Welcome to my weekly series “Designing from Bones”, where we use archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories. Join me today as we look at three mythical creatures drawn from the legends of those who believe they exist.
Come in, my friend, to the Zoo Arcane. I have new arrivals to show you, drawn from the shadows that move at the corners of vision by those who yet believe and brought here today for your pleasure and nightmares. Step with care and stay close, for legends have a way of gaining life when we are not respectful of their power.
Follow me through the misty portal, to the frozen woodlands and ridges of Alaska where waits a beast drawn from the nightmares of children.
Living in the tundra near Lake Lliama in southwestern Alaska, the Urayuli is a type of Yeti. Grainy pictures of the ten to fourteen foot tall shaggy beast and its large sunken foot impressions mirror those of its more famous cousin, Bigfoot. With elongated arms dragging to its ankles, Urayuli is well equipped for the frigid woodlands and mountains where it lives. Its arms also make the beast an excellent swimmer able to overtake an oar-driven fishing or pleasure boat with ease.
With reports stretching back to 1956, this creature is generally harmless to humans, stealing fish and dogs and destroying campsites. Reports of encounters with the Urayuli are as common and unsupported as those surrounding Bigfoot, most coming at a distance or in the growing darkness of twilight.
Legend says that the Urayuli are transformed children that strayed into the woods at night, but then we all tell our children frightening stories to make them stay in bed. Don’t we.
What if this legend were true? Would our young hero in a YA story find himself alone in the woods at night, hunted by the Urayuli desiring to transform him? Perhaps he followed his girlfriend there? Danger and romance in the wilds are a powerful mixture for tension.
Imagine a camping area along the shores of Lake Lliama, will our camper hero be a Bigfoot hunter, a family on holiday or a fisherman waiting for the pre-dawn fishing he has looked forward to for weeks? How would each of these respond to a sudden appearance of the Urayuli in their camp or the vision of one swimming just off shore in the failing light of evening? Perhaps stealing the family dog for dinner? Like all wild creatures the Urayuli will fight if cornered. Does our hero dare corner it?
Follow me now through the portal to the home of a powerful serpentine denizen of South Africa.
Originating with the crude drawings of Bushmen, Inkanyamba is an antelope-headed serpent, a master of storms and enemy of the Zulu’s. Living in Howic Falls, Kwala Zulu, South Africa, the Zulu’s fear of this creature is enormous. In fact, they refuse to speak Inkanyamba’s name or make any physical representation of it, other than drawing storm clouds, for fear that doing so will call a destructive response down upon them.
Only sangomas (witch doctors) may approach the area of the falls without fear of becoming dinner and rumors of washed up body parts are common in the Howic Falls area adding credence to this belief. For many years, out of fear and worship, the local natives would push a virgin off of the falls as a sacrifice to Inkanyamba. The ceremony continues yet today, reinacted as part of a tourist show.
According to legend, Inkanyamba occasionally emerges during the summer months, rising into the sky where it generates massive thunderstorms that follow in its wake. Whether is seeks a mate, goes to battle others of its kind or simply enjoys looking down on the tiny earth-bound species is anyone’s guess.
Imagine our hero visiting Howic Falls to see the portrayal of the virgin sacrifice. As the key moment arrives, the virgin on the brink, about to be sacrificed, Inkanyamba emerges from the falls, the legend alive and snatches the actress back into the falls. Moments later emerging yet again, centuries of hunger now awakened.
Is our hero a tourist or journalist? Perhaps a fellow actor or game warden? How would each of these heroes respond to this event? Will the local sangoma support the heroes efforts, resist him or try to kill him?
What if the stories about Inkanyamba’s power to create storms is true? As the creature can fly, it can go anywhere on Earth or any world we create, unleashing havoc and chaos.
What if our hero steps through to the “other side” of the falls? What will he find there? What will he find if the above event did not happen and he is merely a seeker about to step through a sacred veil into the realm of living myth?
Quickly now, I see the curtain of the falls parting and we must not allow the storm serpent to find us here. Through the portal once more, my friends. To the foggy woodlands of England and the one pig no farmer would want to raise.
The Beast of Dean
Rumors of a pig of enormous size have existed among the residents of Forest of Dean, Glouchestershire, England for centuries. The boar, referred to as the Beast of Dean or Moose-Pig, was reportedly large enough that it could fell trees and was blamed for many acts of devastation.
According to history, something ravaged the crops and terrorized the local townsfolk to such a high degree that in 1802, farmers from the village of Parkend set off on an expedition to fell the beast and restore order to their lives. They returned empty handed, but that is no surprise, since wild boars were extinct in England at that time. What lived and woods remains a mystery.
What if the farmers had actually found the Beast of Dean? Would our hero have been among them? Or would he have been the one to find their corpses? What really terrorized the village of Parkend?
What if the Moose-Pig was the guardian of some hidden artifact deep within the ancient woods? Or perhaps the protector of a sylvan druid or mystic locale?
The legend of the Beast of Dean lends itself well to many genres from fantasy to horror to adventure and even to science fiction if we make the creature a changeling or the pet of an alien visitor. What vision of mayhem does the Moose-Pig inspire for you?
So ends our tour of the Zoo Arcane, I return you now to your place and time, but beware those things that move in the shadows of vision and thought for some of them just might be true.
Looking for more great ideas and information on writing? Check out my previous “Designing from Bones” entries. Join me next week when we visit the Librum Historica to seek out the lost knowledge of the ancients.