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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Meet the Sabretooths

Warning – potential book spoilers ahead

I like to keep a lot of visual references and trinkets of inspiration around me when I write. Dotted around my workspace are various Schleich dinosaurs – Carnotaurus and T. Rex have prominent places (what can I say, I like predators!); and a selection of plush toys including a sabretooth, Nessie, and a black jaguar cub. Then, there are black jaguar and black leopard models, slightly overshadowed by the huge ‘stray cat’ Smilodon from Rebor.

On my desk is a selection of teeth and claws. Some are real, whilst others are museum replicas. I have megalodon, great white, and mako teeth that are all the genuine article, as well as two other fossil shark teeth I’ve never been able to identify 100% (found on a beach on the Isle of Sheppey). Incidentally, the great white tooth was found on a beach in La Jolla, California.

My desk collection of modern and prehistoric shark teeth.

Among the replicas is the tooth you see in the picture below. It’s a cast of a canine from Homotherium. Also known as the scimitar-toothed cat, this was one of the most widely distributed sabre-toothed predators to have existed, having roamed North and South America, Eurasia, and Africa. 

Sabretooths are featured in my books, and I’m often asked why I didn’t choose Homotherium as the species that ultimately plays a major role in the ongoing storyline. There’s a couple of reasons, but first, did you know how many different sabretooths there are to (hypothetically) choose from?

Homotherium belonged to the Machairodontinae (meaning daggertooth) sub-family within the Felidae (true cat) family of mammalian carnivores. Like all in this sub-family, they are most known for their enlarged maxillary canines. In almost all cases, these protruded from the mouth on either side of the jaw and were visible even when the mouth was closed. But, in the case of Homotherium, it’s likely that despite having relatively large canines, they would have been hidden by the upper lips and lower gum tissues, just like in modern big cats. This was just one reason Homotherium didn’t make the cut. I needed a sabretooth that could be recognised for what it is – despite Homotherium’s convenient European fossil record.

A museum replica of Homotherium, alongside a skeletal reconstruction.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Homotherium didn’t pack a punch though. They were about the size of a male African lion. And not only were its teeth designed for slashing, but also a powerful gripping bite capable of delivering deep puncture wounds.

Joining Homotherium in the Machairodontinae is also Amphimachairodus (thought to be some of the earliest sabretooths to inhabit Europe); Lokotunjailurus (think a long-legged, more gracile lioness) was known from the Miocene epoch across Kenya and Chad; Nimravides – a tiger-sized sabretooth that appeared in the late Miocene and has been found exclusively in North America; and Xenosmilus. 

If you’ve read my books, you’ll know why I’ve paused there. Xenosmilus was big, even for a sabretooth. In fact, only Smilodon (who’ll we’ll come to later) was noticeably larger in terms of mass. Yet it stands out among others in the sub-family for other reasons.

Before Xenosmilus was discovered, sabretooths fell relatively neatly into two categories. Scimitar-toothed cats, like Homotherium, had mildly elongated canines and long legs. Dirk toothed cats, like Smilodon, had long upper canines and stout legs. Xenosmilus broke the mould. It had short, muscular legs and a robust body – yet its canines weren’t as pronounced. And those teeth were different in other ways too. All of Xenosmilus’ teeth were serrated, and its top teeth aligned with the bottom in a way that enabled it to concentrate its bite force on two teeth at a time. This is where Xenosmilus gets its name – which means ‘strange smile’. The unique way that its canines and incisors operated together in biting, also led to the moniker, ‘the cookie-cutter cat’. 

The skull of Xenosmilus also features a pronounced and significant sagittal crest compared to others in the family. This meant it had phenomenal jaw strength and bite force, thanks to the muscles that would have been attached here. Together, these features have led to the theory that Xenosmilus adopted a bite and retreat hunting strategy. It would use its formidable teeth to inflict a deep wound, then wait until the prey was incapacitated. The peccary bones found close to the two type specimens indicate not only a liking for pork, but also that the species may have hunted collaboratively. 

It was these unique features that led to Xenosmilus playing the role it does in my stories. But we’re only halfway through the very top layers of the sabretooth family tree.

Xenosmilus skeletal reconstruction on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

A smaller, sub-group are the Machairodontini, made up of; Machairodus – meaning ‘knife tooth’ and who gives this little clan their name; Hemimachairodus – known from finds in Java and Indonesia; and Miomachairodus, known from finds in China and Turkey. They were large cats, similar in size to the smaller subspecies of modern-day tigers.

The Metailurini include Metailurus – a cat we know from only partial remains, but its elongated rear legs mean that it was probably an accomplished jumper. Others in the group include Adelphailurus, Stenailurus, and Yoshi – a species proposed to be quite cheetah like in behaviour. Because these species have only been identified from small finds, what we know about them is limited, but new details are being published regularly with study. 

The exception in this group is one of my favourites – Dinofelis, whose name means ‘terrible cat’. There’s some argument that Dinofelis belongs to the Smilodon sub-family, but for now, they lie here. These jaguar-sized cats were powerfully built with prominent sabres and extremely robust front limbs. They were also widespread, with fossils found across the North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, from between 5 and 1.2 million years ago. It has also been proposed that Dinofelis preferred forest habitat and may have had a spotted or striped coat – like the modern day clouded leopard and ocelot. 

Finally, we come to the best known of the sabretooths – the Smilodontini. These include the three sub-species of Smilodon, but also the family groups of Rhizosmilodon, Promegantereon, Paramachairodus, and another favourite – Megantereon. The latter may have been a direct ancestor of Smilodon and was jaguar-sized, but even heavier set with lion-like forelimbs. Despite this, they are thought to have been able to climb relatively well and take down prey as large as a horse. And unlike its relative Smilodon, who was limited to North America, Megantereon was found in Eurasia and Africa too.

Homotherium skull

Smilodon is not only one of the most well-known sabretooths, but also one of the most easily recognised prehistoric mammals ever discovered, thanks in part to hundreds of fossils retrieved from the La Brea tar pits. Its name means scalpel, or ‘two-edged knife tooth’. Its teeth are easily the most impressive of all sabres in terms of size and were tools used for precision kills. However, these formidable upper canines were relatively weak and fragile. They had stocky, bear-like bodies and are thought to have been ambush predators that preferred thick forest and vegetation as habitat. Again, we’re not sure if they were co-operative hunters – but it is thought likely that they lived in small family groups. 

All the above sabretooths are part of the Felidae family – making them true cats. But they weren’t the only sabretooths out there. There are others, most of which fall under what are known as false sabre-toothed cats – including the nimravidae and barbourfelidae. These animals are part of the Feliformia sub-order. Again, if you’ve read my books, you’ll be familiar with that name in terms of hyenas and their fossil relatives. But it also includes animals like the Madagascan fossa, the binturong of Asia, as well as civets, mongoose, and meerkats. Cats too are part of this sub-order, and the false sabre-toothed cats are obviously more closely related than these others – but are still different from true cats.

As for sabretooths and their modern-day cat relatives, it’s thought that they shared a common ancestor from about 18 million years ago. But the family ties between the sabretooths themselves are quite strained too. For instance, Homotherium and Smilodon are probably more distantly related from each other than your typical house cat is to a tiger. But genetically, we can still forge that connection to modern day big cats like lions and tigers from studies carried out on fossil mitochondrial DNA. It’s more direct in species related to Homotherium, which is another reason Xenosmilus was a good fit on paper. It had the strength and size of Smilodon but benefited from being part of the larger sabretooth family, with more of a genetic tie (however slight) to modern big cats.

Xenosmilus skull – its name means “strange smile”.

As for would a modern-day big cat, like a jaguar, be able to breed with a sabretooth like Xenosmilus… we obviously don’t know. My conjecture is that as true cats, it’s technically possible and viable. There would no doubt be many unknown evolutionary and biological barriers to overcome, but, as a favourite fictional character facing similar concerns famously once said… “life finds a way”. 

And whereas we’ll never be able to bring back a dinosaur from its DNA to find out what it might conveniently splice with, don’t be so sure when it comes to prehistoric cats. Their DNA – from cave lions to Smilodon, has been found and identified, and in some cases, even mapped. Maybe in the near future, just like in my books, we’ll be able to visit something akin to a Pleistocene Park!

If you can’t wait until then, you can discover how these cats and others play a role in my books here.

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. 

2017: A reflection.

I often have my most profound thoughts and reflections at the oddest of times. There’s the cliched ‘eureka’ moment in the bath of shower of course, but for me, nothing beats the good old commute. Whether on a train, in a car, or on the bus, you can be surrounded by other people yet lost in thought. And as this year trundles to its final stop, it seems a perfect opportunity to reflect on the journey I’ve taken as a writer this year.

My second novel, The Daughters of the Darkness, came out in June. It continues the adventures of Thomas Walker, the wildlife biologist turned monster hunter, whom we met in Shadow Beast. The book is getting some lovely reviews from readers, and is slowly making itself known among the Amazon charts.

A few readers were surprised to find Thomas facing his past rather than picking up exactly where the first story ended. However, there is method in my madness. Firstly, given that Thomas is a hunter of man-eaters, I couldn’t resist pitting him against what are arguably the most famous duo to have ever developed a palette for people: the Tsavo lions. The legend and historic record of the man-eaters features strongly in the narrative, and as we learn in the first book, Thomas has unfinished business with a pride possibly made up of their descendants. There is of course something a little more cryptic (or perhaps cryptid), to their nature too. But, secondly, I also needed some time for things to…shall we say grow? Without giving any spoilers away, Phantom Beast, the third instalment, will see a return to the animals we met in Shadow Beast, and things have certainly…developed!

So, obviously Phantom Beast will be a major project for 2018, but getting stuck into my third novel was also a major part of this year.

But, there are a few other things on the go too. I’ve made progress with a science fiction story, and some headway with a rampaging bigfoot as well. And a recent achievement to my 2017 was mapping out what I see as my “novel universe”. Connecting characters, books, and storylines proved a really interesting exercise and gave me considerable clarity on where to take the stories. It also gave me a considerable to-do-list, so 2018 will be a busy year! Like many writers, I collect notebooks and journals, jotting down everything from vague thoughts to one-liners I’m yet to fit to a character, plot, or storyline!

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One of the funnest experiences in 2017 was joining Shannon Legro of Into the Fray Radio for an episode of her excellent podcast. If you’re interested in the paranormal, strange goings-on, cryptids, serial killers, UFOs, and other worldly things, you should definitely check it out. You can find my episode here, and you can find Into the Fray on all good pod catchers.

Another lovely aspect of 2017 was receiving reader mail from all over the world. From a gentleman in Florida, to a horror fan in Germany, I have been amazed and touched to find my books have spread so far, and pleased so many. If you’d like to get in touch, you can drop me a line via luke@blackbeastbooks.co.uk.

So, 2018 beckons, and of course, there’s plenty of things I didn’t get round to doing. I still haven’t set up a website, or started a mailing list. I don’t promote my books enough. Writing and a full-time job do take their toll, but I’m going into the next twelve months a little more prepared and determined. Christmas has seen aids, such as a social media planner from the brilliant Lucy Hall added to my resources, so I’ll hopefully be a little more proactive and less reactionary on my channels.

And along with everything else, I’ll keep writing too. Here’s to 2018!

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Howl of a Halloween

Ruebus sighed. The mountain air chilled him, and he pulled the thick blanket more tightly around him. He had already removed his clothing and placed them in a bag in the back of the pick up. He was miles out of town, and the scent of pine assured him of the closeness of wilderness. Night was falling and a few stars were already peeking out at the retreating day. His heartbeat had slowed and he was comforted by the methodical thud in his chest as he looked up to welcome the night.

He had found it amusing that the full moon had fallen on Halloween this year. Earlier in the day, he had even kidded himself that he would be able to stay in town, as everyone would think he was just wearing a costume. The smile had soon faded though. He could never completely remember the full effect of the transformation, but he was certain that it would be all too convincing. He could never even remember if he walked on two legs, or ran on four. In fact, all he ever remembered was what we saw and felt in his dreams. The chasing down of a deer or the bloodlust thundering through his veins just before terrible jaws snapped shut.

This was his fourth full moon. If he had known that the dog he’d hit that day was a wolf, he probably wouldn’t have even got out of the car. But that was old news now. One of the benefits of being a lycanthrope was a remarkable ability to heal and the scar had disappeared after his first full moon. He had been on the ranch, bringing in the horses when he had begun to change. The horses had been spooked all day. The next morning, he had found what was left of the two that hadn’t fled fast enough. Ever since then, he had made sure he was no-where near a human on the night of the full moon. He was never going to risk that.

The noise of the engine snapped him out of the trance he had slipped into. A car was coming up the road. It was still out of sight, far round the bend. But it was getting closer. His heightened senses took over, his ears, already slightly narrower and more tipped than a few minutes ago, seemed to prick up and follow the sound as it drew nearer. He was poised to run. But something held him there.

The car screamed round the bend, almost out of control. It was a black SUV, with tinted windows, and even his eyes couldn’t see the driver. The popping sound from the wheel arch came unexpectedly. The car was already sideways when the blowout shook the chassis, lifting it into the air as it spun wildly out of control. It crashed down onto its side and slid along the road in a shower of sparks and grinding metal, the sound so loud in his ears that he lifted up his hands to cover them. He could feel his hands and palms tingling as thick fur threatened to sprout from his pores, and his fingernails thickened and hardened as they rested against his skin.

The night descended still, and Ruebus knew that only a few seconds of his humanity remained. He didn’t look behind him as he heard the family scramble from the car. He ran in the opposite direction, driving himself further and further from the sounds and smells of the accident. He began to head for the tree line, hoping the wolf in him would carry on in the same direction. It was not to be.

The snapping sound in his knees drove him to the ground in a crumpled heap. As his leg bones broke, shattered and reformed into a new shape, he let out a blood-curdling scream of agony. It only ended when there was no air left in his chest. His eyes bulged in their sockets as they changed shape and colour, seeping blood as they did. The thick, dark brown fur erupted from every pore in his skin, as steel-like talons, as black as the oncoming night, curled from his fingers and toes. His spine cracked as it curved, sending him into a spasm of renewed agony. The changes hit him in waves, re-shaping his legs into powerful back limbs. His arms bent and buckled as they became heavy and hard. His skull flattened and fractured as long powerful jaws extended into place. As if in triumph of overcoming the frail human form it had been only moments ago, the wolf roared into the night air, and held its head high in a single, chilling howl.

The scents were what came to it first. The leaking oil from the upturned engine; the spilling gasoline, the wisp of perfume from the mother’s neck, the sweat and blood on the hands of the man. They all tempted it back towards the road. It slunk silently towards the brow of the hill where it already knew the car lay. At the ridge, it paused as it saw three people huddled against the underside of the upturned car. The wolf allowed them to see him as it took a few careless steps towards them, sending loose stones down the bank in their direction. It savoured the sounds of the screams and the smell of fear in the air as the two females stood up. It fixed its eyes on the man as it parted its lips and narrowed its eyes as it thought with evil pleasure of the nightmare its human-self would wake from the following night. And then it leapt.

~

If you like the short stories sometimes featured on this blog, you can find novels by the author here and here.

The Daughters of the Darkness – Pre-order Now!

So, after over two years of waiting (and working hard at the writing desk in my case), I am very pleased to announce that The Daughters of the Darkness is now available to pre-order on Amazon. You can find the details here.

For the moment, only the eBook is available to pre-order, but I am hoping to be able too add the paperback by the weekend, after some formatting issues have been resolved.

It’s also a great time to catch up with the first book in the series – Shadow Beast. As a celebration of the release of Daughters, I’m currently offering it as a free download until Monday. You can get your free copy here, if you haven’t yet had the chance to meet Thomas,  Catherine, and of course, the beast.

There’ll be lots more exciting news and updates in the next few days and weeks, but for now, head to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Daughters of the Darkness today. Content will be delivered automatically to you on Monday.

And one last thing. Thank you. Thank you for reading my books, keeping me going, and for supporting an independent author.

Oh, and one more last thing. Reviews are really important, so please, if you have the time, remember to leave an honest review of what you think. It’s greatly appreciated, and helps get the books even greater levels of exposure. After all, the more books that go out – the quicker I have to write the sequel!

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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The Legend of One-Eye

When Peter Benchley wrote Jaws, he had no idea that he had literally created a monster. Not only did it become one of the biggest selling novels of all time, but it was made into a movie that became the first ever summer blockbuster, setting the trend ever since. What is interesting is that later on, Benchley became a committed advocate for shark conservancy, and stated that he would not be able to write Jaws based on what he had discovered about them since he first put pen to paper.

It’s important to realise that fiction is exactly that, fiction! Benchley also stated that he was no more responsible for people’s attitudes to sharks than Mario Puzo was for the mafia. Sharks do after all eat people, as do other things, whether we like it or not! In the real world man is the real monster, responsible for far more bloodshed and cruelty. But in our imaginations at least, nature has always been queen when it comes to our most primal of nightmares.

In Shadow Beast, another monstrous animal is at the heart of the story, as is my love of the Highlands and its amazing wildlife, including the endemic and endangered Scottish wildcat.

In the book you’ll find themes of conservation and re-wilding, but I wanted to do more than simply put these topics out there. I wanted to get behind them too. So with that in mind, I’ll be donating 15% of my February book sale profits to Wildcat Haven and the Save the Scottish Wildcat campaign. More details about their work can be found at http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk

At the same time, I wanted to celebrate their work with some of my own, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the origins of a character who makes a legendary entrance in the book. One-Eyed Tom, the wildcat.

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The Legend of One-Eye

The world around him was bathed in the sepia glow of a night-long twilight only his eyes could see. Two silent bounds took him to the edge of the stream, where a flick of his paw fished the unsuspecting frog from the water. There was no pause to play or pounce tonight, and he crunched and gobbled down the still wriggling amphibian in quick, successive bites. Every sense was on heightened alert. Even as he ate, he glanced with furious purpose in the direction of every sound his pricked ears caught.

He moved off, checking his path and surroundings every few steps. He stopped at a favoured mound of brown, dead heather to scent mark the border of his territory that ran along the stream. His face crumpled into a silent snarl. An intruder had crossed the path and left their own musk lacing the crumbly soil. The big tom sprayed the area liberally with urine, then meticulously rubbed the heather and ground with the scent glands in his cheeks. He scraped the damp ground into a mush with his back feet and continued on his path.

The piercing, single scream made him stop in his tracks. His head snapped to a path to the left, heading deeper into his territory. He knew the rabbit warren that the path led to, and he now realised the purpose behind the intruder’s insurrection. Such blatant disregard to his presence and home could not be tolerated. He turned onto the path, hunkering down as he made his way along it with silent, shadowy focus.

The sandy soil veiled his approach by absorbing his footfalls in noiseless padding. He approached the ridgeline and paused at its top. This was where he normally watched and waited for the rabbits to emerge into the dust-bowl clearing in front of him. The slight elevation and cover of the heather-lined ridgeline was the perfect ambush site. He could see where the intruder had launched from the same spot, and his eyes searched him out, knowing he was close.

His hardened stare came to rest on a crouched silhouette on the far side of the clearing. As the hairs in his ears fluffed and expanded to elevate his hearing even further, he picked up the sound of crunching, crushing teeth. Then the wind changed direction, and a cool breeze brought the scent of death and the younger cat to him.

He yowled his intent, unable to contain his rage any longer. He barrelled forward, growling and hissing as he covered the ground in rapid, rippling steps. His snarl was answered by a quivering, spitting growl of savagery. His adversary stepped out into the moonlight, boldly meeting his gaze. But the big tom could sense the hesitancy, reflected in the curve of the newcomer’s back and by the way he half-sat on his rear haunches.

The big tom growled, flicking his tail back and forth in a maddened fury against the ground. The yowl in his throat built to a scream. The younger, smaller male answered with his own caterwaul of threat. The two wildcats stood almost nose to nose, their fur bristling on end and their muscles taught and ready for combat. Each stared into the mirrored savagery before them. The time had come.

In a sudden moment of doubt, the young cat tried to dash past his adversary, but the big tom was too quick. He rammed the off-balance intruder with his shoulder and a butt of his head, his rear paws lifting off the ground as he rippled into a pounce that sent four sets of extended claws and his flashing fangs through the fur and flesh of his screaming opponent.

The younger cat didn’t hesitate to answer the assault, clasping the tom’s head in the vice-like embrace of its front claws. As the big tom punched and pawed repeatedly at the intruder’s back and stomach, his adversary twisted round and clamped his jaws over his muzzle, now in a position to also slash away at the exposed flank of the big tom with his hind paws.

They clung to each other, growling, hissing and snarling through a pain that only fuelled their fury. But a lucky scrape of the young cat’s hind leg sent the big tom spinning backwards, releasing the intruder from his fangs. The young male raced to the ridge and sank into its shadow, pausing at the top to glance and glower at the one whose territory it had invaded. The older cat had already turned his back, knowing he had won the fight. He now nosed at the dead rabbit, ready to claim his prize as victor. The intruder was overcome with renewed fury, and launched into the air, his front claws reaching out for a deadly embrace. The big tom whipped round in a fearsome frenzy, saw his opportunity, and leapt too. His fangs found the throat of the young cat and he used his bulk and might to bring him to the ground. The intruder writhed in silent revolt as the pressure on his larynx strangled the life from him. His forepaws and claws rained flailing blows on his killer’s head, but it was to no avail. A last, limp cuff slashed across the big tom’s left eye as the young cat’s world went black.

The wildcat grimaced and spat, rolling in the dirt with the pain. He screamed in fury, searching out the path by feel as he howled his way back to the stream, blinded by his blood and rage. The big tom slapped and sucked at the water, ducking his head under as he occasionally did to fish. After some time, the pain began to ebb, and he wandered away towards a favoured hollow to rest.

The creature slunk into the clearing and nosed the dead rabbit, before slumping down onto the sandy soil beside it. It casually skinned its meal with a few gentle tugs of its jaws, and it swallowed the meagre mouthfuls of meat it provided. It rose again and padded over to the dead wild cat, a distrustful growl rumbling in its throat. It had come across the smaller cats before as a youngling and knew their savagery and flickering charge all too well. It knew better than to tolerate their presence. It picked up the dead wildcat in its jaws and disappeared back into the shadow of the waiting forest.

~

If you haven’t bought a copy of Shadow Beast on Kindle or in paperback, now you can get a great book and help what is very likely the most endangered cat in the world at the same time! Click on the link below to get your copy today!

http://hyperurl.co/fuuugp

Shadowy Beasts

Scary stories are an integral part of every culture in the world. But our myths and monsters have more of a purpose than generating nervous laughter around a camp fire, or making your date squeeze that little bit closer.

When I was choosing the name for this blog, I was thinking about the tales and stories I knew of and had researched, and for the most part, they fell into two categories – black beasts and bogeymen.

When I was choosing the colour of my creature for my book Shadow Beast, there was one obvious choice. Black. It’s the colour of choice for getting your creep on. Just think about it: the bit that makes everybody shudder in the 80’s fantasy film The Never Ending Story, is the mural that reveals Gmork, the big black wolf-like creature to Atreyu. Think of a monster and most of the time, it will be black in colour. Dracula, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Death himself all go for the ‘any colour as long as its obsidian’ motto.

This dark coloured continuity goes well beyond Hollywood and literature though. One of the UK’s most prominent tale-types is of large, spectral black dogs. Depending on who sees them and in what part of the country, they can be viewed as anything from an omen of death to a guiding spirit for a lost traveller. The oldest of these tales can be traced back to 1127, where a Dr. Simon Sherwood writes of a very curious incident of a dog in the night time.

“Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immediately after [Abbot Henry of Poitou’s arrival at Peterborough Abbey] – it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare – many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and their hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter.”

After that, what became known in East Anglia as Black Shuck decided to go it alone, making a very grand entrance in 1577 at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh. As the congregation at Holy Trinity Church offered their collective praise on the 4th of August, a monstrous black dog burst through the doors to a clap of thunder. It ran up the nave and turned its attention to a man and boy, both of whom it killed. Its thunderous bark then caused the church steeple to collapse through the roof, at which point the phantom dog decided to get the shuck out of there, but not before leaving scorch marks on the north door of the church, which are still there to this day.

What’s interesting to me is the possible truth behind the tale. Other old English legends speak of the Church Grim, an attendant spirit and guardian. They may appear as rams, horses, roosters or ravens, but black dogs were the preference. It used to be a commonly held belief that the first man buried in a new churchyard had to guard it against the devil. Apparently, there was rarely a rush of applicants, so alternative arrangements were made. A completely black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the churchyard, creating a Church Grim to protect the church. The RSPCA wasn’t founded until 1824, so old shuck was out of luck in 1577.

To back this up, the bones of a 7-ft dog that could have weighed up to 14-stone were discovered in a shallow grave in the grounds of Leiston Abbey, Suffolk, in May 2014. Given the size and age of the remains, dating from the 1500’s, it’s probably safe to assume the dog was in fact a type of mastiff and that the general practice of burying dogs was still fairly commonplace in 1577. It also doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to realise that any dog escaping from such an ordeal would be mightily pissed off and somewhat set against church-goers!

These tales have always inspired literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is a prime example. The story of a hellish hound and a cursed country squire almost certainly stem from Devonshire folklore surrounding Squire Richard Cabell, who was described as monstrously evil, was suspected of murdering his wife and was best known for bad behaviour all round. On the night of his death, it’s said a monstrous pack of hounds came baying across the moor to howl at his tomb, and since then, he has led the pack on their phantom prowling. Devonshire also boasts the Yeth Hound, so Doyle had no lack of inspiration for his tale of a devil dog.

The same was for me. I couldn’t resist the allure of the often reported mysterious big black cats seen up and down the UK. In the end, many historical events such as the capture of Felicity the puma in Cannich, where the book is set, made their way into the narrative. Lara the lynx was another example, captured in Cricklewood North London in 2001. Truth really can be stranger than fiction!

So, a quick look at the other category – bogeymen, boogeymen, or bogiemen, depending on where you hail from. Although Hollywood and popular culture has made them into something else, their purpose has always been fairly uniform and universal the world over. They are there to scare naughty children into being good! And there are literally hundreds of them!

My favourite, and possibly surprising choice to feature here is Bigfoot. Not so much the gentle forest giant, picking flowers and protecting his animal kin, more picking up and running off with the children of Native Americans and eating them, as well as those kin’ animals. In the southern states, Sasquatch is referred to as a booger, and Cherokee braves would often take part in the booger dance, chasing young children and women just like their hairy neighbours. Many different tribes tell their children to stay close, or they are likely to be taken up by; Choanito (the night people – Wenatchee), Skookum (evil God of the woods – Chinook), Windago (wicked cannibal – Athabascan), Tso apittse (cannibal giant – Shoshone), Atahsaisa (the cannibal demon – Zuni), Yayaya-ash (the frightener – Klamath), Skukum (devil of the forest – Quinault), and so on. In fact there are over a hundred different names, none of which mean giver of sloppy kisses.

So, the stage for this blog is set. Expect some interesting tales of the weird stuff in the woods, the odd fictionalised account and news and items about my writing. It’s all meant to be fun, as well as a little frightening sometimes. Hope to see you around here again!