Welcome to my weekly series “Designing from Bones”, using archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Join me today as we visit a lethal servant of the Egyptian God Anubis and two vile creatures woven from myth and nightmare.
Follow me now my friend, yes, yes, down this alley and through a nondescript door into a warehouse macabre. If revenge or chaos are what you seek then I have three villainous beasts for you that are sure to fit the bill. Freshly gathered from the far reaches of the world and ready to unleash on the unsuspecting populace of your local Starbucks.
Our first denizen served the God of the Dead, Anubis. Behold the Devourer, Ammit. With the head of a crocodile, torso of a lioness and hind of a hippopotamus this master of death can pulverize bone, rend flesh and crush the fallen with ease.
When life has ended and the dead are judged to determine if they are worthy to exist once again, the judge Osiris places the deceased on one side of a scale and a feather from the headband of the goddess of truth on the other. Every trespass and evil that the person judged made in life adds to their weight and should they weigh more than the feather of truth then they are deemed unworthy of rebirth and fed to the Devourer, the Bone Eater, the mighty Ammit.
Imagine, if you will, this judgment transcribed into a drama. The hero dies or is dead. Placed upon the scales, the record of their life begins to play, becoming a frame to write within. To the side of them stands another, the antagonist of our story that died in the act of killing our hero, or shortly thereafter when the police gunned him down. Throughout the story we weave foreshadowing of the Ammit and the realm of the dead. The story, at least for our villain ends in the jaws of Ammit while our worthy hero is granted rebirth.
Justice beyond the grave not what you were looking for? How about something more direct, yes, something to wreak havoc on those yet breathing.
No, its not a band name, although it would make a good one. Here, however, I speak of the Mongolian Death Worm. Appearing as a 2-5 foot long blood-filled intestine that can hide beneath the sand or dirt and spring up without notice, this little beauty will spread mindless terror that will haunt the dreams of those who survive for decades.
The existence of the Death Worm has lived in myth among the Mongolian people for centuries, unseen and unproven. Except for the occasional disfigured corpse, that is. The worm is capable of spitting sulfuric acid up to 30 feet, corroding metal, melting flesh from bone and turning all it touches a distinct shade of yellow. Oh, and don’t try to grab this bloated bladder of acid and blood for it can also discharge an electrical shock capable of taking down a bull elephant.
The worms from Tremors (the first one, when the story was a story and the Bacon still fresh) may well have been based on this very worm. Imagine, not one, but dozens appearing in a small town. Terrifying, sure, but let’s up the stakes shall we. How about a swarm, coming up through the drain pipes in peoples homes, and not in a small town, but say, New York City or Los Angeles or Butte, Montana. Any city full of unsuspecting civilians will work.
Our swarm begins slowly, one victim, then three, next striking at a school or hospital, and for the climax you ask? Three worms for every resident seem like too much? I think not. Rather it will be a challenge relished by our hero, the Helminthologist, you know, the worm doctor.
We could also place our worms deep in a mine and add intellect, or as a bizarre food given to our fish-out-of-water hero lost in a remote corner of the world. The Death Worm is happy to please all your imaginations needs.
Still not enough to give your audience night sweats. Well then, my friend, I have one more fun denizen of dark dreams to show you. Guaranteed to frighten the wits out of even the strongest mind.
Place this mask on and stay to the shadows or the Huay-Chivo may steal your visage and life. Rising from the nightmares of the Mayans this creature is a doppelganger without rival. At times it appears as a man, at others as a goat, dog or deer, taking the form of its prey in order to hunt with ease. At still other times this sorcerer can shift to become a jaguar or puma, an even deadlier opponent when fueled by human intelligence.
The magical art of the Huay-Chivo is known as Nagual and it is a sorcerer that may take any animal form, with eyes that always glow red. The Nagual may be good or evil, predisposed to one path or another based on the date of their birth. They may be known or hidden, accepted or demonized. The Huay-Chivo may be anything our imaginations desire them to be so long as the power they possess remains the same.
Will the Huay-Chivo be the seducer of our heroine? Or perhaps the only one able to cure her from a curse? Then again, our heroine could find herself in the middle of a struggle between evil and good Huay-Chivo, unaware she is central to an ancient prophecy?
Imagine one of these creatures wandering into a steam-powered Western gold rush town in the 1800’s. A steampunk paranormal comes rapidly to mind, but then I know you already see the possibilities.
Come now friend, let us step away from these wretched beasts. More shipments come in from time to time and I’ll be sure to show you each one as they are torn from the nightmares of our ancestors and returned to life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting three of the deadly myths of history. Which catches your imagination, Bone Eater, Death Worm or the shape-shifting Witch-Goat? Heard of any strange beasts you’d like to share? I love reading your comments, let me know what nightmares you’ve found in the deep shadows of history.
Looking for more great ideas and information on writing? Check out my previous “Designing from Bones” entries.