This Old Monster: The Mothman

Let’s face it: not all monsters are created equal.

The dragon is a creature whose mythology recurs across dozens of cultures dating back thousands of years.

The griffin can trace it’s pedigree back to King Solomon’s Mines.

Kobolds and gnomes have gone by many names and many iterations.

Vampires change with popular culture and have for hundreds of years.

And then there are those monsters who exist in the popular consciousness purely because it was a slow news day or the people of a small town can’t think up any less stupid ways to attract tourists.

Owl Man. The Flatwoods Monster. The Dover Demon.

Pretty much any monster named after a place has its place among these garbage monsters. They tend not to have much to them beyond a handful of half-ass sightings and zero mythology to make them even the slightest bit interesting. The catchy name and propensity for being mentioned to tourists, however get their names into the popular consciousness on some level though, and so they hang on fiercely in their suckiness rather than falling into obscurity.

Most prominent among these is the Prince of the Pathetic, the Deacon of Dull, The King of the Commonplace: the Mothman.

Now there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Mothman. There was a movie about him, and a SyFy original about him too. Even with two feature-length movies, the most you probably know about the legend as it exists is that it is a humanoid with wings and red eyes.

That’s it. His ability to predict the future… and talk for that matter… are from the book and movie The Mothman Prophecies. All the teleportation, the walking through mirrors and portraits and stuff are from the Syfy movie. None have been picked up or used elsewhere.

All there is to the original reports of the Mothman is a big flying thing with red eyes. That’s it. No other powers, no other description to be honest.

Oh, and also other people who spotted it around the same time say it was a heron.

This wasn’t an exhaustive study with inconclusive results where their resident Agent Scully came up with a heron as the best explanation, this was actual observers who know what a heron looks like looked at it and said ,”Yup, that’s a heron. Just heroning around.”

The Mothman was debunked before it was named. Then someone tried desperately to link that poor heron to the collapse of a bridge over a month after the sightings.

So while other local and regional monsters are pretty lousy, Mothman to me holds the title of Stupidest Monster. Its mythos is lazy, it was so easy and quick to be debunked that you can’t even have the fun of pretending that maybe it could be a thing, and even if you could it’s… a big moth. Maybe a man with moth wings (and in reality, he was never described as having moth wings so…) if you’re being charitable, but that’s as good as you get.

Angel from X-men would laugh at this dope and they had to give him a sword to make him useful.

Normally on this old monster, I take decent but aging monsters and knock them up a notch. For this though… imagine a home makeover show where the home in question is a tin shack with four rusting walls and a raccoon infestation.

There’s not a lot to work with is what I’m saying.

Time for a complete overhaul.

Normally, I would start with the mythology of the critter in question, but… I’ve just told you: a handful of people saw a heron who had never seen a heron before and someone called it a Mothman.

Boom. Done.

So what I have to work with here are herons and moths. Yay.

Well actually, these two animals have pretty decent mythological pedigrees themselves. Herons are symbols of the sun and messengers of the gods. Moths, like butterflies are symbols of death and rebirth and the scales that make up the colorful patterns on their wings are often portrayed as a magical powder of some form or other.

These are things we can work with.

In particular, there’s a recurring belief among both Native American and Asian cultures that moths are the returned spirits of the dead coming to visit their loved ones.

Meanwhile, herons are relatives of egrets, birds who often forge symbiotic relationships with larger animals such as rhinos and elephants; eating the insects that irritate and annoy their hosts.

Hmm. By George, I think I’ve got something.

The Build

Let us consider a neo-Mothman; a flying humanoid creature with wings like those of a heron that glow as if with an inner light. And by inner light, I mean thousands of symbiotic spirit-moths hanging from the being’s feathers.

This Mothman is the spirit of villages that were destroyed by war, but plague or by other calamity that acts as a sort of ghostly Airborne Aircraft Carrier for the individual spirit of the villagers that dwell upon its feathers.

The disposition and intent of these spirits depends on how the village was destroyed: some appears as omens to warn against the same fate as they suffered, others seek revenge against those who triggered their destruction, and still others intend to finish whatever community goal they once had, such as spreading their faith or passing on certain skills.

Each moth can fly forth, spreading it scales as a powder that can cure disease, cause hysteria, or that have a hallucinogenic property.

Obviously, this is a set-piece monster more than it is something to fight. These creatures can appear anywhere with any type of agenda and most people will only notice the carrier, not the individual moths, creating a mystery as to what’s causing the phenomenon and raising questions as to whether the sightings of the Mothman are even connected at all.

The fact that the creature’s appearance preceding events, it could give the illusion that it is a herald of their coming, rather than the cause. And, by design, the hallucinogenic effect makes the real-life accounts of the creature make sense: if many of the people observing it were hallucinating, who knows what they could have seen?

This mothman could be behind any number of events, from the mass hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts to the foolish mistakes that led to Chicago burning and the disappearances at Roanoke Colony. Anywhere mysterious events effect a large population, it could be responsible or at least be on the list of suspects.

Normally here is where I would normally write up a story to illustrate the new monster, but a) in all honesty, I’m recovering from illness and still have a lot of writing to get done this week and b) it’s still Mothman. Mothman doesn’t deserve that much effort.

Edit’s note: Vaal was was found days later with several tiny holes nibbled out of his clothing. He was sent to a men’s big and tall store where he is recovering.

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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