass, making them invisible when viewed from the air.

There are several roads connected to the TNT that I really didn’t have a feel for, including one where cars have been known to shut down or stall for no reason. After visiting, I now understand how they intersect, and was even able to snap a photo of a map for the TNT at the Mothman Museum (yes, there is one). The museum has recently moved to a new building, and it’s far nicer than before. Hubby and I chatted with the guy who runs it for a while, and I was able to pick up some good info and another map.

Metal fencing in front of the site of the old North Power Plant in the TNT area, West Virginia

Site of the old north power plant in the TNT

I also wanted to see the ruins of the North Power Plant along Fairgrounds Road. This is the location where the Mothman was first sighted in 1966. The power plant is gone but I was able to snap of photo of the ruins and location where it stood.

So what does any of this have to do with staying at a haunted hotel?

During my last trip to Point Pleasant, my husband and I stayed across the river in Gallipolis, Ohio. This time we stayed in downtown Point Pleasant in the Historic Lowe Hotel. This is a very old four-story behemoth built in 1904. As I have an old hotel in my novels, I wanted to get a feel for this one.

The owners were super friendly and the location put almost everything I wanted to do within walking distance (except the TNT). I can’t begin to relay the scope of this place—it was mammoth. With its long halls, old stairways, elaborate moldings and woodwork, there were times I felt like I stepped into the Overlook hotel in The Shining. Everything was furnished with antiques, and I do mean antiques—as if nothing had ever been changed. I opened the top drawer on the dresser and discovered an old songbook from the 1940s, the pages yellowed and tattered, inside. The sink in the bathroom had separate faucets for hot and cold water. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a sink like that. The second floor landing had a huge parlor with a piano, parlor benches and chairs, this even before we ventured down the hallway to our room.

So where does the ghost fit in? When I inquired why the hotel was billed as haunted (something I didn’t realize until our last night there), our host told us that a phantom had been seen occasionally on the third floor. Nothing much appeared to be known about this ghost but there was a picture someone had snapped hanging in the second floor hallway. Our host told us the spirit was visible in the photo so my husband and I checked it out. I wasn’t expecting a lot, but have to admit, the image of someone is definitely visible in the bottom right hand corner. I tried to grab a shot of it with my phone. Are you able to see the ghost?

Framed photo of ghost rumored to haunt the Lowe Hotel in West Virginia, apparition visible on right

Framed photo of ghost rumored to haunt the Lowe Hotel in West Virginia, apparition visible on right

We left the next morning without having encountered any spirits or experiencing anything that went bump-in-the-night (er, not that I would want to). No Mothman, no UFOs, no men-in-black. But I did meet some great people and came away with additional research notes on an interesting, historic town.

Mythical Monday: Lore of the Leshy by Mae Clair

The woods are beautiful this time of year in my part of the world. Everything is green and blooming, heady with the scents of dark earth and loamy soil. A stroll through the woods evokes a sense of pure enchantment, the natural terrain riddled with leafy ferns, toadstools, and velvety moss.

A forest dwelling Leshy lurking among the trees

Photo by Pavel Suprun (Superka) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons

In the days of yore, a woodland creature known as the Leshy was charged with protecting the forest and its wild inhabitants. According to Slavic mythology, the Leshy is a male spirit who usually appears as a man but is able to alter his appearance, becoming as small as a blade of grass, or as tall as a tree. This forest-dwelling being also has the power to shape-shift into another creature, person or plant (Can you spot the Leshy in the picture above?). He normally strides about with his shoes on the wrong feet, and is occasionally reported to have wings and/or a tail. Some legends say he is covered in black fur. Others that his face is blue and his beard a tangle of living greenery. All agree he has a wife and children who reside with him in the forest.

The Leshy does not appear to be an inherently evil creature so much as a trickster, leading travelers along incorrect paths until they become hopelessly lost. He does this by mimicking voices of people they know, calling out to them from deeper within his woodsy realm. Eventually he will point the confused person in the right direction, but not until after a bit of laughter at his or her expense.

Illustration of the forest dwelling Leshy lurking among the trees.

By Magazine “Leshy” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; published before 1923 and public domain in the US

The Leshy casts no shadow, and because they are easily camouflaged by their surroundings, are difficult to spot. If you ever go wandering in a forest and become hopelessly lost, you can gain the Leshy’s respect and avoid torment by turning your clothes inside out and putting your shoes on the wrong feet. Perhaps this is a sign of surrender and the Leshy will leave you alone—even agreeably pointing the way back to civilization. Should the Leshy decide to take you back to his cave, however, it’s likely you’ll meet your end there. This mischievous spirit has a fondness for tickling his victims to death. (Don’t you wonder how some of these tales got started?).

I’ve seen a lot of strange and interesting things when I take hikes in the woods (admittedly, far less frequently these days than when I was younger) but I’ve been fortunate enough to elude the Leshy. Or perhaps he has been there all along, watching from a distance, and I merely managed to avoid his pranks by chance or a moment of whimsy on his part.

It makes you stop and wonder. Apparently, there are more beings lurking in the forest than we know…

Mythical Monday: Of Fey Folk and Faerie Dogs by Mae Clair

Whenever spring and summer roll around, I think of mushroom rings, twilight evenings perfumed by honeysuckle, and faeries. Tucked away in a drawer, I have of those Frankenstory WIPs that has been hanging around for decades. Every year I think “this is the year I’m going to pull it out and finish it.” And every year it never happens. :(

The story has been through multiple title changes (it’s presently without one), length modifications, character changes, plot thread rewrites, and just about everything in between. I should abandon the wretched thing, but I can’t seem to walk away from the Fey Folk.  Yes, faeries factor prominently into the plot. It’s part urban fantasy, part horror, and part magical realism. The last one is what draws me in, refusing to let me abandon it. Who knows….maybe the Fey have placed a glamour on it and that’s why it’s still wiggling around in the back of my mind.

One of these days…one of these days I will finish it. Given how odd the story is, I’m sure I’ll have to indie pub it, but that’s okay. It’s one of those books you want to see “out there” just because it resonates with you. Kind of like faeries do.

At least for me.

But did you know there are also tales of a Faerie Dog? This ghostly animal appears mostly as a herald to announce the imminent presence of the Fey. Perhaps the ancient faerie races were too lofty to soil themselves by interacting with humans, but they weren’t above using human tools for their purpose.

A spinning wheel in an old cottageAs an example, there is a brief account I found in The Vanishing People, Fairy Lore and Legends, a book by Katherine Briggs. It speaks of a family who were visited by a Faerie Dog. According to the tale, the family would gather on winter nights in the main room, the mother and daughters working at their spinning wheels. From nowhere, a white dog would appear in the room, a sign the family was about to be visited by the Fey Folk.

Bustling about, the humans ensured a fire burned brightly in the hearth, put out fresh water for their guests, then hurried to bed. Below, in their living quarters, they could hear the faeries moving about, but never saw them. Only the white dog was visible.

The same book tells of another family who neglected to leave water out for the faeries when they arrived to do baking. Since they had no water for their dough, the Fey Folk drew blood from the toe of a servant girl and used it to bake their cakes. The next day the servant girl fell ill and only recovered when she was given a bit of cake left under the thatch.

The faeries in my Frankenstory would probably follow either path. They’re focused on their own pleasures, even at the expense of mortals, but aren’t above helping humans if it suits their fancy.

When I was a kid, I thought of faeries as small, tiny creatures, frivolous and harmless. As I grew older and became familiar with the ancient legends, that opinion changed to reflect a race of majestic beings, sometimes heroic, sometimes selfish, living forever on the cusp of right and wrong.

In Cornwall, the faeries are called the Pagan Dead…not bad enough for Hell, but not good enough for Heaven. What’s your take on these magical beings?

Mythical Monday: Krampus, the Christmas Devil by Mae Clair

Although I am attending a tech conference today, it’s been far too long without a new Mythical Monday, so . . .

Who could forget the song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town? How about the lyrics “he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Well, apparently, if your name is etched on Santa’s naughty list, there’s a chance you could end up with a lot worse than a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking.

Recently, I discovered a tale from Germanic folklore in which good ole’ St. Nick has an enforcer named Krampus for his dirty work—a nasty looking fellow with horns, cloven feet, and a ginormous forked tongue. Half-goat, half-demon, it’s the job of this nightmarish creature to mete out discipline. He hulks about trailing bells and clanking chains, creating an ominous racket. Decked out with a bundle of birch sticks, he uses the switches for whipping naughty children. His victims are beaten, then stuffed into a basket and carted to the underworld where they are served up as dinner, or perish in flame.

Hardly what you think about around Christmas-time.

Lots of old legends have a grim twist to them, many focused on children who are eaten or worse, but I thought this one appalling. Maybe because it’s centered around Christmas, which is supposed to be a time of good will.

The legend of Krampus is centuries old and is still shared in many Alpine countries. Some places even host parades in which men dress up as Krampus and roam the streets.

Traditionally, Krampus appears on “Krampusnacht” also known as Krampus night. This is the evening before St. Nicholas Day, December 6—a time when you definitely want to ensure your name is on Santa’s “good” list.

dsI discovered this chilling legend through a book I read recently, THE DARK SERVANT, by Matt Manochio. The title showed up on one of my email subscription lists and I was intrigued enough by the blurb to give it a go. Part thriller, part horror story, part YA novel, THE DARK SERVANT has Krampus showing up in modern day New Jersey and snatching several high school kids with bad attitudes.

The protagonist of the book is the sheriff’s seventeen-year-old son. Billy begins to put the pieces together and soon realizes the abductions have been perpetrated by a hulking, hairy monster with a nasty talent for inflicting pain. Too bad for Krampus he’s snatched Billy’s brother because Billy isn’t about to let Krampus haul him to the underworld—even if the adults are clueless about the true danger.

This was a page-turner, and I do recommend checking it out if this type of read appeals to you. I loved it! Personally, I love almost anything with a creature on the loose, especially when said creature gets to rampage in a modern-day setting.

I can’t say, however, that I have any desire to meet Krampus in the flesh. Fiction and folklore is much more preferable.

What about you? Have you ever heard of this “Christmas Devil” before, or is he new to you, too?

Mythical Monday: Ravens, Rooks and Crows Revisited by Mae Clair

Good day, friends! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to borrow from a post I ran in 2012 for today’s Mythical Monday. I have a rare day off work and hubby and I are taking a short trip to a neighboring town known for its eclectic shops and microbreweries. My normal writing time this weekend was gobbled up preparing A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS (my Mothman novel) for submission and clicking “send” (more on that in a later post, I hope).

So I’m cheating today and rerunning an old post that not many people saw. I’ve trimmed this down from the original and tweaked a bit. I no longer have the car mentioned toward the end (it didn’t do well in northern winters, so I traded it for an SUV), but I do recall the fun I had on Twitter tweeting about the events in this post. Mostly how my car was used in a murder.

Curious? Read on . . . :)

A crow perched on a tombstone at night in a spooky cemeteryHow do you feel about birds associated with folklore and superstition?

Ravens have a long-standing kinship with mysticism. In addition to being portrayed as a familiar to witches and wizards, they were also known to be extremely divining. Many Native American tribes regarded them as “Keeper of Secrets,” wise ones who safeguarded the teachings of magic.

Raven, a man with the head of a bird, brought light into the world and taught its inhabitants how to care for themselves. On the flip side, the raven was also a Trickster initiating change, not always pleasant. I find it interesting the term “rook” made it into our slang as a reference for being swindled. A rook is an old-world type of crow or raven. In reality, these intelligent birds are clever mimics that have been known to learn human words.

In the Bible, Noah sent a raven from the ark in search of ground, but it flew back and forth, unable to find a place to land in a world deluged with floodwaters. Later, he sent the dove which returned with an olive branch. Ravens were also commanded to feed the prophet Elijah and, in the gospel of Luke, we’re reminded that God feeds the ravens though they don’t sow, reap, or have storerooms or barns.

Would I know the difference between a crow and a raven if I saw them? Probably not. I know that ravens are larger and prefer less populated areas, while crows are more apt to hang around cities and urban spaces. Even cars.

A solitary crow on a post bows its head Case in point:  Two weeks ago while visiting my sister, I walked outside to find six or seven crows camped out on the roof and hood of my Chrysler 300. If I’d had a camera, I would have snapped a picture – large black birds on a solid black car. Turns out there must have been something snagged in the wiper blades. I never did find out what it was, but it had one handsome gent summoning his cronies to investigate. Before I knew it, my car had become the site of a “murder”.

Now I like birds, but not that much. There is something inherently creepy about seeing that many black birds rooted to your car. It’s not natural. By the time I shooed them away, they’d already turned my wiper blades into a gourmet snack.

And, of course, it was raining. That meant I was treated to a firsthand glimpse of the damage on the drive home—my wipers trialing long black strings that looked like ragged feathers. Trickster? Two new wiper blades later, I’d say it’s safe to tack that name onto crows, too.

So, despite having my car become the momentary snack of choice, I haven’t lost my appreciation for these the magical tricksters. How about you?

Mae Clair Presents: Will O’ the Wisp by C. S. Boyack #YA #MagicalRealism

Have I got a treat for you today! Blogging friend, Craig Boyack, has just released a tale guaranteed to appeal to young and old alike. I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this wonderful novel, which combines elements of magical realism, mystery, and fantasy, as well as a highly appealing coming of age theme. As I don’t post reviews on my blog, you’ll have to check Amazon for my five star review/rating—but I do have to point out several things that stood out for me about this novel:

Title and book cover:
I’m a Will o’ the Wisp fanatic from long ago. That bobbing, weaving sphere of light might not get as much exposure on my blog, as say my favorite cryptid, the Mothman, but I’ll readily devour any novel built around the legend of a “hinkypunk” or “spook light” — especially when the myth is so cleverly woven into the plot.

Setting:
Craig chose to set his novel in 1975, which resonated strongly with me. He fully immersed me in a time I remember well, making it easy to identify with his lead character, Patty Hall. I’m also a sucker for coming of age tales and anything that transports me back to those whimsical days of childhood. Here’s a small snippet from my Amazon review to give you an idea of what I mean:

This is an engaging YA read, but it’s also a treat for adults who will remember the era in which this is set. I loved the glimpse into a small rural town/farming community and the magic and whimsy of friendship. Remember Quisp cereal, your first teen dance, roaming through fields at night, exploring old cemeteries, sharing secrets with your friends? All of that magic and more is here. Patty is an everyday kid you can’t help but cheer for and admire. A delightful read for young and old alike.

And now, I invite you to take a closer look at WILL O’ THE WISP.

Book cover for Will O' the Wisp by C. S. Boyack depicting a ghostly floating light over a stream with trees

BLURB:
There is something evil up Bergamot Holler, and it’s been targeting the Hall family for generations.

Patty Hall is fifteen years old. She loves stargazing, science fiction, and all things related to space exploration. This leaves her perfectly prepared for the wrong problem.

Patty is afraid her mother will send her to a care facility if she tells her what she’s seen. If she doesn’t figure things out soon, she’s going to join her father in the Hall family cemetery plot.

Patty is going to have to come to grips with her own physical handicap, survive the wilderness, and face an ancient evil all alone if she’s going to survive.

Will O’ the Wisp is suitable for young adults. It involves strong elements of suspense, and is set in the mid 1970s.

EXCERPT:
In this scene, Patty and her friend, Laura are watching late night horror movies. There is a killer on the loose in their small town.

We curled up together on the couch and cuddled under Mom’s afghan. Mom turned the light off and went upstairs.

When the first alien eye peeked out of the TV screen, Laura said, “Maybe that’s it. Look, it’s green and it moves around too.”

“I don’t think so. It wasn’t attached to anything.”

“You said you were a long ways off. What if it’s one of those?”

“I would have seen that. Besides, they all get sick and die at the end. That’s not the worst that could happen.”

“Okay,” Laura said, “I don’t want to watch anymore. Besides your alien, there’s still a lunatic on the loose. He could jump through the window any old time.”

“I’ll go get my flashlight. You turn off the TV and I’ll make sure you aren’t in the dark.”

“Why do I have to be the one to stay here?”

“Okay, it’s in my backpack, but make sure you keep it on.”

She went upstairs and came back to the top of the stairs. Once the light was on, I hobbled to the TV and pushed the knob in.

I made three steps toward the staircase.

The light went off.

I screamed.

Laura screamed.

Mom ran out and bumped into Laura. Mom screamed.

Mom made Rick check the whole house with his gun in hand. She chewed us both out for not being more grown up. “I swear, no more Nightmare Theater for you, ever…”

Purchase Links:
WILL O’ THE WISP has two versions. This is due to use-permission on a particular song lyric used in the novel. If you live on the Northern American Continent, purchase your Kindle copy here.

Anywhere else in the world, grab your Kindle copy here.

Author C. S. BoyackConnect with C. S. Boyack at the following haunts:
Blog 

Twitter 
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Find all of Craig’s novels here