Monthly Archives: October 2016

Tune in on Halloween for the Final Creature Feature!

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Hey, everybody. No Creature Feature today. Due some last minute panic–induced scribbles planning for National Novel Writing Month, I wasn’t able to get the article done in time. Sorry about that! But I’ll be back with my favorite monster I’ve discovered through the course of this series on Halloween. See you then! Get out there and get pumped for Halloween! 

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Worst than Frost Bite: The Wendigo of North America’s Algonquian Tribes (Creature Feature 6)

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Worst than Frost Bite: The Wendigo of North America’s Algonquian Tribes (Creature Feature 6)

I’m back! Ashley has been great, but I’m here to take the wheel once again. This time, with a particularly chilling creature.

Among the Algonquian peoples of northeastern North America lurks a creature that waits for the ice and snow of winter to stalk its prey. It creeps in the cold shadows, looking for its next meal or for a lost soul to turn into one of its own. While the creature’s name and physical description varies among tribes, it is most commonly known as the Wendigo and there are several things that everyone can agree on: it is big, it is nasty, and it is hungry.

The Wendigo is said to be a cannibalistic evil spirit looking for travelers who lose their way due to the severe and ever-changing winter of its forest home. Due to its enormous size and the sacristy of victims the Wendigo is never satisfied, no matter much it eats. Its constant hunger has made its existence a cautionary tale against excessive greed and gluttony in addition to being a creature that haunts the woods.

Probably the best discription of the Wendigo comes from Basil Johnson, an Ojibwe teacher and scholar from Ontario. He describes the Wendigo as, “gaunt to the point of emaciation…its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets…What lips it had were tattered and bloody [and it] gave off the strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.” That doesn’t sound like something I’d want to meet in the woods.

Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid the Wendigo in the winter months, it’s still best to use caution while traveling. What if your car breaks down in the middle of a snow storm and you don’t have the proper clothing to go get help? What if you find yourself trapped, maybe for days? What if your travel companion starts looking pretty tasty? If the temptation proves to be too much, you just might find yourself turning into a Wendigo.

Good thing for an abundance of gas stations these days, eh?

Alternatively, it’s said that anyone who becomes too greedy and self-serving is at risk for becoming possessed by a Wendigo. While you won’t look like the nasty creature that Johnson describes, sharing head space with such a nasty creature doesn’t sound any more enjoyable.

With the morals tied to Wendigo’s existence, both the culturally specific one about cannibalism as well as the universal one about greed, it’s easy to brush the Wendigo as a simple story used to teach a lesson, even with its apparent sighting. But the Wendigo has a few added dimensions to its tale. Much like the demons of Western Christianity, the Wendigo has had nasty influences on communities over the years, even if it doesn’t leave behind physical signs.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Jack Fiddler, a member of the Cree tribe, was tried for the murder of a woman he claims was possessed by a Wendigo. According to his testimony, Fiddler killed 14 creatures before he was finally arrested. Some years before Fiddler’s case, a man named Swift Runner reportedly killed and ate his family during a particularly nasty Alberta winter.

Unlike most of these other monsters, many of you are probably safe from the Wendigo. Even if you live within its borders, winter is still some time away, despite the snow that might fall in October. However, I still encourage caution. Between all the candy, treats, and other indulgences of the season, Halloween is a holiday famous for its excess and gluttony. I’d hate to hear of anyone turning into the first candy-based Wendigo.

Image from offbeat.wiki.com. Original artist page deactivated.

 

Pixies: Not Just Another Creature-Guest Blog Post by Ashley Fae (Creature Feature 5)

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Pixies: Not Just Another Creature-Guest Blog Post by Ashley Fae (Creature Feature 5)

Hey, ya’ll. Due to travel and some other complication, the Creature Feature is a day late. Sorry about that. Thankfully, once again Ashely of tabbyafae.com has my back. This time, with some interesting discoveries about pixies. Take it away, Ashley!

“You’re about to learn that all that flutters are not fairies.  Pixies – also known by a plethora of other names like pixy or even pigsies – originate from Celtic roots. The mischievous pixies, in today’s world, are often confused with sprites or fairies, but throughout history, there were said to be even wars between the groups of fluttery ones.  The similarities between the races don’t stop there; it is thought that the name pixie, originating from the Swedish dialect, actually means little fairy.  Oh, will the similarities ever stop.  Perhaps not.

Today when one might look upon a pixie they’d see a short being that is very childlike.  Huge groups of them often gather outdoors dancing and even wrestling.  These gatherings often lasted all through the night.  What I found quite interesting is that when an actual description given in modern times, the pixie is described much like Peter Pan – pointed ears, dressed in green with a pointed hat.  Perhaps not an exact match, but that’s what I see in my mind.

The mythology of pixies is quite odd because it is so entwined with that of the fairy.  Even the origin of the name in the Swedish dialect means little fairy.  Pixies can often be clothed or unclothed.  It is said that in the medieval era when Christianity was prominent, pixie was often thought to be the souls of children who died without being baptized.  Once the clothing of the deceased child was placed in the clay funeral pots with their earthly toys, they would then change to pixies.

A super interesting fact to anyone who ever read, or was read, The Three Little Pigs might know that in 1853 there were actually three little pixies, not pigs.  Great Britain is where most of the myths of pixies come from, specifically Cornwall and Devon.  The legends say that pixies used to lure children into playing with them by disguising themselves as a bundle of rags.  These pixies were said to have normal relationship with people and loved music and dancing.  They were even said to be helpful to widowed women and other humans with their housework.

Although, they sound quite pleasant on the surface, they were also known, according to Wikipedia, for “misleading travelers.”  It was known as “pixy-led.”  The remedy, they say, was to turn your coat inside out.  However mischievous these pixies were, the queen of the Cornish pixies is considered to be good luck.

Pixies and fairies have battled each other throughout mythology.  The story goes that the pixies won and that by the 19th-century contact with humans had diminished.  In 1824, it was written that just as with chivalry, the age of the pixie was gone.   Does that mean they’re really gone?  Or are they lurking somewhere along the way of a weary traveler, or around the kids as they play?  Maybe they only come out on All Hollow’s Eve?  Watch out for them and tell me what you see!”

Image from pintrest.com

The History of the Zombie–Guest Blog Post by Ashley Fae (Creature Feature 4)

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The History of the Zombie–Guest Blog Post by Ashley Fae (Creature Feature 4)

Hey, everybody! I am currently out of town this week, so my good friend Ashley Fae from tabbyafae.com is going to cover the Creature Features today. She’s dug up some really interesting facts about zombies for ya’ll, so without further ado, I’m going to had it over to her.

“When I first began looking into a creature I love, zombies, I thought I knew quite a bit.  I thought I’d read and watched enough that I had my bases covered.  Ha!  Boy was I mistaken.  Not only did I learn that there are different types of zombies, but there are tons of zombie myths and legends around the world.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, zombies as we know them now were called revenants.  Revenants were believed to be the souls of people who had died and returned to haunt folks.  They rose from the dead and wreaked havoc on the community typically in the way of murder.  It looked like the zombies we know today, a rawboned, withered away corpse.

In Germany and the surrounding areas, the Nachzehrer was an awkward combination of multiple undead creatures.  They feed on dead bodies, they feed on the living, they even feed on themselves while taking on shape-shifting abilities and being able to kill just by having their shadow fall on a victim.  The only way to kill a Nachzehre is to place a gold coin in its mouth and behead it or stake it through the heart.  Legends have it that the Nachzehrer are typically the bodies of those who have committed suicide, died from the plague, or just have been one of those lucky corpses.

Norse mythology introduces us to the Draugr.  These creatures are dead Vikings who have risen from the dead and feed on the living.  The have superhuman strength, are huge in size, and reek of the smell of death.  They can not only crush their victims with their strength but they also feed off the blood of their victims. They rise from the grave in a puff of smoke and animals near their graves seem to go mad. These creatures can only be killed by a hero, “one possessed of great courage and moral fiber.” Might be hard to find one of those on every corner these days.  The hero wrestles them into their grave or burns them after beheading them.

The last of the history lesson will reign from Chinese myth with the Jiang Shi.  The Jiang Shi are those who have either committed suicide of been murdered or simply refuse to cross over.  The Jiang Shi differ slightly in appearance to what we know as zombies.  They tend to still be decaying but appear to have white fur on them and long white hair. They travel by “silent hopping…and are capable of leaping great distances.”  The only way to kill a Jiang Shi is to throw a bunch of grain and coins on the ground because the Jiang Shi can’t move forward until they all have been picked up which allows someone to place a sacred piece of paper on their forehead which deactivates them.  Interesting myth! Where do you get the scared paper I wonder?

Now to the current day all-American stuff.  Okay, maybe not technically all American, but definitely a bit more on the American pop-culture side.  And to say that learning this stuff made me feel completely out of the loop is an understatement.  I am a zombie lover and I’d never heard of three-fourths of this stuff.  So, hang in there and let’s take the journey of the undead.

Could you ever imagine that there was more than one type of zombie in current-day zombie lore?  There’s at least 12, if not more.  Although I’m not going to take the time to cover all of them, there are some interesting ones that I cannot resist – and I’m not talking about the traditional zombie everybody knows and loves.

Let’s start with the Runner zombies.  These are zombies who actually have the ability to not only eat you alive but run too.  These are the zombies you should never try and outrun.  These zombies don’t get tired like we do.  The best way to take care of the zombie is to take out its legs.  You’ll need to either “disable their legs by through severing large muscle group or completely severing their legs.”  Wow!  These suckers run?  I thought at least I was safe from the sluggish type.

Then there’s the Stalkers – which are also stalkers and super feral types.  These suckers are quadrupedal so they walk on all fours.  Holy crap!  Their heads also jerk back and forth and that makes it hard to kill with some weapons.  They’re faster than your standard zombie but slower than the runners.  They can be hard to see in certain areas like those backyards that never get mowed!  That’s a warning to all of you who refuse to mow.  And the even crazier part is that they attack everything, no matter their own kind or one of the living.

The last one I’m going to cover because they crack me up on any zombie movie or book I’ve ever read is the Crawler.  They’re also called the Ankle Biters.  They’re those annoying ones that somehow lost part of their bottom half so they slither around using their arms to pull them around. Ugh!  Those things are just ridiculous.  But make no mistake, these suckers can take you with an ankle or leg bite in a heartbeat so beware.

I hope you’ve learned some great stuff about zombies.  As a zombie lover, I know I did and I truly think it’s quite cool.  Please know there is a ton more out there about types of zombies at Zombiepedia, and of course lots of myths and legends at Wikipedia.”

Image from trustedreviews.com, which also has an interesting zombie article for all you Walking Dead fans out there.

Child of the Corn: The Budak of the Czech Republic (Creature Feature 4)

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Child of the Corn: The Budak of the Czech Republic (Creature Feature 4)

Between porch decorations, coloring book imagery and costumes, scarecrows are a pretty common sight around Halloween. Sometimes they’re scary, sometimes they’re harmless, and sometimes, when you least expect it, they’re even deadly.

Deep within wooden thickets, corn fields, or secluded river beds lurks the bubak of Czech folklore. The bubak is said to resemble a scarecrow, giving it the perfect cover to hide in plain sight during the Halloween season. However, if it wants more souls to weave into its clothes, it has to be a bit craftier than that. Its favorite trick is to hide in the shadows and emit a call that sounds like an abandoned baby crying. When an unsuspecting victim comes looking for the poor child, the bubak steals them away to rip out their soul and weave it into a garment of their choice. No one knows what happens to the husks the bubak leaves behind.

Look on the bright side: if you’re unfortunate enough to fall for the bubak’s tricks, at least you’ll get to ride to your doom in a cart pulled by cats. That’s pretty cool at least, right?

Lucky for us, the moon will be new on Halloween this year. The bubak prefers to hunt for fresh souls during full moons, but who knows? The temptation of all those shadows to hide in and all the people walking about might be too much for the bubak to pass up. So, if you’re out and about this All Hallows Eve, keep an eye on any scarecrows that might be more than they seem and keep your ears on high alert. You just might hear the bubak calling for its next victim.

Image from pintrest.com

“Am I Pretty?”: The Kuchisake-Onna of Japan (Creature Feature 3)

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“Am I Pretty?”: The Kuchisake-Onna of Japan (Creature Feature 3)

Monsters aren’t only born in antiquity. They can come into existence anywhere at any time. If anything, being newer and unknown gives you an edge. People don’t suspect you until it’s too late, especially if they’re not from your native land.

Such is the case of the Kuchisake-Onna, the Split-Mouthed Woman, of Japan.

While similar tales date back to Japan’s Heian period, the Woman as we know her has only been stalking empty city seats since the late seventies. While her origins are shrouded in mystery, most people believe one of two stories: either she was in a car crash that split her mouth from ear to ear or her husband discovered she was cheating and sliced her mouth before killing her. Those who believe the former story may be onto something since a cornier came forward in 1981, claiming to have prepared the body of woman with a split mouth who had been struck by a car while chasing children.  Whatever her origins, she still roams Japan’s shadows in search of someone to tell her she’s beautiful.

When she corners a victim, usually a child on a way home from school, she gives them a simple question, “Am I pretty?” Given that she wears a surgical mask, a common thing in Japan, especially during flu season, the victim usually answers, “Yes.” It’s an honest enough answer, until she pulls down the surgical mask.

Then, with her mouth visibly split from ear to ear, she asks again, “How about now?”

If the victim answers, “No,” she kills them with her giant pair of scissors. If the victim can keeps their wits about them long enough to choke out a “Yes,” then she grabs them and slices their mouth to look just like hers. They did say she was pretty after all.

No wonder students were escorted home in groups at the height of her sightings.

So, if you don’t want to end up dead or looking like the Joker, what’s a poor unsuspecting student, late-night traveler, or foreigner to do? Apparently, the best thing to do is to give a noncommittal answer. A simple, “You’re average,” or “So-so,” should do the trick, but you better pray she speaks English. The answer is said to confuse the woman long enough for you to run away.

The U.S. doesn’t seem like good stomping grounds for the Kuchisake-Onna, seeing as we don’t wear medical masks very often. This may mean she keeps her hunting to days like Halloween when odd behavior and costumes are to be expected. She could, however, just get craftier instead. With the temperature steadily dropping around the county, big bulky scarves and coats with high, thick collars are becoming more and more common. It would be easy for her to walk through crowds relatively unnoticed if she changed her attire.

So, with cold weather and Halloween around the corner, keep your wits about you and, if a random stranger asks you if you think she’s pretty, be careful what you say. Your answer just might be deadly.

Image from tumblr.com

Plot Twist: I AM Like Other Girls

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Plot Twist: I AM Like Other Girls

My name is Elisabetta Smith. My friends call me Lizzy. I have long brown hair, am conventionally attractive (even if I don’t realize it) and only ever where jeans, sneakers, and nerdy T-shirts because I don’t like shopping or make-up like other girls. For some reason, however, I’m attracted to the same teenaged heart-throb as all the other girls and, for some reason, he’s attracted to me. It’s probably because I’m not like other girls. He finds my klutzy ways adorable and my social awkwardness endearing. I’m a high school student, but unlike everyone else, I actually like learning. English is my favorite class. Shakespeare was a genius and Jane Austen is my muse.

Have I mentioned that I’m not like other girls?

Okay, okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic (okay, really hyperbolic), but there’s no denying that the “I’m not like other girls” trope has plagued YA for some time and has seeped into New Adult as well. For some reason, readers and authors alike have come to think that being low-maintenance, nerdy, and introverted are divine signs of uniqueness and, more disturbingly, make a character superior to “other girls” who tend to have more feminine interests. As someone who’s been there, read that, and come out on the other side with girl friends who are nerdy, sporty, masculine, feminine, snarky, sweet, and a million other things, I’ll let you in on a little secret: that protagonist is actually a lot like other girls and that’s okay. I’m feeling generous today, so here’s another secret: there’s nothing wrong with “other girls.”

The irony in how prevalent this trope has become slays me every time it comes up. The simple fact that it’s used so often, both in realistic and speculative fiction, makes it so that these girls are actually a lot like other girls, both fictional and real. Why else would writers keep using it to snag readers? We want to see people like us tackling both realistic and larger-than-life challenges. It’s comforting to know that if someone like us can walk through fire and come out okay on the other side, so can we. However, in giving girls and women that comfort, you’ve blown the whole illusion that your character is “not like other girls.” Obviously quiet, nerdy, awkward, introverted girls like us don’t like to draw attention to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re rare. Thanks to social media, popular movies, TV, books, and the existences of this trope in the first place, it’s become rather obvious that there’s a lot of girls like us. That’s okay. I like being like other girls. It means I can talk to them about my interests, passions, and dreams. Being around girls not like me allows me to learn about new interests, passions, and dreams, ruining the delusion that there’s something inherently wrong with “other girls.”

I could write a textbook on the social conditioning behind belittling feminine interests and hobbies. For the sake of time, I’ll condense: there’s actually nothing wrong with them other than the fact that our society has deemed them “feminine.” Seriously, what’s the real issue with pumpkin spice lattes, make-up, and girly clothes? When push comes to shove, absolutely nothing, yet the girl who’s “not like other girls,” is praised for shying away from such things like she’s been dodging the zombie virus.

While there’s nothing wrong with liking girly things, I think there is something wrong with being shallow and judging someone’s intelligence and character on such superficial things. It’s petty, vain, and pretentious, kind of like the stereotypical mean girls we as writers seem so desperate to distance our characters from.

Instead of pouring all our time and effort into figuring out what our female characters are NOT, what if we focused on what they ARE, where they’ve been, and how they shape their future because of it? After all, where we go in life, not what we like, is what really what makes us unique. That’s been my experience anyway.

That’s not to say female characters can’t be low-maintenance, nerdy, awkward and introverted, but when that’s all our females characters are for fear of being “like other girls,” they fall flat. Round them out. Let your female characters be girly, gender-neutral, and boyish in turn. Let them get excited about silly little stuff, because everyone gets excited about silly stuff. Let them get bored of Jane Austen for a minute and have them watch a stupid funny YouTube video for once. Stop being scared that your female characters are going to be like “other girls” and let them just be them.

And, if you’re someone who’s afraid to be “like other girls,” be kind to yourself. Let you be you.

Clipart from www.clker.com.