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: Elevator to Another World

As a kid, I always dreamed of journeying to another dimension — the tagline of Twilight Zone Fresh in my head.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone Introduction

The myth of the Elevator to Another World feels like it belongs smack dab in the middle of Rod Serling’s fictive playground. Despite seeming like it has been with us for years, the legend developed only in this century.

Lucia Peters, from The Encyclopedia of the Impossible, traced the story back to a malfunction with a Japanese elevator. In 2006, an elevator began to ascend with the doors still open (much like the incident in the Resident Evil film). A sixteen-year old high school student was killed in the incident. Investigation into the death showed that a certain brand of elevator had led to a string of deaths.

Elevator Scene from Resident Evil, 2002

The action of the evaluator lifting on its own accord parallels the ritual of the Elevator to Another World. And, though the faulty elevators were replaced, people were understandably nervous about riding on them. Thus the dangerous myth of our extra-dimensional elevator was born. It’s a coping mechanism for the fear swirling around a series of actual accidents.

Yet the element of the lady who enters on the fifth floor doesn’t seem to fit entirely into the Japanese accident. For this, we can look to another source. A short story by William Sleator in 1993, called simply “The Elevator” introduces the idea of a disturbing lady entering the elevator car when you ride alone. The protagonist is a young boy who already has anxieties about riding the old, dilapidated elevator. In this instance, the creepy lady (dressed in green) enters on the fourteenth floor (not the fifth). Yet the other elements of the story and the idea that the lady might trap you are all present in the tale. Perhaps it had an influence on the myth.

But that’s all it is, right? Just a tall tale.

Or is it? The idea that when you try this experiment, you might not return allows the ritual to have no real evidence to back it up. After all, the folks who’ve tried it might have succeeded and just jaunted off to another world.

So the next time you’re in an elevator, maybe you might play the elevator game and see where it takes you. Just beware of the lady from the 5th floor.

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: The Night Hag

The idea that some hideous creature slinks into your room at night to suffocate you both enthralls and terrifies me. Obviously the myth grew up around the sin of gluttony — don’t gorge yourself or else! But it also has some science behind it. People who stuff themselves will have breathing problems, especially if they sleep on their backs.

Digging down into the legend, I found that many cultures have this scream-stealing monster. In Moroccan culture it’s known as Bou Rattat — a demon that presses down on the sleeper’s body so they can’t move or speak.

Slavic mythology calls it the Notsnitsa (or the Night Maiden). She was known torment children as well, so that would make a frightening bedtime story. (Hey kids, if you wake up with the Notsnitsa in the room, don’t bother screaming… because you can’t.) Apparently a stone with a hole in the center serves as protection. (Where would you find one of those?)

In Spanish culture you have the Pisadeira, a demon woman who sits on your full stomach while you doze at night. Her victims are always people who have eaten too much. This is where I primarily pulled from for the illustrations.

In England, the creature is the Night Hag. In fact the word nightmare was coined to describe the shortness of breath you have awaking from such a terror.

Scientifically, there is a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, in which a person wakes to consciousness, but cannot move their body. Laying in bed, totally immobilized, some people feel a chilling presence in the room.

Maybe this Night Hag is real and sneaks into our bedrooms at night, slurping up our fear and screams of terror. Now where did I put my stone with a hole in it?

Happy haunts,

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Crows

I have always been attracted to birds, crows especially. Many of them flock around my house and in the mornings, I can see the crows “commenting” on the kids trudging to school. It’s like they are a bunch of gossiping people.

I am always polite to crows. I read about a study where scientists donned face masks (the plastic Halloween type) and one scientist was mean to the birds while the other was neutral. Well the crows didn’t the like mean one much, dive-bombing him constantly.

Here’s the catch. The scientists came back every year or so with the masks. Thirty years later, the crows still didn’t like the “mean-naked” figure. Despite the fact that the original crows who experienced this were long gone. So the crows have taught their children to recognize and attack people they don’t like.

Message: be nice to crows.

Happy haunting.

Tim Kane