Teeny Haunts: Porterville Gnome

Two seperate families, both owning the same property on the Tule River near Porterville, experienced this malevolent creature. A woman named Tammy moved onto an old farm with her children. Immediately she sensed a presence watching them from the old barn.

Returning home with groceries, Tammy heard a “very freaky, very evil-sounding chuckle”. The noise came from a three-foot humanoid figure about 50 yards away. She described it as wearing a red pointed hat, just like a gnome, only not at all cute and cuddly. It had sharp teeth with an ear-to-ear grin.

Tammy ran to her house and locked the door. Movement appeared outside the kitchen window, just the tip of the red hat. It wanted to get into the house. After a very long time, the tiny creature left. Yet for the remainder of her stint in that house, Tammy would hear creepy laughter coming from the barn.

Years later, a woman names Charlie moved onto the same property with her husband. They took a liking to a small pond on the property and decorated it with gnomes, toadstools, stocking the pond with koi fish. Only the old barn still emanated creepy vibes. The pair stayed away as much as possible.

In the still hours of the morning, they woke to the sound of “raspy, gurgling singing.” A tiny gnomish creature stood by the pond, again with the reddish hat.

The thing sensed them watching and snatched a koi from the pond, gobbling it up in one bite. Charlie’s husband threw open the window and threatened to call the police. The creature only grinned with it’s terrible pointy teeth, and gave the couple the bird before vanishing in the night. The only evidence of the encounter were small, childlike footprints around the pond.

The creature returned, night after night, eating more of the fish. Finally the couple took down all the decorations and got rid of the fish. This only served to aggravate the little creature, who ran around screaming in an unknown language.

Many years later, Charlie and Tammy met and compared their stories. They both had witnessed a tiny creature in a red hat. They attempted to visit the old farm, only the new owner didn’t want to speak to them. They did notice that the dilapidated barn had been torn down.

Was it possible that a red cap, a creature native to England, had ventured all the way out to California? Although neither of the woman’s stories detailed what would happen should the creature enter their house, I pulled from red cap mythology to fill in the missing pieces.

It makes me wonder what other nasties are lurking in the dark.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: Snail Hail

Although I’ve known about how storms can pick up critters and deposit them, rain style, across various swaths of landscape, I stumbled across this particular story in the 400th issue of Fortean Magazine. I was struck by the oddness of the account.

Most scientists attribute critters raining from the sky to tornado waterspouts. High winds create a tornado-like suction that picks up fish or frogs or even snails and carries them for miles. The Farmer’s Almanac lists the most bizarre items to have rained down on humanity including meat in Kentucky and spiders in Australia.

In the case of the snail encounter, the witness claims that when he exited the phone booth, the snails formed perfect circle. As if the rain were concentrated exactly on his locale.

Of course the best story about raining animals comes from Stephen King’s Rainy Season (a short story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes). In this, a couple move to a small town only to find that every seven years it rains frogs. However these amphibians have a taste for flesh.

There have been three short films made of this story (2002, 2017 and an Australian short in 2019). The story reads the best.

I have never personally experienced any strange fauna falling from the skies. However, I do know that the creepiness of the event would long linger in my memory.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Dark Watchers

The Dark Watchers are shadow people who materialize in the mountains of Santa Lucia California. Many people have witnessed these strange folk, often singly but sometimes in groups. I read of one account where two motorists were surrounded by these glowing eyed figures.

Steinbeck wrote about them in his 1938 short story “Flight”.

“Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone.”

Short Story Collection: The Long Valley

This experience of the dark watchers vanishing when you look away is a common one. People glimpse them while driving or walking only to have the figures vanish upon closer inspection.

The poet Robinson Jeffers also commented on the shadowy observers:

“He thought it might be one of the watchers, who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges to watch. He was not surprised when the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight showed his own face. Then it melted and merged into the shadows beyond it.”

“Such Counsels You Gave Me” from 1937

I used the idea of them melting into the shadows for the illustrations.

One theory posits that swaying trees cast against fog create these specters. Our pattern-seeking brains misinterpret the image (a phenomenon is known as pareidolia). This is similar to how a Rorschach test works.

Yet the accounts of people who have witnessed are too varied to be simply a trick of the brain. One eye witness stated that the dark watcher waved back and smoked a cigar.

Whoever these mysterious figures are, they seem to not want to harm us. Still, let’s leave them be. Just in case.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: Polybius

The myth of the cursed arcade game called Pollybius is legendary, but its history is a convoluted one. As a kid who grew up during the heyday of video arcades, I can attest to their allure. I recalled getting $20 from my mom to amuse myself for the afternoon. I ended up blowing it all on Space Ace. My mother wasn’t too thrilled to see me back at the office a hour later asking for more money.

Tempest was one of my favorites, and a contemporary game to the mythical Polybius machine. I admit, I had never heard of this legend until stumbling upon it at the Encyclopedia of the Impossible (run by the wonderfully creepy Lucia Peters). I do know, that if I had discovered such a machine in my local arcade haunt (Yellow Brick Road), I would have put a quarter on the screen to mark my place in line.

The story for Polubius involved some shadowy government agency setting up video games to experiment with mind-altering techniques on us poor arcade kids. This not too far fetched as the CIA ran a program called MK-Ultra to research mind control and to develop psychic powers. An excellent example of this is the movie Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid, where the government creates dream assassins.

Dreamscape, 1984

Another example is the much underrated The Fury by Brian DePalma involving the power of telekinesis.

The Fury with Amy Irving, 1978

From there, it’s just a hop skip and a jump to Stranger Things and the experimentation on Eleven.

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things, 2016

Of course the Polybius experiment never seemed that successful. Players would say they heard a woman crying or see twisted faces in the corner of their vision. Nightmares, blackouts and insomnia also plagued those who dropped a quarter in the slot.

The name Polybius refers to a Greek philosopher (circa 208 BC) known for his affinity with puzzles and cryptography. His name means “many lives” possibly a reference to the three lives you get on a typical arcade game. The company that developed the machine was Sinneslöschen, broken German for “sense-deleting”. After four weeks, the game would vanish, the experiment over.

The legend of the cursed Polybius game really took off in the 2000s with listings on internet chat boards like Reddit. You can read the whole sordid history over at the Encyclopedia of the Impossible. Suffice it to say, there is ample evidence that this legend might have been manufactured after the fact. No testimony from the 1980s has emerged about the mind-altering machine.

However, if Polybius really did twist your thoughts, maybe those who experienced the game are not allowed to remember. Could the arcade unit resurface one day, in a swap meet or antique show? Who knows? But i you discover it, be warned. When you slide that quarter into the slot, it just might be the last thing you remember.

Stay creepy,

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: Mad Mary

When I was 12 or 13, my parents shipped me off to summer camp up in the San Diego mountains. I think they just wanted to get me out of their hair for a little while.

The whole experience. Dusty cabins with a trek through the dark just to go to the bathroom. Me not knowing a single person. Me, the quiet artistic type trapped in a situation designed to bring out the social.

I hated it.

Well, not all of it. You see the counselors (I assume it was them) had nailed up a pair of rusty manacles to a tree by the lake. And they told me the tale of how Mad Mary used to be chained up. Her hair and fingernails grew long. She munched on squirrels or birds. Anything that came too close. Until one day she got free.

I’ve been to this camp again. It’s run by the YMCA and is right outside of Julian. You see, as a sixth grade teacher, I busses whole groups of impressionable kids up into the mountains.

Yet the tree with manacles is gone. And not a single person up there recalled the tales of Mad Mary. Had I dreamt it all up. Not likely. The stories provided fertile soil for my budding imagination.

This is how the tale start. Next Teeny Haunts will continue the tale.

Stay Haunted…

Tim