Monday, December 31, 2007

Monster Month book now available!

The good folks at Scarlet Star Studios have published Monster Month as a book! You can purchase it at, here.

I'd like thank my illustrator, Sven Bonnichsen, and his partner Gretchin Lair, for taking it upon themselves to bring my story to the reading public.

I've learned through years of knocking heads with cowardly publishers, self-serving politicians, and narrow-minded academics that I'm not particularly good at "selling myself." So, I'll reserve comment about the promotional text that Sven and Gretchin put together, and simply include it here as written:

Monster Month
by Professor Ichbonnsen

Thirty-one days, thirty-one monsters: Monster Month!

After a lifetime of trekking jungles, climbing mountains, and spelunking caves, the world's foremost cryptozoologist at last reveals a selection of his greatest discoveries. Herein you will find the Adameve, the Dark Strider, the Opium Gore Golem, the Trick Squilligoss, the Zompire Bat... And many more fantastic beasts!

With the keen mind of a scientist and the bold heart of an explorer, Professor Ichbonnsen provides illuminating descriptions of how the creatures live — and astonishing tales of how he found them.

Both adults and children will marvel at the Professor's adventures... And be left wondering what else remains yet undiscovered in the unexplored corners of our rich planet. Like the map-makers of old, you will understand: "Here be dragons!"

Monster Month is lavishly illustrated with 32 full-color paintings by Sven Bonnichsen, and 7 full-color maps tracing Professor Ichbonnsen's travels.

The direct link for the book:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Very Much Alive

Yes -- I, Professor Ichbonnsen -- live!

I woke to the drone of an irritating voice. I came upward into consciousness slowly... At first I couldn't make out what the words were saying. It was dark, but beneath me I could feel a soft and comfortable bed. It was tempting to let myself just drift back into sleep...

Then something clicked into place; the drone resolved itself into words:

"Professor Ichbonnsen was... A good man. A vagabond, yes, but good nonetheless. Down on his luck, with no place to call home... Surely he would now be lying in an unmarked grave, forgotten by all -- were it not for the kindness of this young lady.

"But, let us not dwell upon the sad state of this vagrant's short existence -- instead, let us celebrate the small victories he achieved. For instance, despite his obvious mental illness, he managed to show this girl some kindness in return -- in his own way. Were it not so, why would she now be spending her life savings just to buy him a decent, Christian burial?

"And if, in the throes of his madness, he took this poor child into life-threatening danger, let us not be too harsh in our judgement. The mentally infirm cannot be held accountable for what they do...

"No, rather than damning the man, let us look upon his life as a lesson to us all -- and be grateful. Remember: there but for the grace of God go I.

"Professor Ichbonnsen was--"


I throw open the lid of my coffin and burst forth, fire in my eyes.

Somewhere behind me I hear Scarlet's exclamation:


I'm a sucker for melodrama -- but perhaps I overdid it a little this time. When I threw open the casket, the lid smacked that vile little preacher squarely in the face. It hit with enough force, in fact, that I found my mystery voice now sitting flat on the floor -- nursing a fast-swelling bump on the forehead... And letting loose a most ungodly stream of profanities.

"Thank you for your kind words, Father... Scarlet, shall we be leaving?"



So, here we are in Rio again.

Despite my initial burst of...liveliness...I find that I still haven't fully recovered my strength. I think we'll stay here for a while. The warm weather should be conducive to my recuperation -- and there's plenty for Scarlet to see and do.

I'm happy to see that Scarlet posted the final creature for Monster Month. With that obligation completed, I think I might even indulge in... A vacation. A week or two at most, I should think. Then back on the trail.

We have more leads yet to follow, hunting down life forms heretofore unknown by science. Of course, now we will have have to be on the lookout for assassins... And there's the unsolved mystery of who paid the one-eyed pilot to maroon us at Desolation Island...

As I said once before: darker things beckon.

"Shall I leave it there?" I ask Scarlet. She suggests one more line. Yes, I think, a little campy -- but that will do.

"Bring it on."

Thus, Monster Month 2007 comes to a close. Thank you, fellow Monster Hunters and Cryptophiles, for joining us on our adventure. Until next year...

Professor Ichbonnsen & Scarlet
writing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
November 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

the professor is dead!

scarlet here, folks. sit down and take a deep breath... i got some hella bad news to lay on you: professor ichbonnsen is dead!!!

he died doing what he loved -- huntin' da monstas., that's like a good thing, right? (uh, not the dying part, i mean)

and it's not as if we didn't all see it coming. the guy's hunting MONSTERS -- how do you think he's going to bite it?, not that i'm saying it's his own fault, mind you.

damn. i'm gonna miss that grumpy bastard.

ok, you want to know what happened. well, i wanna TELL you what happened! jus' lemme try to find my stuffy voice, so i can science this all up like the prof would.


k -- i'm in my zone...

professor ichbonnsen and his sooper-duper sidekick were off to find the amazon dragon. this thing is supposed to be a football field long -- and prolly hungry nuff to swallow the home team, pep squad, and all their little dogs, too.

prof's got that wad'o'cash burning a hole in his pocket. so we rent ourselves a helicopter guy. TWO EYES on this one. (makes a difference -- eye-patches are a sure sign of evil... you're paying attention, right?!) we hire this guy to take us as close as possible to the DRAGON'S LAIR.

gawd i love saying that!


anyhoo, what's "as close as possible" you ask? search me. as close as mr. now-i'm-paranoid-as-well-as-delusional is comfortable with, maybe? he says that we need a clear spot for putting the boat into the river. (did i mention we bought a freakin' boat? well, we did.) i guess maybe that really was it.

of course, it woulda been nice if we could put down PAST the cannibal-witch-doctor-poison-blowdart-shooting natives!


'scuse me. i don't KNOW they were cannibals. i jus' figure. (very unscientific of me... bad scarlet! no biscuit!)

k, so i'm not kidding, folks. we fly out into the crazy sweat-shoots-out-of-your-pits-no-matter-how-much-old-spice-you-wear humid jungle... copter boy puts us down easy, then breaks out his you-are-so-not-doing-what-i-think-you're-doing playboy to read while he sits on his ass and waits for us... i, SUPER SIDEKICK get the boat motor to start... we're heading up the river and THEN

(ready for it?)

blowdarts! like, a dozen natives heard us coming and decided to roll out the welcome mat.

i know! i know! it's totally indiana jones! ...LOVING IT.

so, we get through the gauntlet (ooh! good word, scarlet!) and then... well, we keep boating on. um, not much more to say about that.

anyway, we get maybe 3 hours away from copter boy, and then ditch the boat. we get out and walk to where the DRAGON is supposed to live. it's only like 10 minutes away.

there's supposed to be this lake there... and we find it alright. 'cept, the water's pretty much gone. just a big muddy hole in the ground there now. yum.

the professor, he's going on like usual... he says, yes, this is the place... but where's the water? and he's counting out paces, and saying "it ought to be over here..."

well, i can complain, cuz i spent every day with the guy, and pulled his arse out of the fire more than once -- but no one better put down my proffy where the science is concerned! sure nuff, back behind some big rotting trees, there's a cave entrance. and just like he figured, it looks like this thing used to be underwater -- so this must be where the DRAGON used to come out.

and we look down and -- guess what! -- there's the DRAGON we've come all the way out here to find!

'cept, i should really write it [dragon] -- cuz this kitten, he's tiny! he's like the size of sausage... no -- bratwurst. not even a fine, spicy kielbasa.

"is it a baby?" i ask.

and proffy, his mind is going bangbangbang -- he sees the bigger picture! this DRAGON was supposed to be a hundred yards long when the portuguese soldier found it. but then, it kept being smaller every time someone sees it after that. and -- hey look! -- the water just happens to be all gone now...

mr. studly ichbonnsen figures that this is the one and ONLY dragon -- and that it needed water to be big... like maybe there's special minerals dissolved in the cave down there...

maybe an earthquake caused the water down below to drain off... or maybe peoples diverted the water for crops or stuff. who knows? not me.

so this is all we get: a little cocktail-dragon.

the professor was really looking forward to this. like he said, "i always wanted to see a dragon." that's all i can think of to explain it...

he actually picks up the sausage. it's sitting there in the palm of his hand, and he's glaring at it -- almost like it's the dragon's own fault that it's so darned tiny.

it was kinda cute, actually. looking up at him with these little beady eyes...

but then bit him.

and the professor -- he goes stiff as a board, and FALLS DOWN.


it gets even better than that, too! this mud is like quicksand or something -- (maybe slowsand, now that i really think about it) -- cuz the prof is slowly sinking into the mud, head-first!

i grab him by the feet and pull him out. dragon-butt wriggles away... whatever -- i gotta take care of my monster hunter!

i check for a pulse... it's getting slower and slower. i do the suck-and-spit maneuver, trying to get the venom out. i don't know that it did any good, though. only thing to do, so far as i can see, is to get him back to town and find a doctor!

so that's what i do. i drag the prof to the boat. and, yes, he's a heavy bugger -- but i eats ma spinach. we're back at the boat in nothing-flat, and it's GO GO GO!

c'mon, engine, start!

out of my way, crockigator -- no time!

poison darts whizzing past my ears again -- but i can't even pause to enjoy it.

copter boy! get the rotor spinning! ...don't ask me questions, just DO IT!



and then when we finally get the prof to the doctor...

after all that...

he has the NERVE to tell me that the professor is dead.

...c'mon, doc! do the electric paddles thingy, just for me?

but, no.

the professor -- he's...

he's dead, jim.


so, there ya have it. he's dead.

dead, dead, dead.

i'm using a chunk of the "blood money" to get him a good coffin. i'm going to stay here with the body overnight -- (just you try to pull me away!) -- and then tomorrow he goes in the ground.

then... i dunno. i guess i go home.

or maybe i head to brussels. the prof has notes, unsolved files... i could take up the good fight.

couldn't i?

well, i'll write at least one more post. i'll let you know how the funeral goes, and then that's it.

what a sucky way to end monster month. :(

From Brazil: The Amazon Dragon

Note: Possible candidate for Monster Month? If we find the beast, update file and shuffle it into the order. Big monster = big finish!

[click to enlarge]

We are all familiar with the image of dragons as giant fire-breathing lizards with wings. The Amazon Dragon, however, is closer to the Medieval image of dragons as wyrms. That is to say, this creature is actually a monumental worm.

The "Dragon" was discovered by a Portuguese soldier circa 1600, deep in the Amazon jungle. From what I've been able to piece together, the animal was approximately 100 yards long. Its body is banded with alternating purple and black rings. It has rows of gray snake-like legs on either side -- rather like a millipede. Its face has been likened to that of a fish.

The creature seems to be amphibious. According to the soldier, it rises out of a river and breathes air -- then dives back beneath the surface.

I am in possession of a map -- drawn by the soldier himself -- that purportedly leads to the Amazon Dragon's lair. Comparing it with recent geological surveys, I think there is good reason to believe that there will be underwater caves in this area... Which would help explain how the great beast has remained hidden for so long.

Over the past four centuries there have been several further sightings of the Dragon. Each time, the size is reported as being significantly smaller than it was previously. The last sighting, in 1910, put the creature at a length of only 30 yards.

Is it shrinking?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Betrayed By The One-Eyed Pilot! (part II)

4. Confessions


"Thank you."

Marooned by the one-eyed pilot on a deserted oil tanker -- somewhere deep in the southern Indian Ocean -- it seems like a good moment to have a snack and take stock of the situation. Scarlet has laid out a picnic blanket. I grimly chew on stale ham-and-rye; she's drinking chocolate milk.

"So. Care to explain?"

Scarlet casts a fiendish grin. Her straw sucks loudly at the last drops of milk.


This is Scarlet's tale:

On our seemingly endless journey, the antsy girl was forced to entertain herself in the back of the helicopter -- while I "edumacated Mr. Judas-pants" in front. It wasn't long before she discovered his secret stash of personal belongings... Which she had ample opportunity to riffle through.

After the paddleball and yo-yo incidents, the pilot and I were more than happy get some peace. As long as she was silent, we were content to ignore what was going on behind us. Lesson learned: If Scarlet is being quiet, the serious trouble-making must be underway.

"Tucked in cozy between his tighty-whiteys and his socks," she discovered a large wad of hundred-dollar bills. That's what tipped her off that something was amiss. Good girl, I think, that was probably the blood money he got paid to dispose of us.

On the second oil tanker stop, when she insisted that she needed to "go potty" and "de-skankify," Scarlet was secretly angling to take a look about. It's a good thing that she did, too. Those big canvas-covered crates -- they were full of weapons. The Pilot, it seems, mixes with very bad company.

Given how things were shaping up, Scarlet thought it prudent to "yank an insurance policy" for herself.

"But a bazooka?"

"Oh! Don't worry -- I got something for you, too." She digs around in her bottomless rucksack and pulls out a black pistol. I take her gift gingerly and examine the thing. A "Glock Automatic Pistol" -- undoubtedly missing any serial numbers. And it's loaded. I quickly pocket it...

I hate guns.

5. The Hideous Hold

Time to explore.

The last oil tanker where we stopped had no crew on deck -- but it did have two helicopters and cargo strapped down. Here, there's not even that.

"Ooh! Let's go downstairs! I wanna see what makes this tankahr so very, very supahr."

"We should check the bridge and living quarters first," I grunt.

"I call Scarlet-Saves-The-Day -- Again -- privilege! Maybe they've got KONG down there."

She's bouncing up and down on her toes.

Oh, alright...


Down, down the ladder, from a circular hatch on the deck... Five stories down into the dark hold. The light from above is all we have to see by.

The compartment is empty and echoes with our footsteps. It takes our eyes a few minutes to adjust. This enormous man-made space, it is a marvel...

"Spooooky door! What do you think, Ms. Murdersville Slumbercamp co-ed -- shall we take go take a look? Why, yes -- I think so. Abso-freakin'-lutely."

I cut Scarlet off at the door -- a heavy metal thing, windowless, with a wheel that turns to lock it shut. A crowbar has been stuck through the wheel, preventing it from turning.

"Permit me."

I put my ear to the door. Nothing.

I rap on the door loudly. Again, my ear to the door. Nothing.

The crowbar slides out, and I pass it to my assistant. She weighs it in her hands, appreciatively.

I spin the wheel -- and give the door a shove to open it up a crack.


My heart leaps in my chest. Monsters!

Perhaps forty of them... Moving lethargically about the cavernous compartment.

Dark red flesh, four spider-like legs dragging a bloated and bulbous living mass along the floor, two more stiff limbs sticking straight up into the air. So alien... But then I realize what I am looking at--

Men! These were human beings! Something has transformed them. The limbs sticking up in the air were legs... In the main mass, I can just make out human faces -- distended almost beyond recognition. The entire being has been flipped upside-down; the things I mistook for legs are what used to be arms -- split in two where the radius and ulna would usually connect.

My eyes begin to penetrate deeper into the murk. I realize that some of these things are still wearing shreds of clothing. In the far corner, three of the beasts are ripping gristle from the carcass of one of their compatriots. Cannibalism. Around the corners of the room, there are perhaps twenty skeletons from previous kills. So much like human bones, and yet re-shaped into something new...

A terrible nausea shoots through my stomach. I know what sort of thing causes this.


6. Dear Diary

Several of the creatures suddenly perk up. With a hideous writhing gait, they begin shambling toward freedom.

I slam the door shut and spin the wheel. "Crowbar?"

"Crowbar." Scarlet hands me the tool, and I wedge it in, locking the door shut again.


Back topside, we've searched the bridge and found nothing informative. Now we're going through the living quarters, one room at a time.

Most viruses need some sort of fluid for transmission. I think there's good reason to hope that we haven't been infected yet -- but as a precaution, I break open a first aid kit to get us some latex gloves and face masks. "Nurse Scarlet" loves the new look.

It's when we find the first mate's room that we get our big break.

A half-man is lying on the floor. His skin is that terrible boiled-flesh mauve of the creatures, and grapefruit-sized boils have erupted around his neck. He has shot himself through the brain. Mercifully, he's fallen so that most of the gore is hidden.

Sitting on a small desk next to his body is a red book, helpfully labeled "diary." It's the generic hard-bound page-a-day sort that one picks up in a big box office supply store.

Scarlet comes in, and sees what I've found. "Oh, it just doesn't get better than this!"

I quickly open to the last entry. Scarlet reads over my shoulder...


The First Mate could see what was happening to him, and decided to take his own life. It had been coming on for the past two days.

He had seen what happened to the men that came from the oil drilling project. They were sick when they came on board. Then one changed. Then another. The tanker's crew had corralled them into an empty hold at gun point. But then the crew began to change, too. One-by-one, they joined the beasts in the hideous hold.

There are promises that medical help is on its way -- but no one comes. Everyone involved in this catastrophe is being abandoned. Panic and paranoia take hold; there are shootings. The captain, who hasn't changed yet, is locked up in the brig.

The First Mate apologizes to his girlfriend for ever getting involved in this mess...

What's that shuffling outside?

7. The Big Bang

I step through the open door to the hallway. Nothing.

I peek around to the other side of the door -- MONSTER!

Just behind the door, two feet from my face, one of the creatures has snuck up on us. My first impulse: I slam the door wide open, forcibly knocking the creature back a step.


Scarlet leaps through the door and starts sprinting down the hall. I'm not far behind.

The thing is groping at the door... Blind and deaf, I realize -- it's trying to pick up our scent. And then it does.

I catch up with Scarlet at the end of the hallway. She's lifting the grenade launcher onto her shoulder.


I can tell she's miffed -- but she complies. We fly up a flight of stairs, through the bridge, out to the deck. We've outpaced it, but it's not far behind.

"The captain is locked up in the brig," I think to myself.

"What now? Hide and seek?"

"Do you have all your stuff?"


"Then I'd say it's time to get out of here."


This is not my best plan ever. In fact, it's really no plan at all -- it's just taking the next step, doing the the terrible thing that must ultimately be done, no matter the cost.

Be bold.

Scarlet helps me get the lifeboat in place. We lower it down to the water with an audible splash! We climb down and begin paddling away.

A hundred feet distant isn't very far... But that's where I have us pause.

"Scarlet, would you do the honors?"

It takes a moment -- then understanding spreads across my assistant's face in a big puppy-dog grin.

"Aye, aye, captain!"

The grenade launcher hefts to her shoulder; she takes aim; I cover my ears with both hands.



Water starts rushing in through the side of the tanker. For safe measure I have Scarlet blow another three holes in the hull.

And then we paddle with all our might. The ship takes at least 45 minutes to go down -- but I don't want to take any chances, risking being caught in the maelstrom as its sucked under.

So we row. And then it's gone. And we're alone in a lifeboat -- hundreds of miles from land, far from any shipping lane...

[kerguelen continent - topography]

8. Adrift in a Lifeboat

We start rowing southward. Based on the GPS readings, it looks like we're about 350 miles away from Kerguelen. I'm worried about the ocean currents; I'm afraid they're pushing us farther and farther away from safety.

I take this opportunity to "edumacate" Scarlet a bit more.

I explain: Right now, we're actually floating over a sunken continent -- the Kerguelen Continent. It's about a third the size of the USA. Desolation Island is just the tip of it that sticks out of the water. Over the past 100 million years, it's been above sea level for three periods. We know that about 50 million years back it was covered with life. The last time that it sunk was about 20 million years ago.

This is a pretty recent discovery: it was announced back around 1999. But you see, someone was paying attention. Where prehistoric life used to be, there's a good chance that you're going to find oil. It's a terrible area to try and work in -- what with being so far away from civilization, and the terrible winds -- but isolation is just what this someone was looking for.

What do we have here? A Power with the resources to set up an illegal oil drilling operation. That equals an independent source of fuel. It has oil tankers for moving out the crude. Probably a whole fleet of tankers, if it can afford to be using them as floating air bases. And then there's a massive weapons smuggling operation... It sounds to me like a secret build-up to war!

But the people behind this conspiracy -- they found more than they were looking for. As the men at the drilling operation brought up the oil, they were also unearthing an ancient virus. Maybe it was native to the Kerguelen Continent 50 million years ago. Maybe it evolved underneath the ocean, in the time after the continent sank. Maybe it was even of extraterrestrial origin. (My foreign contact has suggested that there was a colony in these parts some time in the past...)

Whatever its origins, this is a zorn-producing mutagen. Those creatures that the drill crew became -- they weren't men anymore. They were zorns. We name mutants like this after the place where the affecting virus was found. So, what we saw back there on the ship -- properly speaking, those were Kerguelen Zorns.

As awful as it sounds, we have to hope that the men were infected quickly. If we're very lucky, they were just getting set up and hadn't even gotten a tanker out yet. Because if they did, and there's a ship out there somewhere carrying thousands of gallons of virus-laden fuel... I shudder to think.

But, we might be in luck. Whoever was in charge of this operation quarantined the infected men. Although, I'll bet they were just waiting to see what would happen. Maybe there were thoughts of using the virus for biological warfare. Something like this -- it'd be a far more valuable discovery than the oil alone.

Which is why it was all-important that we sink the ship. A human-affecting zorn virus must not be loosed on the world.

And yet -- there's still the abandoned drilling operation sitting out there, somewhere...



"Thank you."

Night has fallen, and we huddle for warmth together underneath a space blanket. I check the GPS again. It's bad: the currents are pushing us away from Desolation Island faster than we can row toward it.

"We're not going to make it like this. We're losing ground too fast."

"Well, phoo. It woulda been really cool."


"Ichbonnsen and Super Assistant Scarlet row a million billion miles... And then we step out onto land! All blistery and gnarly dreadlocks and mega-buff sailor arms -- but alive. The crowd goes wild!"

I drift into silence, thinking about how the story's actually going to end. Thirsty, sunburned, delirious...

Scarlet sees the look on my face and stops eating.

"What's the point, then, right? We've lost. Game over!"

I watch, horrified, as she tosses the last of her sandwich out into the darkness."

"Hey, don't do that!"

"Looks like we're getting out of this the easy way."

She's rummaging in her rucksack. My mind flashes to the gun she gave me, still in my pocket.

Scarlet pulls out the laptop and satellite phone.

"What's the number for pizza?"


Our connection is on-again off-again. But through the night, Scarlet attempts to send out S.O.S. emails with our approximate location -- every two hours, regardless.

The following day it rains. We do everything we can to keep the computer from getting wet -- but this is a nerve-wracking development. The one mercy is that the ocean is still relatively calm. If the waves decide to pick up, then we're really done for.

I work on capturing as much fresh drinking water as possible.

In the afternoon the storm clears up. We do what we can to dry out our clothes. Hypothermia's a bigger threat than starvation at this point.


We make it through another night, adrift in the lifeboat.

It's a futile endeavor, but we keep taking turns rowing, trying to head in the direction of Desolation Island.

At least it's something to do.

We eat the last of the sandwiches. Night falls.


We're woken in the middle of the third night by something bumping against the bottom of our boat. We've been discovered --

By sharks!

We watch anxiously as they circle. We ought to be safe enough -- so long as we don't go out for a swim...

But then just around dawn, one big lout actually tries to take a bite out of us.

I beat him over the head repeatedly with my paddle, and he falls back into the water. A comically mouth-shaped crescent is missing from side of our vessel.

9. Rescue!

A helicopter!

Is it coming from one of the weapons smuggling ships?

No! It is a different model from the helicopters that we've become so accustomed to. It comes closer and closer -- we've been spotted!

It hovers above us. The propeller sends a fine spray of water in all directions, as dozens of fins continue spiraling around the lifeboat. A rope ladder descends. I send Scarlet up first. I follow close behind.

As a final insult, the big lout leaps up again and grabs onto the bottom rungs of the ladder. I kick his nose with all my might, steel-toed boot colliding with sandpaper skin.

He falls back down -- and at last we are free!


Our saviors are Captain K. and First Mate Todd -- part of a multi-national science expedition working in the Kerguelen area. They are about to take us back to their main vessel for medical attention...

I protest in the strongest possible terms. We're hungry, but otherwise in good health. What is imperative is that the weapons smuggling ring be exposed -- and that the oil drilling operation gets destroyed. Were it possible, I would go to the proper authorities myself... But I know full well that no one believes the word of "crazy" Ichbonnsen. Our two rescuers, however, would make excellent, credible witnesses.

I explain what we saw on our long helicopter journey, and how we were marooned by the one-eyed pilot. When it comes to the Kerguelen Zorns, however, I hold my tongue. Instead, I say the drill crew was dying from exposure to a "biological weapon."

Even with the more colorful moments of our adventure censored, Captain K. and First Mate Todd seem to feel my story is far-fetched...

Then Scarlet pulls out her Bazooka.

That convinces them.


We set down gently on the deserted oil tanker. The two helicopters and the many canvas-covered crates are still there -- nothing's changed. Our rescuers are truly astonished.

I hand over the red diary -- minus the last few pages, which I've torn out and hidden away. I emphasize again the dire importance of destroying the drilling operation. Then we split up to check out the rest of the ship.

While the Captain and First Mate are down below, Scarlet and I unlash one of the smugglers' helicopters. I am not a great pilot -- but my skills should be adequate to get us back to civilization.

10. Marked for Death

I hate to run off on our rescuers like this... But if we were to go back with them, I can easily imagine how events would transpire. Two mysterious individuals found in a lifeboat, claiming knowledge of a conspiracy... there'd be questions; there'd be denial; and then we'd wind up being the convenient scapegoats. Captain K. might have a chance of getting heard -- but not us.

We head for Réunion Island, flying low.

Before we land, I throw the pistol Scarlet gave me into the Indian Ocean. I make her get rid her grenade launcher, too. She's loath to let go of it -- but recognizes the liability it'll be if we get stopped anywhere along the line.

"Out of grenades, anyway," she shrugs.

We ditch the helicopter in a patch of jungle, and walk our way from there into town. It's been another all-nighter, and we're both exhausted. I check us into a hotel.


The next day we catch a small commercial flight to Madagascar. I'm trying to unknot the remaining mysteries -- with little success.

"We still don't know who wanted us dead. The Pilot taking us all the way out to a tanker in the middle of the ocean -- that was expensive... And, shall I say, flamboyant. Whoever it was, didn't just want us dead -- they wanted us infected by the Kerguelen virus. They wanted a tortuous, vindictive death."

Scarlet's fussing with a Rubix Cube. "Not to mention, ironic. The Monster Hunter being turned into a monster himself? Très Batman." She tosses the toy over the seat in front of her, where it lands in the lap of a napping business man. He gives a little shout of surprise. Scarlet slouches back in her seat and closes her eyes. Still worn out from the adventure -- as am I.

"Who wants us dead that much? The Opium Cartel? Maybe one of the government officials I was talking with in Brussels? The Martians? Who?"

Eyes still closed: "Prof, you've got the entire world against you. ...That's what I like about you."

Funny thing is, I think she's being sincere.

"You realize that you're marked for death, too, now. They're obviously going to come after us again."

She snorts.

"Where's the fun in being irrepressible if everyone likes you?"

She gives me a punch in the arm, rolls over, and then I think she's asleep.

"You're smiling."

I stop.


From Madagascar, a series of flights took us across the Atlantic to South America. We've spent the past two days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I've set things up so this post will be published after we've left town -- hopefully keeping any would-be assassins off our tails a little longer.

The blood money Scarlet took from the one-eyed pilot will be enough to cover another expedition or two -- as well as a few comforts along the way.

Some years ago, I came into possession of an old Portuguese map, detailing where to find the lair of the Amazon Dragon. Given that I seldom know where I'll be next, I took the trouble to commit the geography to memory. Now, with this generous "endowment" from the Pilot, I can finally fulfill a life-long dream...

I have always wanted to see a dragon.

Z - The Zompire Bat

[click to enlarge]

The Zompire Bat is a large South American carnivore related to the Vampire Bat. It stands about five feet tall and is found primarily in Argentina.

The bat's wingspan is approximately 20 feet -- however, it is too heavy to actually fly. It uses its wings instead to corral and capture prey, wrapping them in a deadly embrace.

The creature kills and eats large game: cattle, wild pigs -- and humans who are unwary. It is extremely messy, rending flesh, mangling the bodies of its victims... It actually only drinks their blood; the purpose of this behavior seems to be simply to create a good flow.

Zompire bats have very poor eyesight and are uncoordinated moving on the ground -- stumbling and dragging themselves about. When they hunt, they depend upon the element of surprise.

The bat digs a shallow hole and covers itself with dirt. When it senses that prey is near, it bursts from the ground -- imparting a sort of "dead rising from the grave" appearance. The wings trap its food, its powerful jaws clamp down, and the bat thrashes its head until blood is gushing everywhere.

Like other bats, Zompires use echolocation. However, whereas most species use high or even ultrasonic pitches, this creature uses subsonics (much as crocodiles do). The system only works effectively underground -- where perception extends in a 2 mile radius. Above ground, the portion of the call that is audible to humans sounds like hideous groaning and moaning.

Newborn bats are birthed directly into holes, where they are left to mature for several months. The bats seem most comfortable underground, and spend most of their lives hidden there. Wrapped in its own wings, a Zompire Bat looks quite like a large black seed pod or coffin.

It should be noted that the safest time to study the Zompire Bat is when it is hibernating during the winter months. It can be exhumed and examined for a brief period -- but under no circumstances should it be allowed to warm up. Dire consequences follow.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Y - The Yellow Riders

[click to enlarge]

Traveling in Australia, I met an old Gunwinggu man in the Northern Territory who told a strange tale. He reported seeing "little yellow people riding a dead man" some years ago. After weeks of fruitless searching, I finally did get a brief glimpse of the thing he described.

I was camped in the Simpson desert. Just after dawn, I woke to the sound of something rummaging through my provisions -- and there it was.

The creature looks much like a bleached human skeleton. One could easily believe that the emaciated thing is nothing but bones -- but it is covered by skin. It is headless, and moves on all fours. It doesn't have hands or feet, but rather insect-like points at the ends of its limbs. I was unable to see any sensory organs.

The ribcage is not closed; it hangs wide open, and is perhaps three feet wide. A large green-black sack hangs from the interior. I presume this is where the vital organs reside. It is also where the Yellow Riders dangle.

The Yellow Riders are small almost-spherical creatures with bright green eyes. There were perhaps fifteen attached to the skeletal being's ventral sack by sinewy roots.

As I came out of my pup tent, the Riders seemed to take notice -- making squeaky sounds and bobbing up and down. Their white mount took off at a gallop.

I leapt into my jeep and chased them across a field of cracking dried red mud... But the creatures quickly outpaced me -- meaning that the white thing can run at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour.

I have no explanation for what this thing that I encountered might be. It seems likely that the Yellow Riders have a symbiotic relationship with the galloping creature... All I can say for certain, though, is that it likes peanut butter.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

X - The Xem

[click to enlarge]

The Xem is a small subterranean creature, about the size of a hat. It feeds on rotting tree roots between 4 and 20 feet underground.

It has a coat of short fur and a small mane around its head -- all of which is dingy black-brown. However, under black light the creature fluoresces a brilliant blue. This makes it much easier to spot, if one is using a sub-surface periscope.

The Xem has four two-fingered limbs and no tail. It is slow-moving, but sure-footed. The round head has two enormous eyes, but no nose or mouth for breathing. Its metabolism is almost entirely anaerobic.

The Xem's jaws are located in its midsection. The creature's ribcage is hinged at the spine; it has rows of tiny teeth where most animals would have a sternum. As the body swells and contracts, chewing is easily mistaken for breathing.

Xems live in small colonies of a dozen or so creatures, which move through underground tunnels between the trees that they depend upon for food. The adult Xem's fingers are not suited for digging; all of the tunnel systems are created by the young.

Infants are born in litters of 30 or more. At birth, the creatures have tough webbing between their fingers, ideal for excavation. Unlike their slow-moving elders, the young move about at a rapid pace, carving out living spaces for the next generation.

For unknown reasons, Xems have extremely high infant mortality rates: almost 90% of the young die within a month of birth. The bodies are transported to the lowest room in a tunnel system and left in piles to decay.

The sacrifice of the young does seem to serve an evolutionary purpose: many workers are needed to create living spaces -- but there are not enough tree roots to support such a large population. It has been speculated that a minority of Xems are born with a slower metabolism -- and that these ones are the few who survive into adulthood, while the rest simply burn out.

Betrayed By The One-Eyed Pilot! (part I)

1. Destination: Desolation Island

Himmat's phone rang. "Professor, it's... for you!"

On the other end, it's the one-eyed pilot. He has a lead on a new species -- and wants to help us with the hunt! But we are still in India; it's barely 24 hours since our underground adventure with the Grrrhearts. How did he find us?

"I read your Monster Month blog, Professor. You were not hard to track down."

Of course. Usually my expeditions have put me incommunicado with the outside world... But now with the PowerBook, satellite phone and Blogger, that's all changed. It's hard to get used to.


We meet the Pilot at the airport in Calcutta. He's flying a large, new-looking helicopter this time. Our destination: Desolation Island.

Îles Kerguelen, the Kerguelen Archipelago -- aptly dubbed "Desolation Island" by James Cook in 1776 -- is one of the most isolated locations on Earth. The land, owned by France, is located in the southern Indian Ocean, roughly equidistant from Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. The climate is cold and windy -- but not ice-bound. The archipelago's main island, Grande Terre, is surrounded by more than 300 smaller islands... Yet, only about 100 humans live there.

Prime monster-hunting territory.

Our quarry: Giant Aphids. According to the Pilot, insects the size of cows have been sighted on some of the smaller islands, grazing on the indigenous Kerguelen cabbage.

Immediately I'm suspicious of Martian involvement. These creatures sound ominously similar to the Elysian insect megafauna that have invaded central Africa.

2. "Are we there yet?"

The journey is too long to be made in one flight. We're going to have to stop and refuel several times. The Pilot says not to worry -- that he has friends along the way who will help us out.

Our first stop is the Maldive Islands. Refueling doesn't take very long. I send Scarlet into the airport for food; she comes back with a whole armload of plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

"For later," she says.


The second stop is somewhere far out in the northern reaches of the Indian Ocean, probably about parallel to Kenya. I see it first: A huge oil tanker, sitting dead in the water. The Pilot radios ahead. His conversation is succinct; it seems the ship is expecting us.

We set down on the deck, and the Pilot immediately starts refueling. "Stay close. And don't talk to anyone," he tells us.

We do as he says. The crew of the ship seems to ignore us. They're busy with forklifts, moving about huge canvas-wrapped crates. As we watch, a helicopter -- much like the one we're traveling in -- comes and takes away one of the parcels, lifting it off the deck by means of rope and hook, without even landing.

"We're ready to go," the pilot says. The sun is going down. Gold turns to lavender, and I can just begin to pick out the Southern Cross. It looks like this is going to be an all-nighter.


During the long journey I talk about our recent adventures: Scarlet playing Pied Piper with the Grrrhearts back in Meghalaya... My near-deadly underwater encounter with the leviathan off the coast of Sumatra, and the help rendered by the Porpische... Finding the Giant Mupp in North Korea, and our narrow escape through the Demilitarized Zone...

"I too, have seen... Monsters, Professor."

Ah-ha! I thought as much.

"This" -- our Pilot points to the black patch over his missing eye... "And this" -- he pulls his shirt open a ways, and I can see that a wicked scar runs down his torso -- from throat toward groin, as if he had once been torn in two. "It was a monster that nearly killed me five years ago."

His face looks green in the pale, hypnotic light from the control console. "Where were you? What kind of creature was it?" I ask eagerly.

His lips go tight. "I do not want to talk about it. I'm sorry." His brow knits, and he stares even more intently ahead into the night.


"Are we there yet?"


"Are we there yet?"


"Are we there yet?"


Scarlet has spent the past dozen hours in the cabin behind us. First there was the kazoo. Then there was the wooden paddle with a ball attached by elastic. (I took that away.) Then there was the yo-yo... Which was fine -- until "around the world" got out of control and the toy came flying into the cockpit.

Finally she settled down with a telephone-book-sized manga that she picked up when we were passing through Japan. Blessed peace and quiet!

Around one in the morning, she drifts off to sleep. I try to catch some shut-eye myself... But am woken by her snoring. (Yes, even over the roar of the rotor.)

Our third stop: Réunion Island, off the coast of Madagaskar. We set down on the tarmac in the dead of night, and...

"Are we there yet?"

3. Marooned!

Dawn comes and goes. Still we are heading south. Nothing but ocean has passed below us for hours. And then: another oil tanker stationed in the middle of nowhere.

Two of those familiar helicopters are lashed down to the deck, and more canvas-covered crates wait to be air-lifted away. But this time, no radio contact as we approach... Our helicopter gently sets down on the broad steel deck, and we pile out.

Not a human soul in sight. Where's the crew?

I ask the Pilot -- but he dodges the question, says "This is just a stopping point. Don't wander off -- we're making good time."

Scarlet won't hear of it. She needs to use the facilities, wants a change of clothes -- and just about works herself into a screaming fit.

The Pilot, red-faced and at the end of his wits, relents. "...But don't take long!"

Off she goes with her massive rucksack.

We finish fueling the helicopter... And wait. And wait. The Pilot is increasingly edgy. Just as he's about to go get her, she reappears -- a fresh pair of graffitied blue jeans, puffy winter coat, wet hair, and huge grin on her face.


Afternoon, flying under a bright but cloud-covered sky. More than a thousand miles of ocean behind us since Réunion. Just one more stop before Kerguelen.

"Are we there y--"

"Almost there," snaps the Pilot.

My voice is beginning to go hoarse. All night long the Pilot was picking my brain, encouraging me to tell more stories about the creatures I've discovered. The details of their peculiar survival strategies, how I was able to track them down... It's not often I have such an eager audience, so I was glad to oblige. But as I'm finally telling him about my first encounter as a young man -- with a Quillaupus of unusual size, back in the woods of Vermont -- I suddenly realize that he's managed to avoid telling me almost anything about his own history. I'd like to understand more about his motivation in joining the hunt...

But it can wait. There's the last oil tanker, sitting on the horizon.


"Private Scarlet, reporting for duty, Sir!" Scarlet salutes me. "Twenty laps around the deck? Yes, Sir! Thank you, Sir!"

Just as she's about to race off down the silent tanker's deck -- "STAY CLOSE!" the Pilot barks.

So she starts sprinting circles around the helicopter. She's wearing an old green felt and scarlet star communist cap now; dog-tags, rucksack, and white tank top -- despite the bracing wind. The Pilot is gritting his teeth, staring determinedly at the fueling hose, trying to will the gas into pumping even faster.

Again a deserted ship. Not even a spare helicopter or crates this time -- just a Mary Celeste dead in the water, waiting for no one.

Off in the distance -- perhaps it's my overactive imagination -- I think I can just see a glimmer of Kerguelen. Our legs are sore, and I'm looking forward to the next few days of hiking and short hops between islands. I have an idea about how to distill the odor of Kerguelen cabbage as a means to attract the Giant Aphids...


I turn around. The Pilot is pointing a gun at Scarlet.

"Let's all just calm down," I protest...

"You too, Professor!" I'm looking into the barrel of his pistol -- I raise my hands up where he can see them. Scarlet trots backward and joins me, hands up.

"Now just stay there! Stay where you are!" The Pilot is getting into the helicopter -- gun still trained on us. The rotor starts to turn.

I shout to the Pilot... "Why?"

From the cockpit he looks me in the eye. "You're a brave man, Professor! But you've made yourself enemies. Powerful enemies...!"

He picks something up from between the seats. "Thanks for all the stories!" He shakes my Bolex over his head victoriously and laughs.

Damn! Not the camera!

The helicopter lifts off.

It all happened so fast... I watch, stunned, as the one-eyed pilot rises -- 10, 30, 50 feet into the air.

My assistant is kneeling over her rucksack beside me, rummaging. She stands up, holding -- A GRENADE LAUNCHER.

Scarlet through a pout: "You are not a nice man."

With a deafening blast, the grenade rockets away... A flash, thunder, smoke!

The helicopter spins in the air--

And then regains its trajectory. A near miss. The Pilot races off, back toward Réunion.

Scarlet turns toward me with wounded eyes and a terrible frown...


"Always wanted one of these," she grins.

[to be continued]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

From Desolation Island: The Kerguelen Zorn

[click to enlarge]

Little is known for certain about the Kerguelen Zorn. My belief is that it is a human mutation induced by viral infection.

The creature in question was clearly human to begin with. Evidence suggests that the transformation from man to zorn can take up to two weeks. In some cases, however, it occurs in a single day.

The infected person's skin becomes dark magenta -- as if it has been boiled. The head and torso become filled with fluid. The face and neck become so distended, they practically disappear.

Having become massively top-heavy, the organism inverts --- it drags its former head on the ground, and its legs stick straight up in the air. It appears that rigor mortis takes over in the legs... They become stiff, and much of their color drains away. The arms each split into two new limbs. Separation begins between the ulna and radius; one of the new limbs will have two fingers -- the other will have two fingers and a thumb.

The creature, now with four lower limbs, walks somewhat like a spider -- but dragging its slippery, sagging mass along on the floor. It is apparently blind, and finds its way by frantic, groping touch. In a low hallway, the dead legs may bump and drag above it -- almost giving the impression that the thing is walking on the ceiling.

The zorn-producing virus is highly contagious -- likely being transmitted by physical contact. My suspicion is that the virus originates from the submerged microcontinent beneath the Kerguelen Archipelago (AKA "Desolation Island"), which sunk into the ocean some 20 million years ago. I believe that an illegal oil-drilling operation recently unearthed the disease.

I have attempted to "quarantine" the virus. I hope and pray that no Kerguelen Zorns have survived.

Friday, October 26, 2007

W - The Whipping Molesque

[click to enlarge]

The Whipping Molesque, AKA the "Rocky Mountain Oyster," is a three-foot-tall mollusk native to the American Rocky Mountains.

The Molesque moves around using a large sucker-foot. Its shell is conical, bifurcated, and variegated with vertical blue/green ridges. When the creature is threatened, it slams shut like a bear trap, producing an echoing "snap."

The Molesque lives at the bottom of lakes, but comes onto land to hunt -- ironically for river fish. The creature sits waiting by the side of a river like a fisherman. When it senses a fish nearby, it shoots a long poison-tipped appendage into the water. The whip-like appendage paralyzes and grabs hold of the fish, retracts into the Molesque's shell, and the predator begins to digest its meal.

Like an oyster, the Molesque produces a pearl when something irritates its soft flesh. The pearls, which can be as much as a foot in diameter, would surely be worth millions if put to auction... However, if the exact location of these animals were ever revealed, it is almost equally certain that the gold rush of poachers would soon bring about their extinction.

In the name of science, and at great personal risk, I have procured and sawed open several pearls. It appears that the majority have been formed around birds, which presumably tried to eat the Molesque's flesh. One contained a human hand, severed at the wrist.

Although as yet unproven, it is my belief that Molesques go to water-filled underground cave systems to reproduce -- and that they also return there to die.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

V - The Vivecta

[click to enlarge]

The Vivecta is a hideous intestinal parasite. It is found in The Congos, and is associated with swampy areas.

Parasitic worms typically enter the host organism orally, and then attach to the interior walls of the gastro-intestinal tract. The Vivecta is unusual in this respect; it enters its host by burrowing through the skin, and then attaches itself to the outer wall of the intestines.

At this point in its life, the Vivecta looks like a twelve-eyed, blue-green iridescent beetle. Cutting pincers at either end of the body make incisions into the intestine. Partially digested food passes from the first incision, through the Vivecta's body, and back out through the second incision into the host again.

As the parasite ages, the carapace splits in two, and a long, ropey body develops between the two "heads". Each head progressively clamps down on the intestine with four strong legs -- until the Vivecta's body completely bypasses normal digestive flow. In essence, the parasite simply becomes an extra length of intestine.

In the late stages of its development, the Vivecta can measure 20+ feet in length. In cattle and in humans, presence of the parasite is sometimes mistaken for pregnancy. Hosts are typically somewhat malnourished -- but otherwise in good health.

Reproduction is parthenogenetic. Dozens of worm-like larva develop off the hoods of the two heads. They grow quickly while in the host's body, until after a week they are approximately nine inches long. Whereas the original Vivecta passively conforms itself to the shape of the host's existing digestive tract, the infants writhe spasmodically -- which is disturbingly visible through the skin of the the host's abdomen.

The larval Vivecta leave the host en masse, first burrowing through the intestine's wall, then passing out all at once through the nether orifice. The many perforations that they make in the intestines cause severe septicaemia, which almost always results in death for the host.

There are three distinct phases in the Vivecta's life cycle. After leaving the host's body, the larvae look like black, twelve-eyed snakes. Legless, they slither outward into the environment seeking soft, wet earth in which to burrow. When they find a suitable spot, the "snakes" dig into the ground and cocoon themselves in masses of sticky fiber.

Two weeks later, the Vivecta emerge -- in the form of a small winged fly. The flies seek out warm-blooded hosts... And the life cycle begins again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

U - The Ubertuber

[click to enlarge]

Ubertubers are currently the largest known species of sentient root. At maturity, the average plant has a mass equal to that of five elephants. Based on available data, it is believed that an Ubertuber's life-span is between 700 and 900 years.

Despite having consciousness, the tuber will spend most of its life in a vegetative state, passively absorbing nourishment from the environment. Only in times of emergency do the colossal plants become active, uprooting themselves for self-defense: e.g. when threatened by a forest fire, logging, or mining operations.

When awakened, the Ubertuber seeks immediate escape. If necessary, it is a fearsome foe -- tearing down trees and wielding them as weapons. Once it gets away from what threatens it, the plant will walk several hundred miles to find a suitable new home.

The root is semi-parasitic. It derives minerals and water from the soil -- but for certain nutrients, it taps into the trees around it. Consequently, one of the best ways to find an Ubertuber is to search a forest of great old tall trees for a patch where the trees are mysteriously shrunken and shriveled.

Ubertubers reproduce asexually by means of spores, which are released into underground streams. The reproductive cycle is usually triggered by flooding, when the water table is especially high. Given that Ubertuber populations are able to expand subterraneously, we currently have no clear idea how geographically widespread the plants are, or how many exist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

T - The Trick Squilligoss

[click to enlarge]

The Trick Squilligoss is a large oceanic amphibian found in the vicinity of Australia. The adult animal is between 8 and 16 feet in length. In appearance, it looks rather like a cross between a frog and a squid. It spends most of its time in deep ocean waters -- but has increasingly been sighted coming onto land.

The Squilligoss has four legs with webbed, three-toed feet. The legs have a cartilaginous skeleton that allows the creature to stand upright on land -- and also a muscular "skirt" which it can use for propelling itself underwater. There are two thin arms, which attach internally to a sort of flexible ribcage. Like squids, the creature's head has a mantle. Its beak is situated at the front of the body when swimming -- or on top of the head when it's standing. There is an air bladder on the ventral side of the head, along with two faintly bioluminescent eyes.

Normally, the Trick Squilligoss preys upon giant squid... However, due to decreasing populations of squid, the animal has increasingly been coming onto land to raid herds of cattle. Squilligosses appear in the local folklore of certain areas as a "Screaming Devil."

The Squilligoss' unearthly appearance easily "tricks" people into thinking that it is a supernatural apparition. Standing upright, the beak looks like horns. The neck bladder collapses and becomes wrinkled in a way that makes it look rather like a wide mouth with rows of long teeth. The mantle appears to be the grim cowl of a robe. Underwater, the beast emits high-pitched shrieks as a form of echolocation; on land these alien calls sound like "screaming."

The Trick Squilligoss only appears on land at night. Being most used to traveling in the murky depths of the Tasman sea, its eyes are sensitive to daytime light levels. Given the poor lighting conditions under which it has always been seen, it's not difficult to understand why terrified eye-witnesses would misinterpret what they're seeing...

A ghastly silhouette with glowing eyes, crouched over and feeding upon the mangled corpse of a cow -- a shadow twice the height of a man, which turns and lets out a blood-curdling shriek when disturbed.