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!

Announcing A Thousand Yesteryears by Mae Clair

I’m hijacking Mythical Monday again this week because I’ve got news I’m anxious to share. And in many ways, it relates to my love of folklore, mythology, and urban legends. In fact, it all started with a Mythical Monday post in 2013.

Densley wooded area with an old barrier blocking an overgrown path

A shot taken within the TNT, an old WWII munitions site the Mothman was rumored to haunt

Many of you know I’ve been working on a novel that utilizes the legend of the Mothman. I submitted that book, A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS, to my editor the end of March. She got back to me in good time and suggested a few changes. I took care of those and returned it to her in mid April, after which it was sent up the line to a senior editor for final approval. That’s when things got a little nerve-wracking.

Would he like it? Would he reject it? I hated the thought of having to submit elsewhere, but Kensington Publishing is a quality house, and I knew if I wanted to publish with them this was the process I needed to go through. I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind, fully aware it would be several months until I heard anything one way or the other.

Since A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS is the first novel in my Point Pleasant Series, I dove into research for book two and even took a trip to the town, which is located in West Virginia. Two days before I was scheduled to leave I received news that the manuscript had been accepted. YES!!  And not only that, but Kensington Publishing agreed to give me a 3-book contract for all the novels in the series. SQUEEEEE!!

It has been exceptionally hard sitting on that news. I wanted so badly to share it, but I’m superstitious at heart, so I decided to wait until contracts had been received and signed. That’s all been done now, and I’m over-the-top delighted to announce the Point Pleasant series. Here’s the release schedule:

Book 1, A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS will be released April of 2016

Book 2, A COLD TOMORROW will be released December of 2016

Book 3, (Untitled at this point), will be released August of 2017

In the past, my imprint with Kensington has been Lyrical Press. Moving forward with this series, the books will be released through their brand new sub imprint dedicated to suspense, mystery, romantic suspense, and thrillers—Lyrical Underground. I’m highly jazzed about that, because, although there is still a romantic suspense theme in all three novels, the mystery angle is far stronger than anything I’ve done in the past.

When I think back, this entire series started with a Mythical Monday post I wrote on February 4, 2013. At that time, I knew about the Mothman, but only that the creature was a winged humanoid with glowing red eyes. After writing that post, I really wanted to write a novel playing off the mythology of the legend. It’s interesting how even the blog comments reflect that. If you’re curious about the post that started the whole thing, you can find it here.

Now, I need to get cracking writing books two and three. Here’s a brief overview of the whole series. Note that the blurb for book 1 is not official at this point, and for books 2 and 3 I’ve only done short teasers:

THE POINT PLEASANT SERIES 

A THOUSAND YESTRYEARS, BOOK 1

Sometimes silence is the same as murder

On a cold December night in 1967, the Silver Bridge between Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio unexpectedly collapsed during the peak of rush hour traffic claiming forty-six lives, many perishing in the frigid waters of the Ohio River.

Just a child, Eve Parrish lost her father and her best friend, Maggie Flynn. Now, fifteen years later, she returns to Point Pleasant to settle her deceased aunt’s estate. Much has changed about the once thriving river community. The ghost of tragedy still weighs heavily on the town, as does the legend of a giant winged creature known as the Mothman, said to haunt an abandoned WWII munitions site.

Caden Flynn is one of the few lucky survivors of the bridge collapse, but blames himself for coercing his younger sister out that night. He’s carried that guilt for fifteen years, unaware there are darker emotions than grief tangled up in the Silver Bridge tragedy.

Eve’s arrival triggers the unraveling of a fifteen-year-old secret that places her and Caden in the crosshairs of danger.  A secret more terrifying than the bridge collapse and the frightful legend of the Mothman.

A murderer stalks the streets of Point Pleasant.

A COLD TOMORROW, Book 2

When Katie Lynch stops to help a disabled motorist, she unwittingly finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue involving flying saucers, mysterious men in black, animal mutilations, and the Mothman. Together with Officer Ryan Flynn, Katie attempts to decipher a coded message that points to the arrival of an extraterrestrial visitor.

Untitled, Book 3

To placate his sister who believes their family’s history of misfortune is tied to a centuries old curse, Quentin Marsh travels to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, hoping to uncover the truth about an Indian chief’s brutal murder. Did his ancestor participate in the ugly execution of Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, and how is the Mothman, a flying humanoid that has haunted the area for decades connected? Does local history buff, Sarah Sherman, hold the answer to breaking his family’s curse?

~ooOOoo~

So what do you think? Do I have you intrigued?

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: The Flatwoods Monster by Mae Clair

When I think of West Virginia and cryptids, I naturally think of the Mothman, but there is another famous monster that haunted the Mountain State in the past.

Mysterious creature haloed by moonlight

The Flatwoods Monster, or Braxton County Monster, arrived one early fall evening in 1952. Shortly after 7 o’clock on September 12th, a group of boys were playing outside when they witnessed a bright light streak across the sky. Brothers Fred and Edward May, ages 12 and 13, along with their ten-year-old friend, Tommy Hyer, raced back to the May home and excitedly told Mrs. May they had seen a UFO. They were certain it had touched down in a field not far away belonging to a local farmer.

Mrs. May gathered up the boys, along with two more of their friends, plus Eugene Lemon, a seventeen-year-old with the West Virginia National Guard. Together, the entire group headed to the farm to investigate. Lemon’s dog trotted alongside, eventually loping ahead to disappear beyond a hill.

Within moments, the group heard the animal barking wildly. It bolted back to them with its tail between its legs as if terrified by something.

Warily, the group crested the hill, astounded to see a pulsating “ball of fire.” The entire area was swaddled in a rancid mist that made their eyes and noses burn. Two smaller lights, blue in color, peered at them from beneath an oak tree. When Eugene Lemon shone a flashlight in that direction, the beam revealed a strange-looking creature—eight to ten feet tall with a spade-like head, red face, and green clothing that hung in folds from the waist down. The creature hissed and began floating toward them. At the last moment, it switched direction and glided toward the ball of flame. In a panic, the group fled back to Mrs. May’s house where she immediately contacted the sheriff, as well as Mr. A. Lee Stewart, co-owner of the local newspaper. Some of the group became nauseated and Lemon vomited, presumably from the noxious mist they’d inhaled.

Later that night, Stewart returned to the area with Lemon and reported a “sickening, burnt metallic odor still prevailing.” As word spread of the event, other witnesses came forward to report similar experiences in the days before and after the sighting—either with the creature, or to say they’d seen balls of orange light in the sky.  One report involved a mother and daughter who said they’d encountered the monster. The event so traumatized the daughter, she had to be hospitalized afterward.

UFO sighting? Alien?

Skeptics say the ball of fire may have been a meteor and the creature sheltering beneath the tree an owl. In their heightened state of nerves, Mrs. May and her companions may have construed the bird as something otherworldly.

Whatever the answer, there is no question something strange happened that September night in 1952. The Flatwoods Monster remains one of the better known UFO cases to be bandied about in the press.  The 1950s (and 60’s) produced an abundance of UFO sightings, but I can’t help thinking about the nerves that must have been pinging around on that farm field between Mrs. May and her group.

I would have loved to have been part of the excitement. What about you?

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: Of Horses and Superstition by Mae Clair

Two days ago I do what I do every year when the first Saturday of May rolls around—I look forward to enjoying the Kentucky Derby. I have several friends online who know a great deal about horses (you know who you are :) ). I actually know very little, just that I’ve been fascinated by them since I was a kid. What little girl doesn’t dream of owning a pony? To this day, there is a tradition in my family when anyone has a birthday and is preparing to blow out the candles, we all say “Wish for a pony!” This comes from the number of people in my family who wanted ponies when they were kids (as it turns out, one of them ended up with several horses).

But I digress.

Back to the Derby.

Hubby and I had a quiet Derby Day at home this year. We grilled, enjoyed the beautiful weather and relaxed with mint juleps on our back porch. It was the first time we’ve made them. Probably the last, too, as neither of us liked the simple syrup that goes into the drink.

For the running of the roses, I chose American Pharaoh as my pick.

Now before you say I hopped on the popularity bandwgon, I always pick my horse based on its name. Yeah, I know…real scientific and all that. What can I say? I love names and had a reason for picking this one. I watched both Gods and Kings and The Ten Commandments over Easter, so I was focused on the Pharaoh thing.  Turns out American Pharaoh was the favorite coming in and ended up winning the Derby. YAY!

Casual photo of Mae Clair

Derby Day Fun

And although I didn’t have a fancy Derby Day hat to celebrate, I did wear a floppy spring hat in honor of the event. (Yep, that’s me at the right. Loved the hat; hated the Julep).

So why all this focus on the Kentucky Derby? Because one of the things that stands out for me as a kid was seeing Secretariat take all three races of the Triple Crown in 1973.  Do you realize no horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978? Quick math: that’s thirty-seven years!

I really want to see another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime. Desperately. So every year I watch each race in the Crown event and hope it will happen. It’s kind of like seeing Haley’s Comet or something.

What does all of this have to do with myth? Nothing really, except that I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the superstitions associated with horses and racetracks. As an example, did you know that the color of a horse’s feet plays into superstition?  One white “sock” on a horse is considered good luck, but four is considered bad. There is even a short verse to that extent:

One white foot, buy him.
Two white feet, try him.
Three white feet, be on the sly.
Four white feet, pass him by.

Here are some other superstitions related to horse racing and jockeys:

Peanuts are extremely bad luck and are banned in barns

Never name a horse after a family member

Don’t ship a broom from one track to another

A streak of gray in the tail is a sign of good luck

A black cat at a racetrack is a sure sign of bad luck

And some old superstitions related to horses in general:

A horse’s tail, if placed in water, will turn into a snake

If you lead a white horse through your house it will banish all evil

A horseshoe hung in the bedroom will prevent nightmares

Changing a horse’s name is bad luck

If a horse stands with its back to a hedge, it’s a sure sign of rain

If you see a white dog, you shouldn’t speak again until you see a white horse

Spotted horses are magical

Gray horses are unlucky

As with most things superstitious, I’m sure there are plenty more. Do you know any I missed? How about the Kentucky Derby? Were you cheering on American Pharaoh, too? Have you been lucky enough to see or remember a Triple Crown winner from the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts!