The Curse of Portlock – An Alaskan Killer Bigfoot

There’s a forest in Alaska that sits on a remote, hard to get to peninsula. If you were to visit today, you’d never know that seventy years ago, a small town thrived there, built upon a booming salmon fishing industry.

Portlock, also known as Port Chatham, has been the subject of numerous documentaries, stories, and investigations. The intrigue is real. The legend, perhaps equally so.

In 1785, a Captain Nathaniel Portlock landed in a secluded bay, on the Kenai peninsula of Alaska. Whilst surveying, they found the remnants of an abandoned native village. Nobody could fathom why they would have left such a prime area, full of untouched game, fish, and shellfish. But, as members of his party grew sick and scared, they began to beg their captain to depart. Little did they know, just six years before, Spanish explorers had trodden the same soil as them. But they too had fallen sick. Some even died, and those that lived, lived in fear. Fear of what had driven the original native settlers to leave too. Horrible, morose cries would be heard in the night, edging down the mountains towards them. As with the Spanish before them, Captain Portlock’s party begged him to leave, and so they did, only leaving his name to bear on what they saw as cursed ground.

The sickness felt by the explorers could be attributed to infrasound – a low-pitched frequency that can’t be heard by humans, but the effects of which most certainly can. Several mammals use it for communication, including elephants, whales, and rhinos. Tigers though, use it to stun and disorientate their prey when they roar. Exposure to infrasound can cause inner ear imbalances, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and bowel spasms. It can even cause resonances in inner organs, such as the heart. And it’s also been attributed to a creature of legend.

But the story really begins in 1867. A new community of nomadic Sugpiaq set up a camp in the bay of what was to become Portlock. They were amazed by the abundance and size of the clams and other bounty they found on the shoreline. No doubt, it signalled to them that this was a place they could spend the winter and never be without food. But their joy was short lived. Within a month, they were attacked. What they described as cannibal giants began to raid the village, almost nightly at times. They fought with an animalistic savagery the Sugpiaq have never encountered before, and they named the giants Nantiinaq – or the hairy man. At first, the people fought and were unwilling to give up their new home. But as the months turned into years, the attacks did not stop. Whenever game became scarce, the cannibals came. And they showed no mercy. The San Francisco Chronicle famously reported on the events, stating ‘the giants rip people to shreds in the streets every time they need a square meal’. In 1905, the village is abandoned, and the Sugpiaq leave.

Then, in 1921, a small community of Russian-Alutiiq are attracted to the bay for the same reasons as the Sugpiaq. But this time they have 20th century industry with them. They build a cannery to process the salmon, a post office, and a school. But they very quickly implement strict rules. There is a curfew at night. Armed guards patrol the streets, and especially the school and entrances to the cannery. And nobody, ever, ever goes out in the fog or into the forest. It seems that they know… the forest belongs to Nantinaq, and in the fog, it will stalk the streets of town too.

Cannery at Cordova

The rules worked… for a while. But as the community grew bigger and more successful, perhaps they became overconfident and let their guard down. Whatever happened, in 1931, a man named Andrew Kamluck, ventured out into the forest to log some trees. They found him with his head caved in. It was said a piece of equipment, heavy enough to have been hauled there by Kamluck’s dogs, had been the murder weapon. The dogs too were found torn to ribbons.

After that, the rules weren’t enough to save Portlock. First, a few gold prospectors disappeared. Then the Dall sheep and bear hunters. Each time, a little closer to town. Something was moving in on them. They all felt it. Occasionally, a body would wash up in the bay with strange bite and claw marks, or worse, beyond recognition. Twice, on the foggiest of nights, something broke into the cannery. On the second occasion, it caused enough chaos and damage for it to burn to the ground. One day, they found a man that had been missing for months. His body had been swept down the mountain by the Spring rains and into the lagoon. The remains were torn and dismembered in a way no bear was capable of. Official reports list fifteen people as having gone missing during that time, but the Alutiiq say it’s far higher. The community describe themselves as being terrorised by the creatures, and in 1950, almost overnight, they finally abandoned the town.

And it doesn’t end there. In 1968, a goat hunter is stalked and chased by a creature making horrendous screams as it followed him through the woods. Then, in 1973, three hunters take shelter in the remnants of the village during a storm. All night, their camp is circled by something that growls at them and utters unintelligible, threatening sounds. Each swears it walked on two feet. More recently, in 1989, a native paramedic attends an elderly man who has suffered a heart attack after returning from a walk in the woods. The native is an Alutiiq, and he knows the legends. He asks the old man if he saw it, if it bothered him. The old man nods, looking terror stricken towards the treeline. He dies in the paramedic’s arms. And until this day, the Alutiiq know to stay away from the forest, and to never go out in the fog.

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The Best (And Worst) of 2022

As a writer, I consume a lot of material – either in the name of research, as a way of switching off, or whilst working. I’ve compiled a list of some of the best things that I’ve read, seen, and listened to, over the last twelve months. I thought it may be of interest to you, dear reader, where I’ve found some of my inspiration and what stirs my interest outside of monsters. I also know the podcasts I listen to have sparked genuine interest when I’ve mentioned them, or in the case of a few here, have been lucky enough to appear on.

Unlike what I’ve caught at the cinema, the books I’ve read aren’t necessarily specific to 2022 releases. As tends to be the case with books, I have discovered them as and when, often by spending too long in bookshops – second-hand or otherwise. 

So, without further ado, here’s my favourites of the year. With books and podcasts, you won’t find any ‘worst’ picks, as I genuinely didn’t read any books I didn’t enjoy, and my podcast choices are all personal favourites. But there were a few stinkers on the big screen that I wanted to mention from a story-telling perspective. 

Books

Beast: Werewolves, Serial Killers, and Man-Eaters – Gustav Sanchez Romero.

This is a book that explores the history and legends surrounding the ‘Beast of Gevaudan’, a seemingly unstoppable killer wolf, (or wolf-like creature), that plagued a province of rural, pre-revolutionary France. I have always wanted to visit the region and investigate this real-life monster story, but Gustav Sanchez Romero has done a very comprehensive job, saving me the trouble, or spoiling my fun depending on your point of view.

In the foothills and plains of the Margeride mountains, France, between 1764 and 1767, it is estimated between 130 to over 200 men, women, and especially children – were killed by a marauding animal. Its identity has never been known for sure, but its rampage is a matter of record. Its story has seeped into novels, movies, and folklore. This book tries to uncover the facts shrouded by fiction, and sets out the case in a logical, linear series of investigation and explanations.

A Richness of Martens – Polly Pullar

This is one of the books I discovered by accident, taking my purchases to the counter in a bookshop, and seeing this being put aside for another customer. They say never judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did. Pine martens are one of my favourite animals and I was smitten at first sight.

It didn’t take long to feel whisked away to the Ardnamurchen peninsula with author Polly Pullar, whose descriptive language and wildlife-filled stories enchanted me from the very go. The book reveals how citizen science helped provide new insights into marten behaviour and the complex relationships they form – shooting down many preconceptions more so-called established naturalists had presumed for decades. 

The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd

This short memoir is simple, beautiful, romantic writing that paints a stunning picture of the Cairngorms, their people, and its wildlife. It simply made me want to disappear into the hills and breathe in what I’d been reading. You can probably pick up on my draw to Scotland in some of these choices! 

Honourable Mention – Jack Carr’s James Reece novels, State Monsters series – David Weatherly

Sometimes, you need fast-paced fiction to help escape work or just the real-world in general. Look no further than Jack Carr’s James Reece novels – the first of which (The Terminal List) is now also a series on Prime Video, starring Chris Pratt. Somewhat in the mould of Jack Reacher, these books follow a Navy Seal commander who is betrayed by the government, and then sets out on a mission of revenge. What I really like about the books is that there is a genuine character arc, including redemption, challenge, and growth.

David Weatherly is a workaholic author. He is nothing but prolific. I think I’ve read three of his books that have hit the shelves this year, making it impossible to single out just one. If, like me, you have an interest in monsters and folklore, these books will satiate your appetite. Weatherly has dedicated each volume to a single state – and I have torn my way through Utah, Indiana, and North Carolina in recent memory, and I’m sure there were a few others. Weatherly’s journalistic approach and dedicated research is clear on every page, delivering the facts and letting you draw your own conclusions. 

Films

Best

Top Gun: Maverick

There simply isn’t another choice. I saw Top Gun: Maverick more than once at the cinema, and a lot more once it became part of my film collection. This movie aced its storytelling, simply by not trying to be anything else. It didn’t try to ‘buy’ itself into an audience, end with a third-act CGI slugfest, or divert from its narrative to impose an opinion. It stuck to character-driven story, with a clear layout of the perils, the promise, and the payoffs we would get. As this YouTube video explains, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling. 

One liners, slick action, clearly defined stakes, and a character we root for because we understand his flaws, all turned a sequel we didn’t think we needed into the blockbuster of the year.

Honourable Mentions: Jaws, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

It says a lot about the state of cinema, when two of the surprise hits (and certainly my favourites), were films between 40 and 50 years old, released either in a new format (IMAX and 3D in the case of Jaws), or celebrating its 40th anniversary (Wrath of Khan). However, the chance of seeing them on the big screen was incredibly welcome, not to say special. 

Jaws has always had me wanting to write a UK-based story in the same ilk, which may be coming sooner than you think. This is the film that established the summer blockbuster and Spielberg’s status as a Hollywood heavyweight, not to mention a universal fear of the water. 

Khan could be seen as a little hammy, but it’s a film that saved a franchise, and watching a brilliant stage actor like Ricardo Montalban savagely chew the scenery with Shatner is a delight to this day.  

Documentaries

Small Town Monsters has delivered another incredible year of investigations into the unexplained. All of their documentary films can be purchased directly from the website, or can be found on Prime Video and Vimeo. American Werewolves was a standout for me, alongside the addictively good Bigfoot: Beyond the Trail series on YouTube.

Panthera Britannia has shot to the top of the list of documentaries covering big cats in Britain. With compelling footage, stoic investigation, startling evidence, and expert commentary, a better case for the ongoing presence of big cats in the UK is yet to be presented. It is also now available on Prime Video.

Worst

Thor: Love and Thunder

Marvel has certainly been less than marvellous since the end of the Infinity saga, but Thor: Love and Thunder was an insulting mess that lacked story, respect, and appeal (for me). In the character of Thor, we’ve explored complex storylines and issues, like mental health, betrayal, revenge, and love. And whereas I felt the balance between comedy and story was right in Ragnarök, Love and Thunder played only for laughs – and cheap ones at that. Thor became a clown that played second fiddle to other characters like Korg, Valkyrie, and Jane Foster. And somebody, please tell Russel Crowe that he cannot do accents. Ever. 

Where the Crawdads Sing

Loved the book. Loved David Strathrain’s performance. Didn’t care for much else. It left huge parts of the story out, including essential scenes that would have showed us the character of Kya and who she was. The book delivers in so many ways that the film fell short of. I’d still like to live in Kya’s cabin though.

TV

Yellowstone

I don’t binge watch much, but let’s just say I discovered Yellowstone late in the year, and I’m completely up to date. I am hooked and practically addicted. What I love about the storytelling is, primarily, these are not nice people. You’re not rooting for heroes. Almost all the characters have done horrible, unforgiveable things. Yet, they abide by personal codes of right and wrong that we understand and completely buy into.

Kevin Costner, Kelly Reilley, and Cole Hauser play standout characters in John Dutton, Beth, and Rip respectively. Together, they defend their ranch, family, and way of life through murder, savagery, and brutal payback to any slur. Yet, they’ll defend the weak, stand up to bullies, stop to help you change a tyre, and won’t break their word. But they’ll gun you down without hesitation if they need to. It makes for compelling viewing.

I’m yet to catch the prequel series’ of 1883 and 1923, but with the likes of Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford, and Helen Mirren starring, I’m sure they’ll be just as good.

Podcasts

All of the podcasts should be available on your podcatcher of choice but are definitely available on iOS Podcasts and Spotify.

Big Cat Conversations

Big Cat Conversations is hosted by Rick Minter, an author and researcher based in Gloucestershire – one of the UK’s hotspots for big cat sightings and activity. The podcast acknowledges that sightings of big cats have been recorded across the UK for decades and gives witnesses and the topic a much-needed voice. From exploring the implications of living alongside apex predators for the first time in millennia, to sharing incredible encounters, the podcast is a steadfast and grounded approach to the phenomena.

Honey + the Hex

Honey + the Hex is a podcast hosted by sister-duo Tatum Karmen Swithenbank and Tansie Swithenbank. Their fascination for folklore and spirituality oozes out of every episode as they discuss magick, traditions, myths, rituals, and realms less travelled today. 

Monsters & Mysteries

Monsters & Mysteries brings you weekly interviews from across the Fortean field, from authors and researchers to fellow podcasters and devotees. I am always impressed with host Paul Bestall’s dedicated research and genuine interest that always comes across. 

Into the Fray

Into the Fray is a riveting ride into the world of cryptids and strange phenomena. Each week sees eyewitnesses to UFOs, bigfoot, the paranormal, and more, discuss their encounters with host Shannon LeGro. A staple of my working week is tuning in to Into the Fray.

WIP Wednesday – Rogue: Chapter Four

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Artwork: Stephen Meyer, Yeti concept. Featured in line with fair use.

In last week’s Work-In-Progress Wednesday, you were introduced to a new character who will be appearing in my upcoming book, Phantom Beast. That character was Nina Lee, a Forest Ranger, who will be getting her own spin-off series, the first of which is titled ‘Rogue’.

Rogue is another America-set story with a cryptid at its heart. This time however, it is the legendary sasquatch, aka bigfoot, that will be stalking the forests. I won’t give much else away, but I hope you enjoy this first introduction to both Nina Lee and Rogue

CHAPTER FOUR

Nina Lee took a deep breath, glancing at her cup of coffee that had gone stone cold. She waited for the sobs to reside at the other end of the line. She stared back over the missing persons form. Jake Sutton, nineteen years of age, last heard from three days ago as he hiked south, away from the Pacific Crest Trail and along the eastern border of Mount Rainier National Park. He had abandoned a group of elderly hikers he’d been with, and hadn’t picked up the supply pack waiting for him at the forestry post he’d been scheduled to stop at yesterday. It had now been 24 hours, so he could officially be listed as a missing person. His hysterical mother sounded like she had been counting down the seconds before picking up the phone.

People went missing all the time up here. Some even wanted to. That’s what the families sometimes failed to grasp. After finishing the phone call and completing the report, she filed it and printed out the missing person poster for the board. Whilst there, she took down the outdated ones, the oldest, to make space.

Nina had been with the forestry service for just over five years, joining straight from the University of Washington at Tacoma. Despite majoring in Wildlife Ecology and Management with a minor in Forestry to boot, her aspirations of working with wildlife had quickly been grounded. It was mainly campers, timber firms and water treatment that took up her days. She walked through to the morning briefing. The call had held her up, and she was the last to enter.

“Now that we’re all here,” barked the agent at the front of the room.

The unidentified agent wore darkened glasses and looked like Chuck Norris’s fatter, meaner brother. Nina ignored his stare and took a seat. The guy had already waltzed in like he was the President, not even bothering to tell the lowly rangers which agency he and his suit-clad partner were from. Whoever they were, they seemed to make the chief and the other supervisors nervous. They didn’t seem like the usual Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit types. Although his partner could easily pass for FBI, fat Chuck most certainly couldn’t. With long red hair, a denim sleeveless jacket and a dirty camouflage tee underneath, he looked more like one of the truckers that might occupy any of the local sheriff drunk tanks. He dressed like a hillbilly and spoke like an asshole, that’s all Nina knew.

“Anyway,” stammered Marty Johnson, her boss, standing up as he did so. “North of the Resolute Campsite is currently out of bounds, and will remain so while these men are in the area.”

“I’m still not clear on that,” another ranger spoke up. “Who are these guys and how come they have that kind of authority?”

Travers was young, but spoke his mind. Nina knew everyone else was thinking the same.

“Fuck you, that’s who I am, son,” growled the Chuck Norris wannabe.

Nina glowered in her seat silently. She really didn’t like this guy.

“This grizzly is nothing like you’ve dealt with,” said the agent in the suit, changing tact. “We’re here to help and sort it out. We’re operating a curfew and closing most of the trails for the time being. You’ll also be paired up for the remainder of your patrols until we clear the area, just to be on the safe side.”

“Excuse me,” Nina interjected. “But most of us are hunters, from native backgrounds. We also deal with aggressive bears and other wildlife all the time. Why the extra precautions?”

“He’s a killer,” snapped the Chuck wannabe. “And the reason he’s a killer is because some little sweetheart like you in the Forestry Service took a pot-shot at him. We’re clearing up your mess.”

“And the fact that none of us here have seen neither hair nor hide of this supposed grizzly?” Nina challenged.

“Trust me darlin’, that speaks volumes,” chimed Chuck smugly.

Nina sat back, bristling at the man’s rudeness. She was Skokomish on her mother’s side and Navajo on her father’s. She’d probably known more about tracking and handling wildlife by the time she’d turned five than this guy would ever know. She was certain his attitude stank as much as he did, and looked at Marty for back up. She couldn’t believe he was standing for this. Marty failed to notice, as he was too busy staring at his feet. The meeting appeared to be over.

As the rest of the Forest Service officers got up and began to make their way back to their desks, Nina hung back. She noticed she wasn’t the only one. Scott Travers was too. Concerned his youth and brashness would get the best of him, she was determined to get to Marty and the two agents before him. She walked over, hurriedly.

“The others may be prepared to put up with this anonymous juris-my-dick-tion crap, but I won’t. I want to know who you guys are, I want to see your shields, and I want to see written authority. Until then, you, especially you,” she declared, pointing at fat Chuck, “can check your egos in the parking lot, whilst I run your plates.”

The look of panic Marty fixed her with did little to dissuade her. She couldn’t believe that a few seconds ago she had been worried about Travers being too blunt.

The agent in the suit stood up, a half smile on his face.

“Okay, settle down, I get it. My partner here can be a little forthright. My name is Special Agent Gregory Smith. This is Agent Cordell Jones,” he explained, nodding towards Chuck.

“Agents Smith and Jones…I’m seriously meant to believe that?” Nina exclaimed.

“Believe what you like, it’s the truth. And it’s all you’re getting,” Jones growled in her direction, stepping forward.

“What department are you with?” Nina asked, ignoring him. “You guys aren’t LEI, that’s for sure.”

“We’re…from a branch within the Bureau for Land Management,” Smith replied.

“That’s even harder to believe,” said Travers, who had walked up behind Nina as they were talking. She realised he was making it clear she had back up, but was keeping a respectful distance. He wasn’t stepping in, but he was prepared to. She appreciated the gesture.

“The Bureau for Land Management are investigating a grizzly bear attack?” Nina continued.

“Imagine if you can, there may be shit you don’t know,” Jones grinned.

“What I can imagine,” shrugged Nina, “is that’s a two-way street.”

Marty met her gaze. He seemed more in control now, but his glance still warned her to back off.

“Maybe they can be of help,” Marty suggested to the agents. “You’ve got a lot of ground to cover, a lot of people to talk to. Maybe it’s a case of many hands make light work.”

Smith gave a nod signifying his approval to Jones, who didn’t seem quite as taken with the idea. Then, smiling smugly, he reached behind him and grabbed a large pile of manila files from the table.

“Well, seeing how good you are at running your mouth n’all, maybe you can carry out some interviews,” he sneered. “It’ll keep you out of our hair, and we won’t have to waste our time with a bunch of drunk natives.”

Nina glowered at the man. She was on the brink of losing control of her temper. She imagined darting forwards and slamming her elbow into his face, breaking his nose. It would be easy, and satisfying. But she guessed Marty was nervous for a reason. She clenched her fists, only a little shake in her arms hinting at her pent-up fury. She snatched the files from him.

“Happy to be of help,” she replied, turning her back.

“One more thing,” Marty said, calling her back. “The patrolling in pairs thing is mandatory. Take Travers with you.”

“What?” Nina exclaimed. “Marty, there isn’t a thing in these woods I haven’t come across on my own before. I can handle it. Plus, up on the res, I can’t vouch for his safety, especially among them drunk natives,” she scowled, staring at Jones.

“My partner was out of line before,” Smith offered, “but you’re close to being the same way. It’s our way, or no way. If you want to be involved, this is it.”

Nina looked at Travers. He shrugged. He was trying to look nonchalant, but he clearly wanted in. She sighed. It seemed like a hopeless fight anyway. And Travers wasn’t a terrible choice of partner. Despite his youth, he was tall, well built, and could handle himself. He was a little impetuous and thoughtless, but nothing she couldn’t keep in check. And he knew not to push his luck with her, which was a major plus. As soon as her demeanour softened, his bright blue eyes sparkled mischievously. She often teased him that he had only been recruited because his brown hair matched the uniform, but compared to everyone else, she knew they could at least work together.

“Come on you big lug,” she sighed.

Travers followed her out of the room back to her desk. As she flipped through the files, she saw some familiar names. Some she dismissed, shuffling them to the bottom of the pile. Others she took an interest in and brought them to the top.

“Well, it might not be a dull day after all,” Nina quipped, looking up at Travers. “We’ll head up to the reservation like they want us to, but we’ll do some sightseeing on the way.”

“Where to?” Travers asked.

“First, there’s Lucas Christian,” Nina replied, raising an eyebrow.

“The writer?”

“The very one. Bought a huge piece of land out in the forest and built a luxury house out there. Rumour is that it’s less writing retreat, more fortress. I don’t know about you, but I’d like a look around that place.”

Travers nodded, impressed.

“Then there’s Patwyn Dalton, owner of Dalton logging. He’s been complaining about guys from the res moving stuff around his camp, damaging equipment and such like. And he just happens to have been the guy who sold the land to Lucas Christian.”

“Think that’s just a coincidence?” Travers asked.

“I think it’d be interesting to see how they’re linked to each other, that’s for sure.”

“Isn’t it like you said, guys from the res causing trouble with chunks of the forest being sold off?”

Nina smiled. “No, I don’t think so. But I think you’re right about one thing. I think it’s about territory. Let’s go find out.”

 

The Converse Carnivore

When we begin to look into the possibility of cryptids, the focus is usually on the available evidence and facts that might substantiate the existence of such creatures. Since I was small, it was always the first hand encounters that gripped me with fear or had me reaching for the light switch.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to take some of my favourite encounters, some historic, some more recent, and fictionalise them. I hope you enjoy them. Our first story is about something hairy and homicidal in the woods of Converse, near San Antonio in Texas. Purported to have happened some time in the 1960’s, the exact date is lost to history, and some accounts suggest an origin in the late 1800’s. But the core always remains the same. A retired military man forces his studious son on a hunt that takes place at Skull Crossing. The boy is frightened by something, but still his father makes him go back…

Rites of passage are about tradition and transition. They usually mark the turning from one phase of life to another for instance. For one young man on his first hunt, the transition would be one of being alive to dead.

~

Major Abraham ‘Bram’ Miller let out a deep and audible sigh. He had waited weeks for this moment, but now it had arrived, the look of confusion and disappointment on Ethan’s face was more than he could bear. The boy was shaking, and the old soldier knew that at any moment the tears would start to flow. Damn it, your first rifle and you act like it’s a turd he thought. As if on cue, Ethan turned to face him, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I don’t want it,” Ethan sniffed, looking at his feet.

“Son, we talked about this,” Bram said. “We’re going hunting this weekend. You need a gun and I bought this for you.”

“I don’t want a gun, I don’t want to go hunting, and I don’t want to fight,” Ethan replied defiantly and coldly. His gaze returned to his feet. He knew what was coming next.

Bram looked at the Ruger 10/22 rifle sitting on the counter. The stock and barrel had been shortened and the wood grain had been brought out and refinished to his specifications. Frank Merryweather smiled knowingly at the boy and Bram from behind the register.

“It’s a beautiful rifle Ethan,” the shop owner said to the boy kindly. “I’m sure I could find another buyer for it.” He caught Miller’s icy cold stare,  but he knew what he was doing. “Of course though, that would mean another boy strutting through town with what was meant to be your rifle. I’m sure you don’t want that. Why not just try it for size for now?”

Ethan looked up and stopped crying. The calm tone had calmed him. He offered up his hands as Merryweather lifted the gun off the counter and handed it to him gently. He was surprised by how light it was. As he ran his finger along the grain and the barrel, he enjoyed the change in texture from warm wood to cold metal. As he slung it over his shoulder, he noticed its length perfectly matched the inside span of his arm. It was then he realised how personal the gift was. He couldn’t help the warm glow inside that formed into a smile.

“What d’ya say Bram?” Merryweather asked. “Ready for the parade ground I’d say.”

“Well a weekend in the woods at least,” Bram replied, but Ethan still picked up the hint of admiration in his father’s voice. “Look’s like we’re all done here, thanks Frank.”

When they were outside, Bram placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I’m real impressed Ethan, and I know this ain’t easy for you. Maybe you don’t have to hunt today, but if we’re in the woods, you need to be armed. After all, I might need you to protect me from your mother if we get back too late.”

Ethan smiled, comforted and reassured as they turned and walked back to the aqua-green Chevy pick-up Bram called the General, gleaming as if it had just come from the showroom, despite being two years old now. More of Bran’s military leanings in evidence. The tires churned the dust on the road as they headed out of the town of Converse.

Bran couldn’t help the sigh of relief once they cleared the town. The trail to the hunting ground was just north of Skull’s Crossing, and there was no turning back as they passed it. Ethan appeared to have accepted his lot for the weekend, occasionally making furtive glances at the rifle case in the back.

“So you’re going to be my spotter today, letting me and the other fellas know when there is game coming our way. If you want to bag something yourself you can, but there’s no pressure,” Bran stated.

“I only want to spot. We should eat what we kill and yours will be enough,” Ethan replied.

Bram was somewhat taken aback. This was the first time Ethan had explained his reluctance to hunt so poignantly, and Bram had to admit he was a little impressed.

“So is it trophy hunting your against?” Bram enquired.

“Yes!” Ethan exclaimed. “I’m not a vegetarian Dad, I just don’t like shooting things for fun. That’s how you identify serial killers you know?”

“Your books tell you that?” Bram exclaimed with a smile.

“No, just watching you and your friends,” Ethan laughed.

“Well I have to admit I’m a little impressed and relieved,” Bram replied. “I think that’s a pretty admirable attitude.”

He sat back and they both enjoyed the mutual silence until they rolled up to the hunting ground. Bram’s usual hunting buddies and their dogs were already there and waiting for them. The hounds barked eagerly as they got out of the truck and walked over. They all walked together a little way into the woods, stopping every now and then to note the deer tracks. The others made admiring glances to Ethan’s new rifle and he showed it off with pride whenever asked. Soon they came to a deer stand at the edge of a clearing that bordered the woods. Bram checked the radio worked whilst Ethan climbed the ladder and got into position, then he followed him up.

“All set Ethan?” Bram asked.

“Yeah Dad. I can’t see the next stand where you guys’ll be though.”

“That’s what the radio’s for. Let us know if anything is heading our way.”

Ethan watched his Dad wave back at him before he and the others disappeared along the trail. He waited for some time before pulling out the book he had smuggled in his bag. ‘Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter. It was brand new. He settled into the seat and began to read.

After about an hour, he looked up. He felt cold and tense. He put the book down and pulled out a pair of binoculars from the bag instead. It was then he realised what was making him so uncomfortable. The woods were completely silent. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and began to scan the tree line. The snap of a twig to his far right made him spin round to find its source. As he adjusted the focus, he found something crouched there. A dark form, with fierce amber eyes. He couldn’t help the shudder he felt as the thing stood up on two legs that curved backwards at the knee like a dog’s. As it took three fast steps towards him and the deer stand, it’s long snout quivered and its lips curled back to reveal gleaming white fangs. Ethan was in no doubt it was looking right at him. He fumbled for the radio in a panic.

“Dad, Dad, come in! It’s Ethan. There’s something here, something horrible. It looks like a wolf, but…”

“Ethan calm down!” came Bram’s booming reply. Ethan could tell immediately his father was embarrassed by his panicked voice. “It’s probably just a coyote. Might explain why it’s been so quiet this morning.”

“No Dad, this isn’t a coyote. I don’t know what it is. Oh God, it’s moving closer. Dad, it’s coming, it’s…”

Bram stared at the radio in his hand, his son’s voice replaced by high pitched static. He was startled by the sound of a gunshot that came from the direction of Ethan’s deer stand. There was another, then another. Then silence. Nothing stirred.

Bram bolted, grabbing his rifle and running down the trail. He only looked back when his companions found their dogs unwilling to follow, digging their heels into the ground and baying mournfully as the angry hunters pulled with all their might on their leashes. He didn’t wait for them.

He came to a sudden halt as he turned the corner. He could see the stand was empty. Ethan’s rifle lay abandoned on the ground close by. The empty brass shell casings were scattered in the leafy brush. He dashed past the stand into the clearing and stopped. Only the heavy thud of his heart sounded in his chest as he met the gaze of the creature in the tree line. It’s wolf-like ears were held high, pricked and pointed in his direction. Fiery eyes watched him with unblinking tenacity. But it was the snout that made him recoil in horror. A wicked, twisted thing that seemed to form a sneer. The creature was semi-crouched, shrouded by the shadow of the trees, but he could still make out what it held in its arms. Ethan, pale and bloodied, eyes closed. The creature took a single step backwards and disappeared into the maze of brush.

The dogs could not be forced back down the trail, and it was only the press of night and the threat of darkness that eventually encouraged them to break for the cars. The men returned with flashlights and searched the forest, but to no avail. Police and forest rangers arrived, but their dogs and horses also refused to enter the trees. Throughout the night, the woods remained silent under the gaze of a full moon.

It was the following day that Bram stumbled upon the creek. The mist of the early morning had not yet lifted, but he still noticed the colour. Blood red. As he knelt down beside the water, he wept, knowing Ethan was lost to him. He jumped to his feet as he heard a whispered message, the voice of his dead son, coming from the creek.

“Eat what you kill,” it said.

~

I hope you liked this little fictionalised adventure into a famous cryptid encounter. If you like unknown creatures and scary stories, and fancy something a little longer, I write novels too. You can find a link to my book Shadow Beast below.

https://t.co/mwC6dyn0Kj

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A Black Beast and a Bigfoot

I don’t usually do local sightings, unless they happen to be on my doorstep such as last year’s Knole Park panther. There are some dedicated researchers out there such as Neil Arnold who have been doing it for longer, and do it far better than I. What I usually try to tap into is what draws us to such stories in the first place, preferring to fictionalise the fun rather than poke it, which seems to be how the vast majority of news outlets treat them.

But in a week that has seen both a black cat and a bigfoot reported through the Kent and now wider press, it would seem almost negligent of a blog named black beasts and boogeymen to ignore completely. So with that in mind, I dusted off the old investigator kit, strapped on the walking boots and made my way…to the phone.

On Wednesday 11th November, Paul Turk was making his rounds as a delivery driver in the small village of Ryarsh in Kent when he came across a large black cat, apparently crossing the road. The animal stopped and watched him approach. Mr Turk was able to pull up and observe the cat until it moved away and disappeared into the brush. Before continuing to his next stop, Mr Turk spoke to another driver at the scene about what he had just witnessed. When he did arrive at his next delivery, Offham County Primary School, he spoke to members of staff and contacted Kent Police whilst they reached out to the other nearby schools of Ryarsh Primary and Trottiscliffe Primary. Both chose to text parents to report the sighting.

I have deliberately chosen not to quote Mr Turk, police or school representatives as it is hard to gauge if the witnesses have been misquoted or misrepresented, which is all too often the norm. I have reached out to all parties and may update this post if I am able to. But these are essentially the facts of the case. No looming of the beast, no panic stricken witness. No picture of a yawning melanistic leopard or jaguar, essentially baring its fangs. I have to say it brought back memories of the panic that gripped Penge when another alleged big cat hit the streets of Sydenham, my home back then, in 2005.

When I was writing the blurb to my book Shadow Beast, I deliberately set the scene with a similar encounter of a lorry driver on a remote road. There is something classic about it that echoes what we expect from an urban myth, which is possibly why the story has been picked up with such glee in true tabloid style.

What is unfortunate about such treatment is that despite there being some 2,000 such reported sightings a year, it has the potential to not only dismiss them completely but to also discourage witnesses coming forward. This may seem strange coming from a novelist, but why not embrace the excitement we feel when drawn to these stories and explore the truth. Imagine what we might discover. I have spoken to many conservative, professional people who have experienced something they cannot explain, or even scared and unsettled them. In some cases, a little education goes a long way. In the absence of physical evidence, we often only have witness testimony. And whilst it isn’t wrong to question and query, unless it is obvious it is a hoax or publicity stunt, I think it’s best to offer appropriate forum and analysis rather than judgement. Even in cases of mistaken identity, people often need to talk about what they have experienced and to investigate what they have seen. Discovering they are not alone can be a great source of comfort and affirmation.

At the same time, some stories do need to be treated with a shovel full of salt. Take the other creature to hit the news this week, a bigfoot supposedly spotted in the Angmering Park Estate near Arundel in West Sussex. Whereas undoubtedly the witness did see something large, hunched over and generally black in the undergrowth that scared her dog, it has been quickly dismissed as a father playing hide and seek with his daughter. The picture taken by the witness is typically ‘blobsquatch’ and unidentifiable. At first glance, I thought I saw traits of what is a widely available fancy dress gorilla suit, but I’m just as happy to accept the parental explanation. What’s worse is that I suspect that it wasn’t the witness who approached news outlets, but the local interest group who she reported it to, who no doubt saw an opportunity for some publicity to mention their own spate of recent big cat sightings.

It may be hard to say with certainty what we expect from our press and authorities when people do report such sightings. If it takes the BBC Natural History unit two years to find snow leopards, then Kent Police have little chance by turning up on a whim for instance. And before we suggest launching helicopters and thermal image cams, bear in mind that they have to share a chopper with their neighbour Essex, and running costs are around £2 million a year.

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And I don’t say this to ridicule the witness. Only a few weeks ago whilst walking round Groombridge, I decided to entertain my friend and her sons with some Bigfoot calls. The one thing we weren’t expecting was a response. Now it was without a doubt another human being larking about like I was, but it still made us look over our shoulders whilst we made a sharp exit. Sometimes the monster in the woods is more about perspective and the person in front of it!

*UPDATE*

It has now been revealed that the Sussex Bigfoot sighting was in fact a PR stunt, carried out by Bigfoot Communications, a PR firm based in Rustington, and was indeed a man in a widely available fancy dress gorilla suit!

Nessie & The Surgeon’s Photograph

Like me, you may have been tickled by today’s Google Doodle, which features three little-grey men, pedaling an underwater craft, topped by one of the most infamous images of the Loch Ness Monster. Known as the surgeon’s photograph, it quickly gained notoriety, first as definitive proof that the monster existed, and then in the late 70’s as an exposed hoax.

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It was on this date in 1934 that the surgeon’s photograph was published in The Daily Mail. But Google isn’t just celebrating the fact that 81 years ago the nation was gripped by Nessie-fever. They’re celebrating their own endorsement of the famous cryptid, as the vast expanse of Loch Ness is now accessible on Street View. They’ve even added a Nessie-shaped peg-man to help you navigate your way through the images.

Of course, no Nessie-nonsense would be complete without a sighting of the beastie, and in keeping with that tradition, The Daily Telegraph has spotted ‘something’ lurking on the surface of the Street View images. (image courtesy of Google).

Nessie - Google Street View

I will remind you that today, when both Google and The Telegraph have chosen to go public with the images and story, is the anniversary of probably the most infamous monster hoax of its time, and one that The Telegraph itself exposed in 1975.

Having spent some of my childhood on the shores of Loch Ness, it is already a very special place to me. The landscape is haunting, eerie and just the kind of country you’d expect to find monsters. I remember taking an interest in a man who was on a constant vigil of the water, ever ready to take that definitive photograph. I was in awe that he’d practically given up his ‘normal’ life to go monster hunting. I was fascinated by such a prospect.

I can only presume some thirty years later he is still there, with a somewhat arthritic finger hovering over the shutter. I do know that he has now been joined by many others, camped out semi-permanently and with ever-growing gadgetry at their disposal. There is even a permanent webcam fixed in a spotter’s hot-spot above the water at Urquhart Castle.

The Loch Ness Monster is a strange cryptid for me, in that it is probably the one I have the most love for, and is certainly the one I want to be there the most. But in my heart, I have a hard time accepting it. The facts are just stacked against it.

In it’s favor, the Loch is nearly 23 miles long and between 1 and 1.5 miles wide. It’s also an impressive 754 feet deep, and holds more water than the rest of the lakes in England, Scotland and Wales put together. So there is certainly space for a monster, and it would easily be hidden by the dark, peaty waters. But that’s where the problems start too.

When light can’t penetrate water, photosynthesis becomes impossible. At around six feet deep in Loch Ness (and I know from personal experience), light disappears, and there is nothing more than pitch darkness. It’s similar to swimming in oxtail soup. That makes it terrifying, (but potentially tasty), and very easy to imagine that something large may be looming just a few feet away. But in reality, it means that the amount of life the loch can actually support is very limited. There is no bed of lake grass at the bottom, only a thick layer of yet more peat. The water is very cold and very dark, not exactly hospitable.

The loch does have a good population of arctic char, who are especially adapted for the frigid, dark depths and found themselves a permanent resident after the last ice age. Migratory salmon and sea-trout also pass through its waters. It is also a well-known location for eels, as well as the more humble brown trout. But populations of these fish are kept relatively low by the natural barriers of the environment, which makes feeding a population of carnivores somewhat difficult.

The loch is connected to the sea by the River Ness and the adjoining Loch Dochfour, but navigating it is not straight-forward, with a weir and central Inverness to get through first. But that hasn’t stopped the odd seal, sturgeon and other oddities occasionally turning up. So in theory at least, the dwindling diet of the monsters could be refreshed from time to time by new arrivals.

Some have suggested that Nessie is also migratory, although it seems odd that nobody has noticed what has been reported as a 30 foot long, 6 foot high creature splashing through the shallows of the River Ness and the canals of Inverness town on an annual basis if so.

Or should I say creatures, as surely a legend that goes back 1500 years to the times of St. Columba, if based on truth, revolves around a breeding group of animals? It has been estimated that for there to be a viable population, there would need to be approximately thirty of them.

And what exactly are they? If there’s thirty of them, surely they can’t be reptiles or mammals – as hopefully one of the shore-hugging monster-spotters would have had the good luck to see at least one of them come up for air.

So that leaves fish. And with sightings on both land and in the water, pretty much only one species might fit the bill. Perhaps we’re dealing with some kind of giant, unknown eel. This is something explored in Steve Alten’s book The Loch, one of the better novels based on the legend. Well, at least until I have a crack at it at some point!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Loch-Steve-Alten/dp/076536302X

So the odds are stacked against it, but as Google are showing, the legend lives on. And with every investigation and exploration, no matter how definitive the results, there is always a lingering, unanswered quantity. Be it the mysterious, unidentified large masses discovered in Operation Deepscan, never to be found again, or the image now circulating street view, the case is never completely closed. I therefore can’t say for sure if something serpentine (or otherwise) lurks in Loch Ness, but just like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

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