Welcome to my weekly series, Designing from Bones, where we use archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories.
I’ve been a bit buried in work and writing for the past couple of weeks and thought that today I’d bring back the best of Zoo Arcane. For my long time readers, these are the ones voted best by your comments – for my newer readers – the misty portal awaits to take you on a tour of some of the oddest creatures of myth and legend. Enjoy!
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 myth surrounding this fowl creature expanded into the realm of oddity.
Legend says, when one encounters a Chickcharney, deep in the pine forest, respect must be paid to it. Doing so will bring lifelong luck; fail and the creature will twist your head around to permanently face backwards. An uncomfortable position equating 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 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.
Perhaps our hero is among the first settlers to the Chickcharney’s island and must find 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 tempted by the promised power. 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.
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, haunting the dreams of those who survive for decades.
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 – it can 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.
Long ago the ancient Chinese sage Fu Hsi sat along the banks of a river meditating, when a deer-like creature covered in shimmering scales and sporting a perfectly sculpted horn waded into the river. Stepping carefully across, the creature revealed a strange and magical script tattooed on its back. Fu Hsi quickly etched the symbols into the dirt around him, a gift from the saintly being that would birth the Chinese written language.
Meet the Qilin (chee-lin). Records of the Qilin date back to 2700 B.C.E. making it far older than the Western Unicorn while holding many of the same properties. It cannot be captured, its horn has magical properties, it walks with such gentleness that not a single blade of grass is crushed by its passing and above all it covets peace.
Can your hero defend the sanctity of the Qilins peace? Or will they be required to hunt the power of its purity in order to defeat a vile threat?
Perhaps the Qilin will represent a race of beings hidden in the celestial clouds of deep space or be found in a remote vale of Nepal in the modern world. Imagine the headlines were such a creature to be discovered. Now imagine trying to protect it from the media frenzy. Conflict and drama abound.
I now return you to your own time and place. I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting the best of the Zoo Arcane. May your imagination swirl and soar on the wings of the blessed Muse.
Which one is your favorite? Something not seem above that you’d like to have present in the Zoo Arcane? Have another fun idea for using the Chickcharney, Mongolian Death Worm or Qilin? I’d love to hear your thoughts.