Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The myth of Izanagi and Izanami part 2

A while ago I wrote a post about the myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Creator God and Goddess of Japanese mythology, which provided a substantial part of the backstory for my novel, At Yomi’s Gate. There’s more to the myth, and I really meant to get back to it sooner, but life got distracting and demanded my attentions elsewhere. But now I’m finally back with Part 2. Go here to read Part 1.

When we last left off, Izanami had just died giving birth to the fire god Kagu-tsuchi and her husband Izanagi slew said god in his grief and anguish.

Unable to accept his wife’s death, Izanagi journeyed to the gate of Yomi, the land of the dead, to see her once more. In the Kojiki- the primary source for much of early Japanese mythology- Yomi is presented as a real place under the Earth rather than a separate metaphysical realm like the Buddhist or Christian Hells (my version, though, is more like the latter two, in that it is another plane of existence). At the entrance, Izanagi calls to his spouse, begging her to return to the land of the living. She appears, obscured in deep shadows, but laments that she cannot leave Yomi because she has already eaten the food of the underworld and has thus become a part of the realm. She does, however, promise to speak with the mysterious gods of Yomi and see if she can strike a deal with them. It’s worth noting that these rulers of the underworld are never elaborated on anywhere else in the Kojiki. It’s possible the reference to them came from another source, now lost, that was consulted when this book was compiled.

Izanagi soon grows impatient and, grabbing a torch, goes in after his wife. When he finds Izanami at last, his light reveals that she is a rotting corpse crawling with maggots. Horrified, Izanagi flees back towards the surface.  Ashamed at being seen in her decayed state, Izanami flies into a rage and sends the Yomo-tu-siko-me, or hags of Yomi, after him.

My attempt at illustrating in the Ukiyo-e woodblock print-style. Except without the wood block.    

To evade his pursuers, Izanagi flings down the comb and leather string binding his hair which magically transform into, respectively, bamboo shoots and grapes that the siko-me eagerly stop to eat. But Izanami won’t let him escape that easily. She sends a massive army of demonic warriors to continue the pursuit, backed up by eight gigantic maggot-demons that grew from her own body. Despite the tremendous odds against him, Izanagi manages to fight them off using his divine sword- and also a handful of peaches (a weird little detail derived the ancient Chinese practice of using peaches to dispel evil spirits).

Another Ukiyo-e attempt. There's a reason this isn't my primary style...
After finally driving back the Underworld hordes, Izanagi seals the entrance to Yomi with a massive boulder. Izanami herself comes to the blocked entrance and calls out to him, threatening to kill a thousand people each day. Izanagi responds by saying that each day he will, in turn, build one thousand five hundred birthing huts to help mortals replace the people she takes.

Putting the whole Yomi debacle behind him, Izanagi purifies himself by bathing in a river. During this ritual multiple deities sprout from the clothes he leaves on the shore and from the cleansing waters that touch his body. The most prominent of these beings are the three major deities of Japanese Shinto mythology: Amaterasu the sun goddess and ruler of the mortal world; Tsukuyomi, god of the moon; and Susano-o, god of storms and the sea.

Delighted by these new gods, Izanagi gives them control over the mortal world. While Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi are content with their stations, Susano-o is deeply unsatisfied and weeps day and night, desperately begging to see his mother, Izanami. Even though he was technically spawned from just one parent, he clearly still considers Izanami his mother since he was born from the pollution of her realm that washed off Izanagi’s body.

Enraged by Susano-o’s petulance- and by this painful reminder of his former wife- Izanagi banishes his son to exile. After this final act, Izanagi ascends to the Heavenly Palace and leaves the Kojiki narrative.

At least that’s how it happens in our world. In the world of the Magma Sea Cycle, Izanagi’s tasks on Earth are not quite done thanks to a certain fire god that he thought he’d killed....

You can get a copy of my novel, At Yomi's Gate here and here.

The information for this post was taken from Doland L. Philippi's translation of the Kojiki for University of Tokyo press.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Review: The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C. M. Eddy, Jr., edited by Jim Dyer

Clifford Martin “C. M.” M. Eddy, Jr. was a pulp writer known today primarily for his tale “The Loved Dead”, which was extensively rewritten by H.P. Lovecraft.  Eddy was a close friend both to Lovecraft and to Harry Houdini and even worked as a ghostwriter and investigator for the latter. After the pulps vanished, Eddy’s work was largely forgotten until recently when his stories were reprinted by his grandson, Jim Dyer, under the small press Fenham Publications.

It took me a bit to get used to Eddy’s style. After his first story, the titular, Lovecraft-reworked “Loved Dead”, the clich├ęd caveman-adventure “Weapons of Stone” and the supernaturally-tinged (or maybe not) “Red Cap of the Mara” seemed a bit of a come-down. But the speed and energy of the stories eventually warmed me to them. Eddy’s works are fairly typical of the stuff appearing in the pulps: thrilling adventures deliberately meant to be read quickly. “Pot-boilers” so to speak. To make a living as a pulp writer, one had to be fast. The most successful (though not necessarily most famous) authors could churn out multiple stories in a week. Eddy was one of these fast, successful authors and, as a result, his writing sounds very much like the expository dialogue of old-time radio programs. Characters talk out their emotions and inner monologues in what I can’t help hearing as that crackling, rapid-fire style common to films of the 1940s. Think of His Girl Friday or anything with Humphrey Bogart. Eddy’s stories may not have been particularly memorable, but they were never meant to be. They were created to be an evening’s entertainment, not enduring classics.

To make a living as a writer one also had to be diverse. There were dozens of genres to write in: Romance, Western, Science Fiction, Adventure, Crime, Sports, Weird, Horror, Sword and Sorcery, etc. Plus some genres that are uncommon or non-existent today such as Oriental stories- basically anything set east of Constantinople- or what could be called Paleolithic Adventures- stories about prehistoric men and women living in an age of stone tools and megafauna. Eddy, like most pulp authors, wrote in multiple categories.

Here’s a run-down of the stories contained within this collection.

The Loved Dead
The most well known of Eddy’s stories. When the tale was first printed in Weird Tales magazine, it quickly gained infamy for its alleged references to necrophilia. Several decency societies even tried to have the issue it appeared in banned- an effort that only succeeded in driving up sales of Weird Tales and actually saved the pulp from bankruptcy.

As for the plot itself, the Loved Dead is rather tame by modern standards. It is a lurid tale of a man’s obsession with death and corpses. The necrophilia elements are subtle if they’re even there at all.

A few of the stories in the book included story heading artwork created by Andrew Brosnatch for the original 1920s publications.

With Weapons of Stone
Stories set in the Paleolithic age were popular in the old pulp magazines and this one seems pretty typical of the genre. Two men are competing for the right to take the same woman as their mate. To settle the matter, they must fight and defeat the dreaded Smilodon which is the enemy of their people. This story is notable in the fact that the woman who is the “prize” actually takes matters into her own hands to aid the man she prefers instead of waiting passively at home for the winner.

Red Cap of the Mara
A modern-day (well, 1920s) retelling of the myth of the swan maiden or selkie who becomes a man’s bride when he steals her magical garment. It’s one of those romances where the characters fall in love five minutes after meeting, then get married two months later, only for the man to find out his wife wasn’t at all what he was expecting.  Reminds me a little of the Val Lewton 1940s version of the film Cat People.

An Arbiter of Destiny
An odd crime tale of hypnotism and long-delayed revenge. The explanation of what’s going on at the end gets kind of confusing.

The Cur
This story feels like 1920s “torture porn”. Certainly an extreme example of a “true crime thriller”. An unsuccessful writer goes crazy, ties up then torments his wife in order to write a story about a man who ties up and torments his wife.

The Better Choice
John Castle has perfected a machine that can return the dead to life. It only needs one final test, for which John goes to the extreme. He kills himself with poison, leaving instructions for his business partner to revive him with the machine in a few hours. But the being who greets John on the Other Side has different plans.

Another tale of fearful science. Brilliant chemist Arthur Van Allister has developed a chemical that will reduce anything it touches besides glass to a pile of white ash. He knows this chemical will revolutionize the world. He just needs one final test subject. And unlike the protagonist of the previous story, he has no intention of testing his creation on himself...

A strange vampire story with shades of Dorian Gray and perhaps even a bit of Asenath Waite from Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep.   

Arhl-a of the Caves
Another paleolithic tale of two men fighting over a woman. Again, though, the titular woman, Arhl-a, takes matters into her own hands to be with the one she wants.

The Ghost-Eater
An eerie story of phantoms and werewolves in the vein of a Victorian ghost story. The Ghost-Eater was partially revised by Lovecraft, though his signature style is not nearly as apparent here as in The Loved Dead.

Another neat header illustration by Andrew Brosnatch

Deaf, Dumb and Blind
Another Lovecraft revision. This is my favorite story in the anthology.
Richard Blake is a famous writer of Weird fiction. After being injured in the Great War, he is left without sight, hearing or speech, though he is still highly sensitive and articulate with the written word.
Blake spends his days weaving stories at his typewriter in an ancient but comfortable house on the edge of a swamp with only his loyal aide for companionship. Blake’s is a quiet life, until the day the nameless thing haunting the old dwelling finally makes its presence known.

Souls and Heels
A classic pulp detective story with a bit of a supernatural twist.

Sign of the Dragon
An epic-scale adventure novella about spies and global conspiracies.
Chester Brent receives a gift from his dying father: a ring in the shape of a Chinese dragon. With the ring comes a pledge. Should Chester ever meet someone who bears the ring’s twin, he must render them assistance to the limit of his abilities. You can guess what happens, of course.
Sign of the Dragon is quintessential pulp adventure. While not especially memorable, it is a fast, entertaining read as long as you can get into the spirit of it.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: Heroes of Red Hook, edited by Brian M. Sammons & Oscar Rios

Though H. P. Lovecraft is a beloved writer of Weird horror, to say his writings had some problems with race is putting it mildly. Some fans say argue that he was simply a product of his time. Others say his bigotry went beyond the mainstream level of the era. Regardless of where one stands in this debate, the fact remains that racism is prevalent in many of Lovecraft’s works. While I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss his writing because of this unfortunate aspect, it needs to be acknowledged that its presence is hurtful and dehumanizing to some people.

Heroes of Red Hook is a response to one of Lovecraft’s more overtly racist stories, “The Horror At Red Hook”, where the diversity of peoples in this New York neighborhood are reduced to devil-worshipping, degenerate mongrel hordes. This anthology is not meant to bash Lovecraft and his stories, however. There is a clear appreciation and enthusiasm for the Mythos and the huge contribution Lovecraft made to horror and Weird fiction. These tales simply attempt to humanize and give voice to the marginalized in American society-People of Color, LGBT folk, immigrants, people with disabilities, etc.

Although this anthology was inspired by Lovecraft, few of the tales possess the cosmic, existential horror of the Old Man of Providence.  Most of them are pulp adventure, or at the very least adventurous horror in the vein of Titus Crow, Thomas Carnacki or the Call of Cthulhu RPG- which makes sense since the publisher, Golden Goblin Press, also creates adventure scenarios for that game Here the protagonists often triumph over- or at least temporarily stop- the supernatural horrors around them (though the non-supernatural societal horrors arrayed against them are another matter).

There are a lot of stories in this book and while it is great to see such a diversity of characters, the high volume does limit space, resulting in some works feeling rushed. Many a tale has a fantastic, detailed build-up, only to suddenly push the horrors onto the stage and run them past before the word count runs out. Still, I love the set-up for many of these and hope that at least a few authors will return to their creations in the future.

Here’s a run-down of the stories

A True Telling of the Terror That Came to Red Hook
by William Meikle

As the title says, this is a matter-of-fact retelling/exploration of what really happened in Lovecraft’s story. It concerns a black jazz musician and his Kurdish friend as they investigate that weird Suyden guy who keeps hanging around the local dancehalls and churches.

This story actually does a lot to clarify the original “Red Hook”, the ending of which is a confusing mish-mash of demonic imagery and purple prose that seems to be trying to imitate an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Ivan and the Hunting Doll
by Mercedes M. Yardley

Ivan emigrated from Russia when he was just a boy and now struggles to survive as an adult in the East Side tenements of New York. One day he receives a gift- an eerie porcelain doll- from his grandmother who stayed behind in the Old Country. Naturally, the doll is more than just an inanimate toy. It is an artifact out of the old myths and fairy tales. Tales that often have a bright, pretty cover hiding dark things beneath.

A Gentleman of Darkness
by W. H. Pugmire

Alma is visiting her artist associate, Carl Pent, to discuss his bizarre dreams and frequent bouts of somnambulism. During her visit, she hears the otherworldly music of Pent’s quiet Egyptian neighbor and learns from him that scraps of darkness may still linger in Red Hook even when the larger horrors have been vanquished.

Hungry Ghosts
by Cody Goodfellow

Dr. Wing Ho is well-versed in matters strange and supernatural, which is why he’s called in to investigate a bizarre murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A man has apparently been teleported halfway through a wall in an old alley. What sort of being could have done this? Where did it go? And why do some of the bricks in the alley appear to be made of solid gold?

Tell Me No Lies
by Sam Stone
Adrienne’s lover, Sarah, has been murdered and she’ll do anything to find the killer. Her need for closure eventually leads her to a very unusual spirit medium in New Orleans.

O Friend and Companion of Night
by Vincent Kovar

There are supernatural forces in this story, but the true horror lurking here is the monstrous practice of gay conversion therapy.

This is, unfortunately, one of the tales that rushes through the end. Though the slow building dread that permeates the majority of the telling makes up for its too-quick ending. It would have worked well as a longer piece, or even a short novel.

Across A River of Stars
by Scott R. Jones

Brothers Aaron and Micah have been sent to the front lines of World War One, though they are not exactly eager to fight for the Canadian government that has tried so hard to snuff out their Cree heritage in the Mission schools. In war-torn France, they meet a man searching for something supernatural among the mud and ruins. A beast of hunger and cold from the Frozen North of their own home.

Old Time Religion
by Paula R Stiles

In the North Carolina State Archives, there is a short journal that belonged to a woman investigating local folk songs in the 1920s. Though her account is brief, it is clear she encountered something odd in the small town of Cherokee Holler. There’s a song known by all the townsfolk about a mysterious being names Judas Charlie, who a special hold on the community.

Men and Women
by Oscar Rios

One of my favorite stories.  John and Danni are investigators of the occult whose experiences have taught them how to see the mythos bubbling up through the cracks of mundane reality. Their latest case leads them to a small isolated community where every woman and girl over the age of 10 has inexplicably become pregnant at the same time as part of a rite for a certain Black Goat of the Woods.

The Eye of Infinity
by Sam Gafford

Two rival gangs of youths in 1920s New York must call a truce and work together to figure out who is stealing kids off their streets and why.

Lords of Karma
by Glynn Owen Barrass and Juliana Luartaroli

Lily Crawford has been having strange dreams ever since she came out of her years-long fugue with complete amnesia. She dreams of working at a huge table in a strange city, recording her life and all her knowledge for being she can’t clearly make out, but who she refers to as the Lords of Karma.
While an interesting variation on The Shadow Out of Time, this story has a tendency to focus way too much on setting. Long descriptions of buildings and hallways start to distract from the narrative of a young woman trying to figure out what happened to the missing parts of her life.

A Ghostly Detestable Pallor
by Penelope Love

Beatrice discovers the fate of her missing Zio Pietro when he returns to his shop transformed into a horrid, maggot-like monstrosity. After ending his torment, she follows a trail of clues to a cult of white supremacists attempting to use dark science experiments to eliminate the “undesirables” around them.

Crossing the Line
by Tom Lynch

Jack doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. Not with his father’s culture in New York’s Chinatown, nor with his white mother’s American relatives who look at him with disdain. The only people who accept him for who he is are those monks in green robes lead by Brother Eng. They seem kind and benevolent, but something about them just isn’t quite right...

The Guilt of Nikki Cotton
by Pete Rawlik

A mysterious disease is slowly spreading over the world, leaving its victims immobile and locked out from reality. There is no cure, only round-the-clock care in a special hospital ward.

Nikki Cotton has been assigned to one such ward, built in the back of a Red Hook theater to house the members of the troupe who have fallen victim to the epidemic. To break up the monotony of the ward, the owner has decorated the room with works of art. Including several busts made of an unearthly fungal white marble. Nikki finds the stone faces deeply unnerving, though she cannot say exactly why.

Brickwalk Mollies
by Christine Morgan

A story about prostitutes and their struggle against a certain “Doctor Jack” who has fled from London to prey on the women of Red Hook. This Ripper, however, is more than just a mortal man.

The Backward Man
by Tim Waggoner

Another one of my favorites. Jacob can’t help counting. Cars, pedestrians, flowers. Always in sets of fives. It’s the only way for him to keep his universe in order.  That becomes more than just a metaphor on the day Jacob sees a man walking backward down the street, his boneless mushroom-white fingers writhing like serpents. The Backwards Man is counting too. But his numbers are slowly unmaking reality, leaving cracks of void where order breaks down. And Jacob might be the only one who can do anything about it.

Beyond the Black Arcade
by Edward M. Erdelac

A fictional adventure in the life of Zora Neale Hurston,  investigator anthropologist and a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance- perhaps most well known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. In this tale, Hurston’s exploration into Hoodoo (a variant of Voodoo practiced in Louisiana) leads her deep into the bayous where she comes across the remains of the site where Inspector LeGrasse fought cultists in “The Call of Cthulhu”.

This story also expands on the “black-winged things’ and “a forgotten pool where a white thing dwelt” briefly mentioned in Lovecraft’s original story.

Shadows Upon the Matanzas
by Lee Clark Zumpe

There’s a lot of plot in this one. Almost too much.  Ancient Incan emperors, secret societies, colonial Spanish ruins, investigative journalism. So much happening in such a short time that the tale feels like the summary of a full novel.  Not quite enough meat to the story. I actually enjoy the depth of detail, I just wish this could have been a longer story or a full-fledged book.

You can get a copy of Heroes of Red Hook at Golden Goblin Press' website.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: Dreams from a Black Nebula by Wade German

Wade German is a poet firmly anchored in the Weird tradition. His verses are steeped in the dark, macabre worlds of classic writers of the strange and eerie like H.P Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Jack Vance.

You really need to get into a certain mindset to fully appreciate these poems. Read them at night in a quiet place, perhaps by the light of a nightstand lamp or a few flickering candles- real or LED. Let each word expand its full imagery. Let yourself be drawn into the glimpses of strange dimensions that German highlights in brief chiaroscuro of verse before taking you through the dark spaces to a new alien landscape.

 Even the section titles demand careful consideration to unlock the nuances hidden in their words. How can one not be at least a little enthralled by titles like “Phantasmagorical Realms”, “Hypnogogic Terrain, or “Songs from the Nameless Hermitage”?

German’s style is not for everyone, of course. I often had to stop mid-poem to look up some odd, obscure word- an effort that would likely turn off a casual reader.  Several of the poems use an odd device where a sentence from one stanza will repeat somewhere in the next one. I found this technique rather distracting and a little gimmicky after a while. Though I fully admit that I don’t know a whole lot about poetry, and have no doubt that there’s a very deliberate reason for this technique that would be enjoyable for someone who actually understood.

Because of these idiosyncrasies, it’s easy to simply skim over German’s poems as if you were watching scenery flash by outside your car window on a long trip. But it is definitely worth pulling to a stop on the side of the road, stepping outside in the cool of dusk and letting German unveil the haunted, galaxies in the sky above you.

You can get a copy of Dreams from a Black Nebula from Hippocampus Press

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Land Crocodiles of the Mesozoic- Director's Cut

Back in December, I wrote another article for the Dinosaur State Park newsletter. This piece was all about Crurotarsi, that sadly overlooked sister group to dinosaurs that dominated the Triassic and early Jurassic. I had to keep the original article short in order to fit it into the alloted space, but here on my blog I've expanded it out and added a couple new entries.

In paleoart crurotarsans are usually portrayed as being very scaley and crocodile-like. Which makes sense considering that crocodiles and alligators are their modern descendants in the same way that birds are the modern descendants of dinosaurs. But dinosaurs were a very diverse group with all sorts of unusual appearances and behaviors, so why wouldn't their cousins be similarly varied? For that matter, why couldn't crurotarsans have a body covering besides scales and thick osteoderms? I've tried to impart some of that diversity to my depictions of the animals here, even giving some of them a covering of pycnofiber "fur".

We usually think of dinosaurs as the dominant animals of the Mesozoic. However, throughout the Triassic and into the early Jurassic, dinosaurs were only a small component of Earth’s fauna. Instead, the positions of “ruling reptiles” were held by a group called the crurotarsans. This taxon, which is also sometimes called Pseudosuchia, is represented today by the twenty-three species of crocodiles and alligators, all aquatic ambush predators. In the past, though, crurotarsans were significantly more diverse and included among their ranks: small, swift terrestrial predators; armored herbivores; fully-marine mosasaur-like specimens; giant, dinosaur-like carnivores and many other varieties. Many crurotarsans possessed a row of thick armored plates along the back, a feature still present in modern-day crocodilians in the form of hardened osteoderms.   

Crurotarsans are the sister taxon to the Avemetatarsalians, the group that includes dinosaurs, modern birds, and pterosaurs. Together Crurotarsans and Avemetatarsalians make up the group Archosauria or “Ruling Reptiles”.

Crurotarsan fossils are found all across the East Coast of North America and many of them likely once lived in Connecticut. These earliest crocodile relatives were primarily terrestrial, possibly because in the Triassic and early Jurassic the large aquatic ambush predator niche was filled by the superficially crocodile-like (but not closely related) phytosaurs and the giant amphibian metoposaurs.

A model of the phytosaur Rutiodon at Dinosaur State Park. Note the nostrils up near the eyes, a feature that distinguishes phytosaurs from crocodilians.
The giant temnospondyl amphibian Metoposaurus from Dinosaur State Park.

As mentioned before, a group of these crocodile relatives was actually herbivorous. This group, known as the aetosaurs, somewhat resembled the more well-known ankylosaur dinosaurs, though they were more lightly than the club-tailed dinosaurs.  It might be better to compare their appearance to that of armadillos or pangolins, though with the armor only along the back.

The Stegomus model at Dinosaur State Park is, unfortunately, hard to get a picture of since it's so small and sits in the middle of a diorama on the far side of the trackway. Instead here's a Stegomus from The Last Days of Pangea exhibit that was displayed at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut until July 2017. 

In 1896 the armored back carapace of a dog-sized aetosaur was discovered in Fairfield, Connecticut by the famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh. This creature, dubbed Stegomus, had an upturned, pig-like snout which it may have used to root around in the soil and pull up tubers and rhizomes. A model of Stegomus can be seen in the Triassic river delta diorama at Dinosaur State Park.

A pair of juvenile Stegomus foraging for seaweed on the shore. One has encountered a curious octopus taking a short stroll on the sand and is flaring it's (hypothetical) oral flaps in a manner similar to the modern Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus mystaceus.

In the early 1900s, the fragmented skeleton and armored back plates of what appeared to be another species of Stegomus were discovered in a quarry of Early Jurassic sandstone near East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. These remains were later identified as those of a  predatory crurotarsan and subsequently renamed  Stegomosuchus. While the fossil is too fragmentary to make many guesses about its mode of life, the structure of its legs show that it was a  land-based hunter. It’s size and build also suggest that it might have filled the ecological niche of a small, quick predator similar to a weasel.  Some researchers have suggested that Stegomosuchus may have been the maker of Batrachopus, a type of fossil trackway found throughout the Connecticut Valley.

A pair of Stegomosuchus playing keep-away with a fern frond.
Batrachopus footprints at Dinosaur State Park.

Batrachopus with fingers for comparison.

In 1996 the partial skeleton of Protosuchus, a close relative of Stegomosuchus, was discovered in fossil-rich Early Jurassic sandstones of Nova Scotia. Although it was still a terrestrial animal, the dog-sized Protosuchus displayed many characteristics of modern-day crocodiles, including teeth in its upper jaw that fit into notches on the lower jaw and large muscle anchor points on the back part of the skull to give it a more powerful bite, suggesting that it might have taken down larger, stronger prey than its cousin would have.

Protosuchus relaxing on a pine branch while a couple of Kalligrammatid lacewings drink the salt from its tear ducts. These insects were remarkably butterfly-like in appearance, including having sucking mouthparts and wing scales.

The remains of a cat-sized crurotarsan called Erpetosuchus were discovered in 1995 in Triassic sandstones near Cheshire, Connecticut. The light, lean build and small teeth of this creature indicated that it, like Stegomosuchus,  was also a swift runner dodging through the undergrowth in pursuit of prey. Fossils of Erpetosuchus have also been found in Scotland, indicating that Western Europe and North America would have shared many common fauna when they were pushed together in the great land mass of Pangea during the Triassic.

One of the more intriguing crurotarsans  (to me, anyway) is Euscolosuchus, known only from a few fragmentary back plates, vertebrae and ribs discovered in a Virginia quarry. The armor on this creature had distinctive spines on its sides which would have given it good protection from predators. The most unique features of Euscolosuchus, though, are the spines that project backward from each section of carapace and overlap the plate behind it. When the animal was walking with its back straight, these spines would have laid flat. However, if its carapace were curled up they would have stuck out like the spikes on a hedgehog or an armadillo lizard (Ouroborus cataphractus). Though no purpose for these backward-facing spikes is mentioned in the scientific literature, I can’t help wondering if this animal would indeed have rolled up in a ball like the aforementioned hedgehog, presenting its back spines to any curious predator.

Euscolosuchus curling up into a defensive position with the spines on its carapace projecting out.

Speaking of predators- In 2015 paleontologists described Carnufex, a 9-foot long crocodile relative from North Carolina that walked on its hind legs, giving it a strikingly dinosaur-like appearance.  Carnufex, whose name means “Butcher”, would have been the top predator in its environment. Its head was adorned with numerous bumps and ridges, suggesting that it had some sort of ornamentation. Probably nothing as large and flashy as the double head-crests of Dilophosaurus, but more akin to the blunt horns of Allosaurus. This does, however, provide indirect evidence of social display in Carnufex, either to attract mates or to warn off rivals.

Carnufex getting a tooth-cleaning by a pair of furry (well, pycnofibery) Erpetosuchus.

10 million years after Carnufex, another large crurotarsan named Postosuchus dominated the forests of Triassic North America. Like Carnufex it was also bipedal and would have looked quite a bit like a theropod dinosaur. The skull of Postosuchus was, however, blunter and rounder than its predecessor and had less ornamentation, though it did have prominent ridges over the eyes that might have blocked sun glare from above.  Its large forward-facing eye-sockets indicate that Postosuchus was a visually-based predator, while it’s elongated nostrils suggest that it had a good sense of smell. Postosuchus was first discovered in 1980 in Texas with an eastern species described in 2008 from remains found in North Carolina. This specimen preserved evidence of its last few meals, which consisted of an aetosaur, two different species of mammal-like reptiles, and a medium-sized primitive amphibian.

Postosuchus surveying her territory.
Beneath the North Carolina Postosuchus researchers also found the nearly complete specimen of a smaller crurotarsan called Dromicosuchus. Bite marks on the skeleton show that it had been attacked by a predator just before it’s death- possibly by the large creature found on top of it- though it is also possible that both bodies were simply washed together in a flood. Though Dromicosuchus was badly crushed, it’s long, slender limbs indicate that it would have been another swift, agile predator perhaps taking up an ecological niche similar to a fox.

A pair of Dromicosuchus play-fighting

While dinosaurs may be the most well-known and popular Mesozoic ruling reptiles, they shared their world with a diverse company of their more crocodilian cousins and would even have, for a time, lived in the shadows of these beasts.


Emerson, B. K and Loomis, F. B. 1904 "On Stegomus longipes, a new reptile from the Triassic sandstones of the Connecticut Valley" American Journal of Science 17 (4) 377-380

Fraser, Nicholas and Henderson, Douglas, 2006 Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Life in the Triassic (Life of the Past). Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis

Ksepka, Daniel T. and Dzikiewicz, Kate, 2016 "Last Days of Pangea: In the Footsteps of Dinosaurs" Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut

Liutkus-Pierce, Cynthia M.; Fraser, Nicholas C.; Heckert, Andrew B. 2014 "Stratigraphy, sedimentology, and paleontology of the Upper Triassic Solite Quarry, North Carolina and Virginia" The Geological Society of America, Field Guide 35

Lucas, Spencer G.; Heckert, Andrew B.; Huber, Philip 1998 "Aetosaurus (Archosauromorpha) from the Upper Triassic of the Newark Subgroup, Eastern United States, and its Biological Significance" Paleontology 41 (6) 1215-1230

McDonald, Nicholas G. 2010 Window Into the Jurassic World, Friends of Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum, Inc., Rocky Hill, Connecticut

Olsen, Paul E. 1998 "Paleoecology and Paleoenvironments of the Continental Early Mesozoic Newark Subgroup of Eastern North America": In Manspeizer, W. (ed.) Triassic-Jurassic Rifting and the Opening of the Atlantic Ocean, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 185-230

Olsen, Paul E.; Sues, Hans-Dieter; Norell, Mark A. 2000 "First Record of Erpetosuchus (Reptilia: Archosauria) from the Late Triassic of North America" Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 20 (4) 633-636

Peyer, Karin; Carter, Joseph G.; Sues, Hans-Dieter; Novak, Stephanie E.; Olsen, Paul E. 2008 "A New Suchian Archosaur from the Upper Triassic of North Carolina" Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28 (2) 363-381

Scheyer, Torsten M. and Sues, Hans-Dieter, 2016 "Expanded Dorsal Ribs in the Triassic Pseudosuchian Reptile Euscolosuchus olseni"  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology e1248768 

Sues, Hans-Dieter, 1992 "A Remarkable New Armored Archosaur from the Upper Triassic of Virginia" Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 12 (2) 142-149

Sues, Hans-Dieter; Olsen, Paul E.; Carter, Joseph G.; Scott, Diane M. 2003 "A New Crocodylomorph Archosaur from the Upper Triassic of North Carolina" Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23 (2) 329-343

Sues, Hans-Dieter; Olsen, Paul E. 2014 "Stratigraphic and Temporal Context and Faunal Diversity of Permian-Jurassic Continental Tetrapod Assemblages from the Fundy Rift Basin, Eastern Canada" Atlantic Geology 51 139-205

Zanno, Lindsay E.; Drymala, Susan; Nesbitt, Sterling J.; Schneider, Vincent P. 2015 "Early Crocodylomorph Increases Top Tier Predator Diversity During the Rise of Dinosaurs" Scientific Reports 5: 9276

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Even More Two-Sentence Horror Stories

Here are some more two sentence stories that I wrote during quiet hours at work. Enjoy!

You can read the other installments of this series here and here.

O’Fallon, MO  12:27 PM
For a moment I saw a boy’s face, mushroom white with empty eye sockets, staring up at me from beneath the ice. Then it flicked its flat, eel-like body and vanished into the depths of the frozen lake.


Salamanca, NY 3:05 PM
Dozens of black, mummified hands, suspended from the ceiling by fishing line, rotated slowly in the sunlight streaming through the attic window. I knew now why my mother had kept me away from this room until my 23rd birthday.


Orono, ME  4:12 PM
Autumn leaves swirled around my in a breeze I could not feel. For a moment they formed the outline of a human figure before dancing away in the red twilight between the skeletal oaks.


Norris, TN  8:22 AM
I’ve been wandering these windowless, wooden corridors for months now with only the puppets hanging from the ceiling to keep me company. At this point, I’ve given up trying to find that little door that leads back to the dollhouse in my grandmother’s attic.


Eleanor, WV 4:44 AM
He threw the knife on the floor and pressed a hand towel to the bleeding wound on his arm.
“Oh, but we aren’t even close to finished,” the tumor whispered as it stared up at him from the sink.


Florissant, MO 9:28 PM
He watched the yellow butterfly explore his hand with its long proboscis. As it took flight, patches of his skin detached and fluttered after it out the open bedroom window.


Des Moines, IA  10:22 PM
On quiet nights like this, she would often dream of the city she’d left behind, outside the comforting blanket of her host’s skin. It had been almost a decade since she’d shed her human limbs and burrowed deep into his warm, nourishing flesh.


????????   3:13 AM
He gazed out the ship’s window to admire the swirling, lightning-lit clouds of Jupiter. The coffin was there again floating just above the storm, its skeletal occupant thrashing and pounding on its translucent sides.


Cody, WY  8:55 PM
While hunting for the wolf that had been killing my cows, I came across a man’s skin hanging from a tree. It was slit up the middle and the interior was bloodless and clean, though it was coated with a shedding of stiff, black hairs.


Tecumseh, MI  9:15 PM
I was almost asleep when the humming started again just on the edge of my hearing. Ice prickled down my back as the long shadows stepped out of the walls and surrounded my bed.


Searcy,  AR  11:23 PM
On Monday Cheryl hired an exterminator to get rid of the spiders infesting her house. On Wednesday, the Quiet Things that the spiders had been keeping at bay began to seep into her dreams. 


Portland, CT 6:12 AM

I kicked the overturned boat and jumped back in horror as a bloated, white corpse struggled out from underneath. It squelched and slipped in the mud for a few seconds, then deflated like a balloon as a horde of black ants poured from its mouth.

Monday, January 29, 2018

More Two Sentence Horror Stories

During some slow days at work, I passed the time by writing some two sentence creepy stories. Creating these feels a lot like writing a haiku. Since there's such a small space to work in, I start with a single, potent image and try to punch it up as much as possible.  You can read my first go at two sentence horror here.

Also, as before I've titled each story with a time and place to give them a feeling of being "grounded". A feeling that maybe if you visited these towns, you might hear whispered rumors of a strange thing that happened to somebody's cousin or best friend this one time...


Groton, OH 2:34 PM
Since the main path was flooded, I had to take a detour through the meadow to get home before dark. As I walked, I did my best to ignore the brush of invisible fingers through my hair.


Bemidji, MN 6:45 AM
He went to sleep figuring he’d have a doctor look at the discolored patch on his arm in the morning. By the first light of dawn, the fungal strands spreading from his dried husk had covered everything in the bedroom.


Aviles, FL
Everyone is careful to never acknowledge the soft, boneless hands sprouting from the ground all over town. Even glancing at them directly makes the faces in the trees sob for a full night straight.


Toledo, OH  8:21 PM
I knew as soon as I opened the door that the thing standing on the porch was not my brother.  It wore his skin, but I could clearly hear the wooden joints creaking inside him and see the grain in his painted wooden eyes.


Ann Arbor, MI  2:05 AM
By this point I’d spent so many nights alone in the graduate library that I didn’t even flinch when the Lady in Green glided past me in the stacks, her feet three inches above the floor. I kept my gaze fixed down at the book in my hand so I wouldn’t have to see her egg-smooth face or the rounded stump where her left hand should have been.


Arco, ID 7:23 AM
That summer Queen-Anne’s Lace flowers sprouted all over the burnt remains of my neighbor’s house. When I dug one up, I found that the thick root bore the face of his daughter who had disappeared the year before the fire.


Port Jefferson, NY  5:46 PM
I saw him at the bottom of the basement stairs again, staring up at me without a sound. He can stare all he wants, but I’ll never tell anyone where I hid his body.


Lahaina, HI  2:53 AM
I turned to look at the hallway mirror. After a few seconds, my reflection turned to look back at me.


Lewes, DE  9:18 AM
After the storm, I discovered that the old oak in the corner of the backyard had fallen down. When I cut open the trunk, I found a hollow shaped like a man curled up in the fetal position.


New Paltz, NY  6:34 PM
My son was super excited to get the pumpkin home from the farmer’s market. That changed, though, when we cut a lid to scoop out the seeds and found a brain inside.