Back in the spring of 2017, I had an opportunity to visit a TV set during the shooting of Amazon’s new macabre anthology series Lore. Adapted from Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast of the same name, Lore is essentially a chronicle of the darker aspects of human nature and the more inexplicable elements of our collective trove of folklore. At the set visit, I was able to sit down with Mahnke to discuss his process and the thrill of hunting down stories that have lain dormant for dozens or hundreds of years. Some of the best of these stories will be headed to the small screen when Lore premieres on Amazon this Friday, Oct. 13—how appropriate.
But before then, Mahnke has taken the world of Lore to another frontier—the printed page. It was a natural step, considering that the podcaster had been a novelist before he ever began recording himself telling the stories he’d chronicled. And it fits the spirit of Lore to a tee—his new book, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures is like an ambling journey down a dark, overshadowed path in the woods, as the wind howls and large yellow eyes light up in the underbrush. The more one reads, in fact, the less safe we seem in our conception of a safe, modern world.
With that in mind, then, allow us to present five of the more disturbing or unusual beasts featured prominently in The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures.
You’ve likely heard of gremlins before, especially if you have passing familiarity with World War II. They were a widely known concept—small, humanoid figures or beasts that would reportedly appear on warplanes during flights in the first and second world war, wreaking havoc with a seemingly preternatural ability to understand and disrupt advanced human technology. In the years that have followed, well-remembered cartoons such as Bugs Bunny’s “Falling Hare” have satirized the concept and appearance of the “gremlin,” and they of course lent their name to Joe Dante’s classic 1984 horror-comedy Gremlins as well. But the actual stories revolving around gremlins in Mahnke’s book are considerably weirder, and far more dire.
For one, they were a phenomenon witnessed not just by pilots of one country, but seemingly all of them. British flyers are believed to be the first to report gremlin sightings, but by the end of WWII, similar stories were being told by airmen on both sides: Americans, Germans, and even pilots from India, Malta and the Middle East. Pilots of the 1940s were dealing with what amounted to an epidemic of gremlin-related catastrophes, and the existence of the creatures seemed to be simply accepted as a reality. In fact, according to Mahnke, even Charles Lindbergh, famed for being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, included reference to encountering “small, vaporous beings with a strange, otherworldly appearance” in his memoirs of the historic flight of The Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh was literally the most famous pilot in the world at the time, and even he encountered gremlins.
More terrifying still is a story that Mahnke tells about a transport plane full of American marines, bound from San Diego to Hawaii in 1939. According to the author, when the plane landed, 12 out of the 13 men on board were dead, covered in “large, vicious cuts and injuries that almost seemed to have originated from a wild animal.” The only man left alive, the co-pilot, succumbed to his injuries shortly thereafter, never having a chance to tell his tale. Urban legend, as reported by Mahnke? Or an entire airplane full of men slaughtered by evil, mechanically inclined fairies?
Rather more sinister than this little gremlin.
Historical werewolf sightings in medieval Europe: Not that unusual or noteworthy. A rash of werewolf sightings in 1980s rural Wisconsin? Well, that’s a little bit weirder. Mahnke relates information about the so-called “Beast of Bray Road” in the book, a creature described as an overly large, bipedal-walking wolf that was reported by numerous spectators in and around the town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
For a number of years, residents of this city reported seeing this creature, with scores of accounts that all happened to coincide with the same stretch of road. It was seen by children and adults, and compared to Inuit legends of huge wolves called amaroq or waheela, but it was simultaneously impossible to not be reminded of classical werewolf legend. After all, this thing reportedly walked and ran consistently on two legs, like a human being. According to Mahnke, one woman even claimed to have witnessed the creature walking down the side of the road, carrying an entire deer in its arms like a Thanksgiving turkey in a Norman Rockwell painting.
Eventually, the creature permeated local culture and became something of a folktale. To quote Mahnke:
“The bar where Lorraine Endrizzi (one of the witnesses) worked eventually created a menu item called the Silver Bullet Special. A baker in town started making wolf-shaped cookies. Think Roswell, New Mexico and UFO collectibles, but with wolves, and you’ll get the idea. Even Chuck Coleman, a local state representative, got involved by using the Beast of Bray Road in his election campaign. He ran an ad that showed a man dressed up as the Beast, casting his vote for Coleman. Perhaps proof of the popularity of the Bray Beast stories, Coleman won the election.”
The story of the Nain Rouge is likely one well known to residents of Detroit, Michigan, but few others—I grew up in Chicagoland, for instance, and had never heard the term before finding it in Mahnke’s book. In French, nain rouge means “the red dwarf,” and that’s essentially exactly what this terrifying little sprite is supposed to be: a small, red man who sows grief and destruction behind him.
Mahnke ties up the legend of the Nain Rouge into the story of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French explorer and adventurer who, in 1701 was commanded to establish Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, the trading post that would go on to become modern Detroit. According to the legend, when doing so, Antoine was given a warning: “Whatever you do, do not offend the nain rouge.”
This, of course, Antoine failed to avoid. The red dwarf itself may have been an invention of the Ottawa Tribe of native Americans, seen as a protector of the area, but to the French colonists he was a symbol of impending disaster. After apparently encountering (and naturally offending) said dwarf, Antoine’s luck turned bad: He was arrested “as a result of a secret scheme by his political enemies” in 1707, and forced to divest his claim to the settlement of Detroit. According to Mahnke, “the rest of his life was a series of failures.”
That would be a fun story on its own, but the titular dwarf has reportedly been connected with most of the other major disasters in the city’s history as well. In 1763, at the Battle of Bloody Run during Pontiac’s Rebellion, “multiple eyewitnesses claim that after the battle was over, a small red man was seen dancing on the sandy banks of the river. He was laughing as he lightly stepped over and around the piles of corpses.” Likewise, before Detroit’s famous 1805 fire, the tragedy was preceded by another spate of dwarf sightings. To this day, the Nain Rouge is still indelibly connected to Detroit’s local folklore.
A local Detroit winery’s Nain Rouge-inspired brand. It’s a Grenache-Syrah blend, if you were wondering.
This one just amuses me because it runs counter to so many of the stories in The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, which are largely about various beasts and spirits. Instead, this one is about a haunted rug.
The story concerns a man named Sal Stoner, who traveled from his home in New England to Virginia to settle an uncle’s estate, but while he was there he got caught up in a whirlwind romance and ended up married. Bringing his new wife home to Maine was awkward, as the southerly lady seemingly hated her new environment, and she let Sal know about it. The couple quickly grew bitter and resentful of each other, but they remained together for 20 painful years before the day Sal snapped.
Because his wife had often complained about the bare hardwood floor, Sal acquired “an enormous red Axminster rug” from England at great expense. But when his wife proclaimed her dissatisfaction, Stoner turned the hammer he was going to use on the rug against his wife. He didn’t kill her outright, however—instead, he bludgeoned her and then nailed her underneath the rug, where she died slowly over the course of several days. Sal was imprisoned, and died in an asylum, but the spirit of his wife, presumably never at peace, never left the rug. The next family to live in the house was sure of that—according to Mahnke:
“They would come downstairs in the morning to find that all of the furniture in the parlor had been moved off the rug. If the stories are to be believed, the new owners also found a large blood-stain in the middle of the big rug, there in the parlor. They would clean it as best they could, but the stain would reappear later, just as fresh as before. And then one day they came home to find a lump in the middle of the rug. They say the lump was moving. That it was making sounds.
Of course, if there’s one persistent theme of The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, and of the Lore podcast in general, it’s that “average people” are capable of things so much more disturbing than any of the supernatural creatures and legends Mahnke has cataloged within. This book is full of those stories. There’s the men throughout New England who dug up their deceased loved ones in the 1800s to remove and burn their hearts, hoping it would stop a plague of “vampirism” that we now understand to be tuberculosis. There’s the tale of Bridget Cleary, an Irish woman who was murdered in 1895 by her husband, who stuffed her into a fireplace and burned her, thinking it would bring back his “real wife” who had been replaced by a magical creature known as a changeling. These are real events; they actually happened and are well documented. Unlike some of these tales, such as the dubious accounts of the gremlins who tore through 13 marines, there’s no doubt that these things happened, and that they were horrible.
Nor are these events constrained only to the safety of the long ago past. I don’t think anything in The World of Lore disturbed me as much as the story about a Canadian man named Vince Li/Will Baker. In 2008, Baker, a diagnosed schizophrenic, attacked a complete stranger aboard a Greyhound bus after being instructed to do so by the voice of God. Using a knife, he severed the man’s head and proceeded to cannibalize parts of the corpse. On a bus. In public. But here’s what followed according to Mahnke, and here’s what I’ll not be able to forget:
“The courts ruled in favor of insanity. In the end, he was committed to a high-security mental institution in Manitoba, but he stayed there for less than a decade. In May of 2015, he was released back into society. ”
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident macabre expert. You can follow him on Twitter.