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 tour three birds newly discovered by the Zoo Arcane for your viewing pleasure.
Join me friends, but keep your eyes to the skies and treetops as we step through the misty portal to visit three legendary birds. The Zoo Arcane is not responsible for lost hats, pets or scalps.
The Last Pterodactyl
Slipping through the skies over Papua New Guinea, the Ropen is similar in appearance to a Pterodactyl. Witnesses have viewed this massive bat-like creature repeatedly since at least 1935. The Ropen is nocturnal, blending with the night sky except for brief bursts of bioluminescence that cause it to appear as a winged UFO for four or five seconds.
Legends surrounding the Ropen attribute grave robbery and the digestion of human flesh to its nefarious list of accomplishments. Some believe it merely to be a large fruit bat known as the Flying Fox while others are convinced that it’s numbers are made of the last remnants of the 65 million year old Pterodactyl species. Either way, something haunts the skies over Papua that has yet to be explained.
How would people react were a Ropen to fly into a city during the height of the day? Or land on a travelers vehicle on a remote road? What if this over-sized bat decided to prove its dominance against a modern jet or passenger plane in the dark jungle airways?
In a fantasy or modern exploration tale, the vale below the Ropen’s aerie would be a dangerous one to travel. What would beckon our hero to risk entry? The reason must be one worthy of the risk.
Here friend, take these flowers and follow me through the misty portal as we go to visit the Bahamian bird of luck and death. Do not lose your flowers or you may gain a unique view of the bad luck that follows.
When settlers first arrived on Andros Island, Bahamas, they encountered a strange two-foot tall creature with glowing red eyes that could rotate its head in a complete circle. To say this was frightening to the settlers is an understatement for out of these encounters came the legend of the Chickcharney.
While in reality, the island was inhabited by a burrowing owl of this description up until the 16th century, when the bird became extinct, the legends surrounding this fowl creature go beyond the limitations of a common avian.
Legend says that when one encounters a Chickcharney, deep within the pine forest, respect must be paid to it. Doing so will bring lifelong luck; failure will lead the creature to turn the disrespectful persons head around. An uncomfortable position that equates to lifelong bad luck, as short as that life may be. Fortunately, the Chickcharney are easy to appease, requiring only a brightly colored piece of cloth or flower to prove ones respect.
What if the Chickcharney were an intelligent race of owls, perhaps holding knowledge from before the time of mankind? Our hero may need to seek them out in a fantasy or encounter them while exploring a new planet teeming with life ruled by them.
Perhaps our hero is among the first settlers to the Chickcharney’s island and must find the methods to appease the birds before they spin the groups view in a dangerous direction.
What would someone do to gain luck for their entire lifetime? Villains would seek the creature out and heroes would be forced to stop them. Imagine what would occur were the greatest villain to gain the power of eternal luck. How could they be stopped? This concept becomes a powerful motivator in any genre.
I bid you stay close to me as pass through the misty portal once more to the hazy mountains of Hubei, China where the eldest phoenix awaits us.
The Jiufeng or Nine-headed bird is the earliest depiction of the Chinese Phoenix. The Jiufeng made its first appearance in Hubei Provence (home of the Three Gorges Dam) as the totem of the Kingdom of Chu (475 B.C to 221 B.C.). As the Han Dynasty took control in 220 B.C. the nine-headed phoenix was presented as a monster, a typical tactic when dealing with the powerful symbols of a defeated opponent.
One tale about Jiufeng speaks of how the bird was injured by an angry mob causing the loss of its tenth head. In retribution for this sacrilege, Jiufeng hunted the populace, absorbing the souls of those it encountered while searching for the one that had injured it. Eventually, the tormented populace discovered that by putting out their lights and placing their dogs outside, Jiufeng would flee.
Juifeng can be good or evil, dependent on point-of-view. However, what if a sorcerer were to raise Jiufeng to bring retribution on those who had caused him harm? Place this phoenix on another world and we have fantasy or science-fantasy (magic versus technology). In a modern setting this can quickly turn to paranormal and horror. Add a few well-placed murders and a detective and we have a paranormal mystery worthy of the Cthulu investigators of old.
And now my friends I bid you pass once more through the portal to safer lands then those we have visited. I hope that your imaginations are now in flight and carry you further than the misty portal ever could.
Join me next Wednesday for another Designing from Bones when we take a look at an activity many of us enjoy, the history and uses of cooking.
If you’re looking for more great information and ideas on writing, check out my previous Designing from Bones entries.