The Gorbals Vampire

September 23rd, 1954. PC Alex Deeprose of the Glasgow Police responds to a call of a disturbance at the Southern Necropolis – a cemetery in one of the city’s poorest areas. What he finds shocks and stuns him. As steelworks to the East and South bellow smoke and flame into the night air, they lace the breeze with a strong scent of sulphur. And before him, he watches gangs of children scour the graves and headstones. The youngest couldn’t have been older than four, whilst the leaders were in their early teens. Most were armed – with crude, homemade weapons including crosses, crucifixes, and more deadly knives, axes, and shivs.

In the dense fog and smoke-filled cemetery, they cast distorted, otherworldly shadows among the tombs and headstones. Yet they move with purpose, and as their gleeful cries and whoops reveal, they are on the hunt. 

Cornering the nearest group, PC Deeprose discovers their intended target. The man with the iron teeth, also known as the Gorbals vampire. A seven-foot monster that has supposedly kidnapped and devoured two of their own.

Only the intervention of a local headmaster, and some timely Glaswegian weather, finally persuade the children to disperse. But they return for the next two nights, determined to catch the monster.

Parental Concerns

Soon after, parents and schoolteachers were asking police if there could be any truth to the tale. After all, how and why would so many children be motivated en masse to take the law into their own hands. For them, the stakes (if you’ll forgive the pun) couldn’t be higher. They had set off into the night to confront a metallic-fanged, seven-foot-tall, child-eating monster. Not the lightest of undertakings.

The story spread as quickly as the fear. It reached the National Press and even parliament. Ultimately, it impacted and changed British law.

But was there any truth to the Gorbals vampire? Its legacy, legend, and legal consequences have certainly lingered.

The Southern Necropolis, Glasgow.

Playground Rumours

It appears that the story of the vampire sprung up very quickly – on the day of the first hunt. Ronnie Sanderson was eight years old at the time and was informed of the simple plan in the playground. 

“The word was, there was a vampire, and everyone was going to head out there after school. At three o’clock, the school emptied, and everyone made a beeline for it. We sat there for ages on the wall, waiting and waiting. I wouldn’t go in because it was a bit scary for me. I think someone saw somebody wandering about and the cry went up: the vampire was there!”

Kenny Hughes, another of the vampire hunters, said their terror built up quickly, to the point they would only move in on the cemetery together.

A third boy, Tommy Smith, suggested the fog, and fire from the steelworks, only added to the eeriness. 

“The red light and smoke would flare up and make the shadows leap among the gravestones. You could see figures walking about at the back, all lined in red light.”

On seeing a bonfire burning brightly close to the cemetery, it even began to be feared that the monster was burning the remains of those it had already killed. Yet, two nights later, it was almost forgotten – at least in the minds of the children. But uproar was to come in the aftermath.

I’ve included a link to interviews with Tommy and other witnesses to the events below.

Fangless Facts and Other Iron-Fanged Monsters

The facts show no children were reported missing, and there are no child murder cases that line up with the period. However, the Gorbals vampire was not the first monster to haunt Glasgow, and it wasn’t even the first to sport iron teeth.

Tommy Smith – mentioned above, suggested tales of the ‘iron man’, were used by parents to keep children in line. This was no Marvel superhero, but a bad-tempered ogre inclined to snack on schoolchildren. 

Before him, in the 1800s, ‘Jenny wi’ the Airn (iron) Teeth’, stalked Glasgow Green. This hideous hag shares her name with another folklore favourite – Jenny (or Ginny) Greenteeth, known for dragging children to a watery grave. Although undoubtedly based on this watery witch, especially living so close to the banks of the Clyde, Glasgow’s Jenny was differentiated by her mouth of metal. She also got her own poem.

Jenny wi’ the Airn Teeth

Come an tak’ the bairn

Tak’ him to your den

Where the bowgie bides

But first put baith your big teeth

In his wee plump sides

A bairn is a baby, and a bowgie is an old-fashioned spelling of another well-known British faerie – a bogie, or boggart.

It would appear, that Gorbals’ school-aged children had a few potential spurs to the imagination to choose from, if they wanted to think on iron-fanged monsters. But it’s still unclear why so many were suddenly motivated on one day, or how rumours spread from school to school in a matter of hours.

Iron and Steel

Two metallic monstrosities dominate the story. The first is the iron teeth of the vampire, and the second is the steel industry and its impact. The area was heavily laden with air, noise, and light pollution. The work itself was dangerous and those not in the factories, were still subject to their fumes and imposing presence. The foundries were active 24/7 and constantly backlit the night sky with hellish plumes of orange and billowing smoke. It wouldn’t take much to imagine a demonic denizen dwelled nearby.

Gorbals was also an area stricken by poverty. As a home for heavy industry, it attracted significant numbers of immigrants, not just from the surrounding Highlands, but also Irish Catholics, Jewish, and Italian communities. A huge amount of people (up to an estimated 90,000 by the late 1930s), were crammed into a little over a square mile. Gorbals was known for a high crime rate, and its equally high infant mortality rate. Perhaps these factors made it the perfect place to inspire a story about a monster with iron teeth that killed children.

After all, it’s not hard to imagine this story was a personification of the hazards faced by the residents and workers crammed into Gorbals. And nearly a century before, in 1867, Karl Marx alluded to the similarities between industrial capitalism and vampires.

“Capitalism is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour…”

Karl Marx, Capital

To me, as an amateur with an interest in the strange and monsters especially, this makes sense. We now know that a cultural knee-jerk response to tragedy is to make monsters. Whether it’s Japan’s post-Hiroshima Godzilla, or America’s post 9/11 Cloverfield, they usually aren’t far behind disaster and difficulty.

But a scapegoat would help avoid the accountability implied by over industrialisation and the impoverishing of society.

A Comic Craze?

By the time the story reached parliament, a plausible yet convenient culprit was firmly in the sights of the outraged public. American horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, were polluting young minds and driving them to such madness.

A 1953 issue of Dark Mysteries was especially cited, after featuring a story titled ‘The Vampire with the Iron Teeth’.

The labour MP for Gorbals, Alice Cullen, led a debate in the House of Commons, backed by a coalition of teachers, Christians, and communists – the latter joining the fight on terms of limiting the influence of American culture. For everyone else though, the accusation was that these stories inflamed imaginations with graphic images of monsters and mayhem. The result was the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act of 1955, which banned the sale of ‘repulsive or horrible’ reading matter to children. It is still in place today as ‘active’ legislation. 

Monsters, Mass Hysteria, and ‘Magination

So, it was back to The Beano for Gorbals’ monster-hunting school kids. But in hindsight, there are several issues with placing the blame on the comics. First and foremost, it seems none of the children involved had access, or had even seen such American comics. Experts suggest they were more likely to have gotten hold of the Crown Jewels than one of these – which had very limited circulation and availability anywhere in the UK, let alone Gorbals. 

As for that conveniently titled story in Dark Mysteries, research suggests this was published in December 1953, over three months after the events in Gorbals, and notably, also after the story had been heavily featured in the National Press.

As Bob Hamilton, and several of the monster hunters admitted, they had no idea what a vampire was. They were just swept up in the idea of a monster hunt and joined in with everyone else.

The Southern Necropolis is a graveyard for over 250,000 Glaswegians. But in the early 1950s, for the children of Gorbals, it was ‘the gravy’ – and a playground. Swapping trees for tombstones, and nursery rhymes for scary stories, it’s not hard to imagine their thoughts were haunted by the macabre. 

It’s not the first time that mass hysteria among children has led to a monster hunt. It’s not even the first time it happened in Glasgow. In the 1870s, the Cowcaddens area saw a hunt for hobgoblins. In the early 20th century, spring-heeled jack became their quarry. In 1964, Liverpool saw a lively hunt for leprechauns. More recently, and with more tragic consequences, the slender man stabbing in 2014 showed the dire consequences of believing such stories, and the international reach of the phenomena. 

And as cases such as the Highgate Vampire and the Cardiff Giant show, adults are not immune either. 

I was first introduced to the Gorbals vampire when I visited Glasgow for a friend’s wedding and stayed in a hotel opposite the mural depicting the legend. In more recent times, the monster has been the subject of a locally staged play and many works of art and sculpture.

I am left with two thoughts. The first, that it’s not entirely implausible, despite the lack of record, that a dishevelled, down-and-out steelworker fabricated himself a pair of metal teeth and got his kicks by scaring children in the graveyard. The second is, seventy years on, the only slaying a teenager is likely to do is via Call of Duty. But back in the day, they heard about a monster, believed it, and made killing it their first order of business. One thing is clear; don’t mess with the kids from Gorbals. 

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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.

WIP Wednesday – Rogue: Chapter Six

Hello everyone. I thought I’d share a new chapter with you, as U have very nearly completed the first draft of Rogue, and am hoping to have it with you in early Spring 2023. In this preview, we meet a young soldier about to take part in his first “wookie patrol”.

CHAPTER SIX

There was a southerly breeze that brought hints of the warmth back home to Second-Lieutenant Wade Garric as he looked out at the darkening Washington sky. Over 2,000 miles away in New Orleans, the sky would be painted molten shades of pink, gold and scarlet red. Here though, less than 150 miles from the Canadian border, the sunset was cloaked in mauves, indigo and swirling black, all too ready to descend. He waited at the gate, knowing he was a few minutes early. A foot patrol crossed the yard, the two soldiers moving quickly, purposefully, and silently. 

A side door in the gate tower he was standing next to opened, and a figure emerged, the silhouette made visible by the ghostly glow of the halogen wall lamp in the stairwell behind. The man was stocky and well built, and was wearing an army cap. As he stepped towards Wade, he recognised the man as Major Clarke. Clarke was a professional soldier with significant notches from America’s recent military history on his belt, and years of experience under it. He was known for being tough but fair, and Wade felt a slight swell of relief as the Major stopped beside him. 

“All ready for tonight?” Clarke asked. 

“Yes sir,” Wade snapped in reply, knowing it wasn’t really a question. 

“Hope you enjoyed your dinner, as you’re gonna be seeing it again real soon when that smell hits you,” came a cackle from behind. 

Wade didn’t need to turn around to know Master-Sergeant Amos Dugas had joined them. The two had been friends since they’d first arrived at Fort Skookum, both being New Orleans born and raised. Despite his loud and unsubtle demeanour, he was glad the skinny blonde Cajun would be on the patrol with him. He was still bothered by Clarke’s presence though. No regular patrol he’d ever been on required a senior officer to tag along. He wondered how true the rumours were, what he might see out there. He tried not to think about it. 

Garric turned as he heard the rumbling engine of the approaching vehicle. The Humvee drew up alongside them and stopped. Clarke climbed into the front passenger seat, nodding to the driver as he did so. 

“The Second-Lieutenant will take it from here, son,” the Major commanded. 

The Private behind the wheel nodded, even seemed relieved as he climbed out and left the door open. As Wade got behind the wheel, he stowed the M4 rifle to his side. This also aroused his suspicions further. As the driver, he would be the last to get to his gun. So, if an initiation or prank of some kind was being planned, the guy with perhaps the only gun clipped with live ammunition wouldn’t accidentally maim or kill anyone else. 

“Keep that handy,” Amos chided him. “I guarantee you’ll need it.”

“Up top, Dugas,” Clarke ordered, his impatience showing. 

Wade smiled as Amos snapped to and threw open the hatch, giving him access to the Humvee’s Browning M2 50-caliber machine gun. He swivelled it left and right on its mount to check its movement wasn’t restricted in any way. He thumped the roof to signal all was good. 

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly are we going to be encountering that requires a 50-cal machine gun?” Wade asked. 

“Maybe nothing,” Clarke replied. But I have an OP coming up that might require a few good men, and I’ve had my eye on you two for a while. Let’s just say this is an opportunity for me to see how you cope when things get hairy. As you may have gauged, this isn’t Dugas’s first Wookie patrol. But when I said I was looking for someone else, he mentioned you. Don’t let me, or your friend down son.” 

“No, sir,” Wade replied. 

He’d heard the others talk about the so-called Wookie patrols. The word Skookum, after which the fort was named, was a Chinook word that meant ‘evil god of the forest’. He knew what to expect. They’d go out, complete their rounds, then at some point, they’d be attacked by a group of Marines in gillie suits, a type of camouflage material that had the appearance of long strands of matted hair. It made anyone wearing it very difficult to see in the undergrowth, and at night, there was almost no chance of detecting them. Wade would go through the motions of being surprised when it happened, at least at first. He knew the drill. 

As he pressed down on the gas and passed under the large gate between the two guard towers at the front of the fort, he looked left and right. For some reason, he looked over at the fence that hugged the boundary. 10,000 volts of electricity ran through it, constantly. One click out, another fence, intersected by just the front and rear gates, encompassed the entire fort and surrounding forest. It too was electrified and patrolled under guard. He’d never thought about it before, but tonight, the setup bothered him. He’d never come across anything like it on any base he’d been stationed on previously. As a special forces training facility, it wasn’t unusual for there to be a slightly less orthodox layout. But he still couldn’t help wondering. What are they trying to keep out? He thought.

Clarke indicated for him to turn left, and he found himself driving through a gully bordered by the fort on one side, and the forest on the other. The bushes and underbrush began to intensify, and Wade eased off the gas a little. Clarke’s eyes were fixed on the treeline, and he seemed to be acutely listening to the night’s sounds. A little further on, the gulley swept right, away from the fort. The lights of the buildings and the hum of the fence faded quickly, disappearing altogether within a few seconds. 

“I think we’ve got company sir,” Dugas yelled down into the Humvee’s interior. 

Wade stifled the grin that wanted to spread across his face. They still weren’t too far from the fort, but were out of sight. This was the perfect place to launch the ambush. He was resolved to play along, even if he did feel slightly disappointed they weren’t going to wait until they were further round to stage the performance. 

Clarke banged the dashboard, and Wade instantly brought the vehicle to a stop.

“Whatever you do son, don’t turn the engine off. You just sit here idling, understood?”

Wade nodded. 

“Three bogies, approximately eighty yards to the east,” Dugas whispered. 

It was then that Wade heard Dugas pull back the slide of the 50.cal, and he caught the gleam of the brass, chain-linked cartridges in the magazine. The bullets were real. This time, he couldn’t quite repress the shudder that rippled down his spine. If this was a set-up, they were trying real hard to convince him otherwise. Nobody was inclined to take chances with that kind of fire-power. His eyes snapped to the treeline. 

For nearly a minute, there was nothing but the sound of boughs and branches creaking gently in the wind. Then, from within the darkness, the booming hoot of a great horned owl pierced the night. Wade was just beginning to feel the edge of the adrenalin wearing off, when a deliberate, decisive crack emanated from nearby. As he peered into the black, he thought he saw movement, a blurred shadow moving between the trees. A second later, a good-sized branch smacked into the side of the Humvee, and dropped to the floor. Wade heard Amos swing the Browning in the same direction. 

Wade didn’t know why, but he felt a certain urge to check the rear-view mirror. He glanced up, and froze. Glimpsing past Amos’s legs, out in the gloom, he saw two amber dots low to the ground, and appearing to edge closer. He recognised them instantly as eye-shine. 

“Sir, directly behind us, about thirty yards out. Potential tango,” Wade reported, not taking his eyes off the mirror. 

“Sneaky sons o’bitches ain’t they,” declared Amos, swivelling the gun around. 

With the windows cracked open, there was no escaping the sudden, seeping stink that crept into the cabin. It was like a skunk, rolled in dog shit, had died in the back seat and been left to rot there for a few days. It took all his self-control to force down the vomit that wanted to fly out of his throat as it filled his nostrils. 

“Jesus H. Christ, that’s one unhappy monkey,” Amos declared under his breath, wiping at his streaming eyes. 

“Throw a flashbang Corporal, let him know we’ve seen him,” Clarke ordered. 

Amos picked a canister up from the seat below and pulled the pin, tossing it gently behind the Humvee. Wade instinctively covered his eyes as he saw the others do the same. Above the sound of his thumping heartbeat, he distinctly heard the thuds of heavy steps coming towards the vehicle. Then he heard the fizz, pop, and crack of the flashbang, and the dazzling blaze of light projected onto his closed eyelids. Something behind the truck was screaming in rage and pain, moving away at high speed. Something else on Clarke’s side was roaring, but also moving away. The noise seemed to penetrate every fibre of his being, resonating in his chest. At one point, it was so loud he almost couldn’t hear anything at all. As the glare from the flashbang faded, he opened his eyes wide in terror, unsure of what he would see. In the rear-view mirror, all he could see was Amos’s grin. And to the front, the reach of the headlights showed only the trees. 

“They don’t like bright light,” Clarke explained. “You may want to remember that.” 

“They sir?” Wade asked. 

“I’m not rightly qualified to tell you exactly what they are,” Clarke replied. “But tonight, and on the op, they are your enemy. Let’s move on.”

As Wade shifted the Humvee into gear and pressed down on the gas, he heard something large thrashing its way through the scrub on his right. Through the open window to his left, something there too was mirroring their movement. It agitated him. There was little cover there, he would expect to be able to see it. He kept glancing out into the shadows as he drove, trying to get a fix on what he was listening to. 

“Maybe time to roll up the windows, bud,” Amos suggested. 

“Not a chance, I want to hear them coming,” Wade replied. “Plus, I’m not sure how much good a pane of glass will do against the thing that threw that tree branch. That pitch must have been from over a hundred feet, and if it hadn’t hit the truck, it would’ve been out of the ball park.”

“Maybe when we catch up, you can try signing them up to the Mariners,” Amos laughed. 

“They certainly need all the help they can get this season,” Clarke replied. 

Wade wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but the Seattle Mariners were pretty much the only Major League team in Washington state, and they got game tickets every now and again. It was more about hot dogs, beer, and buddies for him though. 

Wade felt rather than heard the impact of something hitting the ground, again somewhere to his left. He came off the gas, letting the Humvee roll along as he reached for the M4. Clarke was watching him out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing. The thing, whatever it was, was too close. He didn’t have time to say anything or warn the others. He slammed on the brakes, whipped up the rifle and thrust it out of the open window. He closed his eyes, registering the slight crumple of grass underfoot a few feet away, almost parallel to him. He eased the barrel an inch to the right, slipped the safety, and fired. 

There was a sucking sound, like an inhalation of breath taken in surprise. Then a low, guttural, curdle of a growl started somewhere in the darkness. It built in resonance and pitch. The sound exploded into a series of shrieks, whoops and utterances that when heard together, almost had the same rhythm and pace of language. For a moment, he felt like he was being scolded. As he heard Amos swing the big Browning round, Wade caught the flash of something white, loping off into the darkness. He realised it was a set of long, yellowish fangs, being bared in his direction. It barely registered with him that they were eight feet off the ground. 

“Well, look at you, shooting down range on your first Wookie-patrol,” Amos declared, grinning. 

“Tell me straight sir, I didn’t just shoot a Marine in a gillie suit, did I?” Wade asked, disturbed and confused by what had just happened. 

“No son, you didn’t.”

“So, what did I shoot then, and shouldn’t we be going after it?” 

“As to what it was, you’ll find out soon enough,” Clarke replied, meeting his gaze. “And in terms of going after it, no point. Even at that range, that rifle’s basically as effective as a pea shooter.”

Clarke shrugged, ending the conversation, but he looked Wade up and down for a moment, as if sizing him up.

 “Welcome to the Skookum squad,” he finally said. “Report to the briefing at 07 hundred. But in the meantime, get us the hell out of Dodge.”

Wade felt a chill as they drove back to the safety of the main fort. He looked once again at the perimeter wall and electric fencing, fighting the shudder that came with the realisation that they were designed to keep something in, not out. 

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.”

 

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.

81st-anniversary-of-the-loch-ness-monsters-most-famous-photograph-4847834381680640-hp

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.

Nessie