Vampiric Birds and Fish (November’s Weird Roundup)

Just when you thought life couldn’t get any stranger, along comes vampiric fish and blood sucking birds. In the spirit of all things creepy, I’ve scoured the realms of fauna to find all the bloodsuckers out there. And I’ve saved the best to start us off.

Vamp Birds

I Vant to Peck Your Blood

Although no bird on Earth draws all its nourishment from blood, the sharpbeaked ground finch will occasionally delve into vampirism. This bird lives on an island already known for its freakish deviants of evolution: Galapagos. Typically the “Vampire Finch” will peck at seeds, just like a normal bird. But in the light of a full moon… Er, when drought conditions limit the number of seeds available, it switches to the red stuff. Then it mosey’s over to another fowl, a seabird called a booby. The finch pecks at the victim bird’s back until it draws blood, offering up a nice warm meal. The sharpbeaked ground finch never over pecks. They only draw enough bloom to eat. If the finch were to cause too much pain, then the booby would chase them away or attack.

This National Geographic video shows the vampiric finch in action.

Blood Sucking Fish

The candirus (or pygidiid catfish) is strongly attracted to raw turtle meat and will also attack the legs of human waders. These fish crave blood and will attack the gills and fins of dying or disabled fish or even the legs of submerged children. Scientists, Vinton and Stickler, caught a specimen using a bloody cow lung for bait. Another scientists captured one as it tried to rasp the skin of his leg. Generally, these vampire fish seek out larger catfish, burrowing into the gills. One specimen was found halfway inside the belly of a larger catfish. The vampire catfish’s belly was distended with blood.

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In 1960, one researcher captured a canirus catfish and “permitted [it] to fasten onto his hand for a short while during which time it succeeded in drawing blood, apparently using its mouth as a sucking apparatus and rasping with the long teeth in the middle part of its upper jaw.” It seemed, he added, “to be utterly avid for a meal of blood and had to be forcibly removed.” So unlike the finch, this bad boy loves the taste of blood. It gets better.

In 1959, the Cleveland Aquarium acquired four vampiric fish. The keepers tried to feed them anything from worms to brine shrimp. No go. The canirus would have none of it. Only when a half-pound goldfish was put into their aquarium, did they bite. Almost immediately, according to the report, three of the four latched onto the goldfish under its gills and began sucking blood.

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So vampire bats do not have the corner on the creepy bloodsucking market.

Tim Kane

 

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Weird Roundup for October

October is the creepiest month, so I’ve saved my creepiest weird tidbits for this month.

Optical Illusion Rugs

Want to creep out your visitors? Make them hesitate to step into your home? Then purchase one of these optical illusion rugs. They’re so good, I think I would scoot around the perimeter rather than step inside. See more here.

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Creepy Chair

Even if your guest manages to avoid the rug, would he or she be willing to sit down on this chair?

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Designed by Yaara Derkel, the cutout of the Coppelius Chair creates the shadow of a monstrous creature when lit from above. The best part about this chair is that when it’s lit in any other way, it looks just like a normal chair.

Cute But Deadly Forest Imp

Not everything with large eyes and fur is meant to be cuddled. Take this short film “Murphy” made by students at ISART Digital. It features a seemingly well meaning creature that torments a WWII soldier.

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An English paratrooper crashes behind enemy lines and has to rely on the help of this seemingly benign creature. I get a certain “Yoda” feel from it at times, but the end is hilarious.

FILM_FX MURPHY (2014) from ISART DIGITAL on Vimeo.

Macabre Cartoons

Most artists keep their sketches confined to the page. But not Troqman. His cartoons interact with the environment in hilarious ways.

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Found Object Bugs

These insects are created from found objects and create a steampunk vibe. Mark Oliver makes his “Litter Bugs” from gears, old eyeglasses, tins, and other things he collects.

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On his website, he describes how his art is a throwback to Victorian bug collecting. Each of his projects boasts a scientific name.

“Urban Entomology is Mark’s (Post Modern) bow of respect to the Victorian tradition of insect collecting, where the decaying and disposed – the ‘litter’ of modernity, is assembled to create illusory collage. He intends the work to fascinate from a distance, and reveal humour and beautiful art upon closer inspection.”

Stay creepy this Halloween and keep your eyes open for mischievous furry creatures wanting to help you.

Tim Kane

 

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Weird Roundup for September

Often I find little nuggets of weirdness that are too brief to warrant their own blog post. I’ve created this forum of the monthly uncanny to give you all the morsels of weird that make a well balanced strange meal. All of these are guaranteed to make you see the world differently.

Firefly Magic

Photographer Vincent Brady shot this footage of fireflies over the sumer of 2013 in  Lake of the Ozarks (as well as Grand Ledge). Brady comments on the sublime experience: “Being out on the boat and watching as they light the treeline with their all night disco party is just amazing.” Brandon McCoy provided the music.

Trippy Vintage Science

Do you love vintage science illustrations? Yes. Well so does Fanfarlo. The following video uses Fanfarlo’s “Cell Song” to score a series of vintage images lifted from science journals, encyclopedias, and magazines. They were all animated and remixed into a trippy journey through space, cells and time.

Ghost Girl Stalks Boyfriend on Facebook

Yes, we’ve finally reached the point where ghosts are using social media. This story comes from the Reddit community No Sleep, a forum for horror stories that supposedly have really happened. Prepare your requisite grain of salt, people. Even if this ghost girl is a hoax, it’s a darned good one and very creepy (I don’t creep out easily).

Check out the postings to the boyfriend’s wall from Emily, the ghostly girlfriend.

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The part about the freezing and the plea to stop have me on edge. See more of the creepy posts at Jezebel.

United States that Never Was

What if the Constitution was never written? What would North America look like? Well, graphic designer Jordan Penny has spent his spare time devising faux maps and currency for the countries that would occupy this alternate North America.

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Notice that the Republic of Mexico still has most of its land, minus Texas and California. The Kingdom of Canada gobbled up the northwest states. Then you have the strange states that make up the original thirteen colonies. Under the Articles of Confederation, they would be loosely tied together, yet never as strong as the United States would become. Penny says, “the AoC are never replaced, and the Union slowly devolves into what you see here.” Therefore, each state expanded west to take over the Ohio valley. Look at Virginia, clearly the strongest of the colonies, took over nearly all the territory up to Louisiana.

That’s your dose of weirdness for this month. Remember, strange is the new normal.

Tim Kane

Love, Death, Betrayal and Giant Snails

As a kid I experimented with Tarot cards. I think many of us did. That sort of rampant curiosity that comes with being a teen. The occult didn’t escape my attention. The mysterious Tarot cards, so iconic as a tool of prophecy, drew me in.

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Years later, this dabbling turned into downright research for my first published novel—Tarot: The Magician. I didn’t just want a story about evil Tarot cards. That felt too simplistic. Something the Syfy channel would whip up as their movie of the week. Instead, I delved into the history of the cards and how they started as the Dance of Death (see my article on it here).

Three of the Major Arcana cards particularly influenced me: The Magician, Death, and the Hanged Man. These not only became themes for the novel, but characters as well.

The Magician Becomes Love

The title of the novel revolves around a man named Luke Rykell (you can read some of his history here). He helped create the cursed deck. His reward: being trapped inside. But he was no magician.

The history of the card dates back to more of a con-artist or street hustler. One name for the original Magician card is Thimblerigger. Those were the sorts of fellas who tricked people with the three card monty. Their sleight of hand seemed like magic, thus the name of magician.

Here the "Magician" is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

Here the “Magician” is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

For most of the history of the tarot, the Magician was simply a street performer and con man. In fact the card’s name was the Juggler or the Trickster. This all changed when the occultist Éliphas Lévi redesigned this card. He depicted the Magician holding one of the card suits (usually a wand) with the others lying on the table (these items replaced the cups and ball trick). Later, Paul Christian (a devotee of Lévi) renamed The Juggler as The Magus, and the change was complete.

How does this relate to love? For most, the Magician represents skill, creativity, and free will. Yet when this card pops up with a romance question, the meaning shifts. It indicates that the time for a new romance is at hand. The moment is now.

Death is the Ultimate Change

Most folks are frightened when the Death card appears in a Tarot reading. They shouldn’t be. The Death card represents change—clearing out the old to make way for the new. Think about a forest fire. As destructive as this process is, it burns away brush that is clogging out new growth. Only with this destruction can the forest revitalize itself. Even after the Black Plague that scoured Europe, the survivors were stronger for it. New evidence suggests that the disease targeted weaker and more frail people, leaving a stronger populace in its wake.

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In the story of Tarot: The Magician, there is a death in our heroine’s past. Right now, this loss weighs on her, and prevents her from moving on with her life. She needs to deal with it, and clear it away in order to grow.

The Hanged Man has Betrayed You

The man hanging my one foot represents a traitor (the original Italian name was Il Traditore, the Traitor). May believe this represent Judas Iscariot, and the fifteenth century Rosenwald deck shows the figure clutching a small bag in each hand. This might be the thirty pieces of silver.

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Another argument suggests that this figure is Muzio Attendolo, who had been given a high position by the the Pope and then chose to speak out against him. The offended Pope ordered pictured painted of Muzio Attendolo upside-down and suspended from one foot. This type of art was called shame painting. The Pope displayed these paintings all over Rome.

In both cases, the men hanging upside down were traitors. And that’s the meaning used in Tarot: The Magician. The brother to Luke Rykell is Gabriel and he was tasked with illustrating the cursed deck of cards. Only when he reached the final illustration, he balked—not ready to doom his soul to eternal torment. His betrayal led to the entrapment of Luke inside the Tarot cards themselves.

What Does a Giant Snail Have to Do with All This?

The fact that Luke lives in a tower attached to a snail is not a mistake. While researching the aspects of the magician card, I wanted to hone in on the idea of the will and the mind (both traits associated with the Magician card). This led me to the spiral of the snail’s shell, and how it winds in on itself. This is a common symbol for expanded consciousness. In sacred geometry, the spiral follows the Golden Ratio.

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So the home for Luke was both a way to expand his magical powers of intellect, but also a prison that spiraled in forever. It also wasn’t lost on me that in Christian symbolism, the snail stands for sloth. Although Luke is far from lazy, he does linger in his card for hundreds of years and this plays on his mind.

There are many stories attached to the Tarot cards. The symbolism is rich and goes back centuries. The more you dig up on the Tarot, the more they will amaze you.

Tim Kane

How Facebook Protects Us From the Common Cold

This is how my mind works. I see a bit of science and then my brain starts making connections, not all of them logical, mind you. (I am a writer of fiction). What comes out the other end is a pseudo-rational idea that can create a wonderful seed for a novel, or just a conversation piece.

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The Ceti eel was a burrowing desert animal native to the planet Ceti Alpha V (from the Wrath of Khan Star Trek movie).

I recently watched a TED talk by British science writer Ed Young (you can watch it here). In it, he postulated that parasitic behavior is very common and it causes larger organisms to change their behavior. One example that grabbed my attention was a tapeworm that infects tiny shrimp (commonly called sea monkeys). The parasite changes the pigmentation of the shrimp, coloring them red. It also causes them to group together. All of this makes them easier to eat by a flamingo. It just so happens that the flamingo is the exact place the tapeworm needs to be to reproduce.

The fact that such a small organism like a tapeworm can orchestrate such a devious plan for reproduction is mind boggling. What’s more intriguing is that is happens in mammals too.

Mr. Young mentioned a single cell parasite called Toxo (Toxoplasma gondii) that infects mice and releases dopamine into their brains. Bascially, the parasite rewards the mouse for running toward a cat, rather than away. The cat gets a meal and the Toxo parasite gets a host where it can reproduce.

Mr. Young emphasized that this is a single cell organism. No brain. No long term planning. Yet it can force a mammal to do it’s bidding in much the same way we control our cars or smartphones.

Mr. Young also states that nearly 1 in 3 people have Toxo lurking inside our brains (dormant, mind you, because we’re not a cat). Yet there is speculation (and tiny bits of evidence) that Toxo affects human behavior. People with Toxo score differently on tests. There’s a slightly higher chance of accidents with Toxo infected people. Also there’s a link between schizophrenia and Toxo infestation (a small one, mind you). But that’s enough to get you thinking, isn’t it?

What if there were some sorts of parasites, as yet undetected, that do control our behavior? Think of the common cold. It only thrives because we humans like to socialize in groups. This makes it easier for the cold to propagate. If we lived isolated lives, the cold would hardly be an illness.

Now the cold isn’t a parasite. Yet it makes me wonder if there were biological forces controlling us. If so, social media sites, like Facebook, would be the panacea. They allow us humans to socialize without physical contact. Imagine if the whole world operated this way—with the only socialization through the internet. Besides the frightening and dystopian overtones, it would have the effect of almost eliminating most diseases. Without new hosts to spread to, many would die off.

Yet humans are capable to creating new parasitic threats. Simple advertising is a “crude and blundering” attempt to control our brains (according to Mr. Young). Facebook itself has apps, like Farmville, that take over your brain and not only compel you to play, but to reach out to others and lure them in. How is this different from a parasite?

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Vera is pulled into the computer and forcibly transformed into a cyborg (from Superman III)

Again, I’m taking huge leaps of logic. The result isn’t intended to hold up to scientific scrutiny. Rather I want to give you something to think about. Maybe the next time you open up that addicting app, you might think: Am I controlling the app, or is the app controlling me?

Tim Kane

Luke Rykell and the Cursed Tarot Deck

How can you trace the origin of evil? Sometimes it begins with good intentions or a desire to staunch a great sorrow. The Rykell Tarot cards began this way: with actions of love, death, and betrayal. The full story of how this single deck of Tarot cards managed to survive more than 600 years is mystery. Only islands of certainty exist.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

We know that Luke John Rykell was born in England around 1400. He went on to become a tregetour, or a juggler and magician, for the royal court in London. John Lydgate, a monk and poet, wrote about Luke Rykell performing for Henry V. Lydgate spoke of Rykell’s keen ability at sleight of hand, earning him the honor of an audience with the king.

Maister John Rykell, sometime tregitour
Of noble Henry kinge of Englonde,
And of France the mighty conqueror;
For all the sleightes, and turnyng of thyne honde,
Thou must come nere this dance, I understonde;
Nought may avail all thy conclusions,
For Dethe shortly, nother on see nor land,
Is not desceyved by no illusions.To this summons the sorrowful juggler replies:–

Death was not deceived by Luke’s parlor tricks and made itself known through the Black plague. The disease whipped through Luke’s troop of performers, killing everyone except Luke and his brother. In the wake of this disaster, the cursed Tarot cards were born.

It is rumored that Luke Rykell, distraught over the death of his only love (an unnamed girl performer in his troop), struck a deal with the Devil.

Luke travelled to Scotland to a plot of land called Clootie’s Croft. This land was left untilled as a gift to the devil. There he agreed to create the Tarot cards with a spirit known as Donald Cloots. The spirit is trapped in the cards and feeds on the souls of the people who use the deck.

The first documented appearance of the cards doesn’t happen again until over 400 years later. Eleanore Bishop came across the cards while traveling in Europe. She brought the deck back to the Philadelphia.

The only photo that survives is one showing her standing next to a chair. The empty seat represents her husband, who vanished mysteriously.

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Rumors swirled around his disappearance. Some say he travelled south to fight in the Civil War and was killed in battle. However her husband, Eugene Bishop, was not a fighting man. At the age of sixty-two, the most he could offer the war effort was his bankroll.

Most people assumed that Eleanore disposed of her husband in order to gain access to his fortune. Although this seems plausible, it doesn’t explain why she gave nearly all her time and resources into a church run charity. Was it guilt over possible involvement in her husband’s death?

One detail that evades us is the photo itself. The fingerprints on the front show that someone held the picture a short time after it was taken. (The tintype photos used the wet process of collodion emulsion, which was sensitive to the touch.) Therefore, it must have been held by someone who witnessed the sitting for the photograph. These prints match those found at a crime scene in 1942, eighty years after the photo was taken.

Moreover, several other fingerprints, from the 1960s and 1980s, both match the original prints on the photograph. Could these all belong to the same person? Perhaps Luke Rykell has kept himself alive through the cursed tarot cards.

We do know that shortly after Eugene Bishop’s death, there is no further mention of the Tarot cards. On her death bed, in 1888, a witness remembered and wrote down Eleanore Bishop’s final words.

“My only crime came not from my soul, but the luck of the draw.”

Tim Kane

The Surreal Terror of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis has a logical and scientific explanation. It’s a phenomenon where you partially wake up from sleep, but your muscles still remain frozen. A biological glitch in our bodies causing one part of us to wake from the dream, while the rest of the body is on lockdown. Perfectly explainable. Yet try telling that to someone who’s lived through it.

The experience can be terrible. You’re still dreaming and the things you see appear real. But you cannot move or speak or scream.

You are frozen in terror, staring up at the monstrous creations of your subconscious.

Sleep paralysis is actually a protection mechanism designed to keep you safe while dreaming. The images and scenarios in your dream are vivid and seem real. If a tiger leaps out, you scream and run. Your muscles are locked down to prevent you from flailing about or making a large racket (that would have attracted predators back in the day).

Even as we understand more about this phenomenon, there’s no denying the surreal quality it evokes—to see your dreams as real, right there before you. Photographer Nicolas Bruno has captured some of these images. He is a victim of sleep paralysis and his photos are a window into his subconscious mind.

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Bruno began to jot down notes about his dreams. He wanted to recreate them using recurring imagery (like gas masks, bowler hats, or lanterns) and compose them the way a painter would. His photos show a haunting world that Bruno describes as  “a bittersweet homage” to his dream-world life.

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Often times, dreams serve as a way to work through the events of a day. But dreams aren’t logical. They are an emotional outlet. You typically see your fears come alive, such as being buried alive. The fears don’t make sense. It’s your minds way of dealing with them.

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Because dreams mash up images, the result can seem surreal and downright strange. We move from place to place instantly.

The glitch of sleep paralysis has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Over that time, cultures created creatures that stalk us in the night as a way to explain the frightening sessions of paralysis. They myths center around nocturnal monsters or demons.

In the Amazon, we have the Boto, a river dolphin that transforms at night into a vaguely human creature. It wears a hat to cover it’s blowhole. In Africa, the night prowler takes the form of a bear. Known as the Tokoloshe, it slinks in at night and bites the toes off children as they sleep.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

The folks at the Sleep Paralysis Project, along with director Carla MacKinnon, have created a documentary about sleep paralysis. This both serves as an explanation and a terrifying vision of the phenomenon. Be warned, if you don’t suffer from bad dreams, you will after watching this.

The film Devil in the Room depicts the grotesque creatures alongside the scientific explanation. It was meant to evoke the feeling of sleep paralysis and I say it does a damn good job.

Tim Kane