DARK WEB: STEVEN HICKEY’S NEW GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA — PART 2: THE GOATMAN (part one)
Sometimes on very, very rare occasions a creepypasta comes along that is so compelling, it almost invents a new form of folklore. On other occasions, the pasta is able to tap into existing urban legends and myths to create a new and exciting story. This week I’m taking a look at a creepypasta which falls into BOTH categories.
This is the story of the Goatman.
The tale most often credited with the birth of the Goatman lore is that which has come to be known as Anansi’s Goatman Story. The story was posted by the titular Anansi on 4chan’s /x/ Paranormal board on 28th September 2012. The thread has been archived here: http://archive.is/nNBoQ#selection-3123.0-3123.10
Alternatively, you can read a cleaned up version of the story over at the Creepypasta Wiki here: http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/Anansi%27s_Goatman_Story
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, I do recommend reading it yourself, but I will attempt to summarise. It tells the story of an ill-fated camping trip when Anansi was a teenager, when he met up with his cousins and some friends. The group decides to head to some trailers that Anansi’s uncle had placed out in the woods for camping or hunting trips, and on their way they bump into another local kid, Tanner, and agree that he can come along.
Upon reaching their destination, Anansi picked up on a strange, metallic, ozone smell in the air. The group play football, drink a little and have fun. As day turns to evening, Tanner decides to head back to his father’s house to ask if he can stay over, and Anansi’s cousin Rooster and a girl go along.
The rest of the group continue to chill, until suddenly the group are rejoined by Tanner, Rooster and the girl who dash into the trailer and urge the others to join them. They then tell a story about hearing a strange gibbering noise coming from the woods, then spotting a strange man among the trees, one who stood with his back to them but seemed to edge ever closer to them until they lost their cool and ran.
At this point another cousin, Junior, starts to freak out, talking about a story he heard from a Native American kid in his class about the Goatman, a malevolent entity capable of shapeshifting that loves to terrorise groups lost in its woodland domain.
As the group panic the strange odour returns, before disappearing like magic. Finally the group pull themselves together and head back out to their campfire, writing off the weirdness in the woods as a cruel prank by local kids.
However, later that night, when dishing up hot dogs for everybody to eat, Anansi and his friends make the first of many shocking discoveries…
Anansi’s Goatman Story is cool campfire horror story (it even mostly takes place around one!) but to dismiss it as merely that is to do the story a grave injustice. Sure, it’s colloquial and chatty format aren’t the most sophisticated, but it is this simplicity that gives the story so much of its power. It’s so so much more believable when it lacks the descriptiveness of a ‘professional’ short story, and the vocabulary is very much that of your average teen describing a seemingly normal night that soon spins into the decidedly abnormal.
However, it is far more than Anansi’s clever writing that makes the story so believable. It is the fact that, for 60 years, ‘The Goatman’ has been terrifying American teens.
In August 1957, near Forestville, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, two teens canoodling in a car first caught sight of an aggressive, hairy, horned humanoid clutching an axe. Thankfully, this creature ran off into the woods before anybody was harmed.
Then, just a few nights later a local man and his wife caught sight of this same wild man rummaging through their bins.
Concerned officials organised a search of the Prince George’s County woods, but this yielded no results. Eventually the story was dismissed as a hoax, however, that didn’t stop the legend from gaining traction throughout the Sixties.
The most disturbing report has to be one spread via word of mouth that the Goatman was responsible for the violent, bloodthirsty death of 12 children and two adults responsible for their care when they unwittingly camped too close to the beast’s lair. Anonymous survivors are said to have described the beast emitting blood-curdling screams while it hacked its hapless victims to pieces.
When the police arrived they found a few gnawed limbs and a trail of blood that led to a network of caves nearby.
Sounds too horrific to be true, right?
That’s because it isn’t. No local police authorities have any reports that even remotely this far fetched account. This story is a perfect example of a local urban legend, designed to terrify all who hear it and keep them far from Prince George County’s isolated rural areas.
I’ve mentioned the cautionary and warning tone of much folklore, and it’s easy to see the purpose of the spread of this story. Teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are very real concerns for youngsters and their parents, especially in those more prudish times when a child born out of wedlock could be seen as a source of shame for a family. What better way to dissuade teens from going too far in isolated parking spots than with the threat of a diabolical half human-half beast axe-maniac looking to slaughter anybody he catches in his domain?
This was certainly furthered in June 1963, when a young in Huntingdon spotted a strange creature staring at them from the woodland. The Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal blog boasts a quote from the woman describing the voyeur as a “tall, ragged animal with human-like features.”
This account went on to become a part of the mythos of what became a very popular campfire story throughout the area, which in turn probably played a significant role in a number of sporadic sightings of the Goatman over the years. However, by the end of the decade the story had all but died off… until April 1971.
That was the month in which a Huntington farmer reported seeing a large humanoid creature chewing away at the carcass of one of his pigs. He managed to frighten the beastie away, but in the November of that same year the Goatman returned.
Reports claim that a 16-year-old girl, April Edwards, in Bowie, MD, was woken in the night by her dog Ginger barking.
When she went to the window to check on the dog she saw a tall, furry creature, walking on two legs towards the spot where the dog was chained. Terrified, Edwards dashed to her phone and called for help. Soon after, two baseball-bat wielding neighbours came to her aid, chasing the beast (which was said to have emitted an ear-piercing scream as it fled) into the woods. When they returned they discovered the dog’s decapitated head in the girl’s garden. The Goatman had taken the body with him.
This story garnered plenty of coverage, and even appeared in reputable newspaper, The Washington Post. And with that the legend of the Goatman was back with a vengeance.
Further sightings of the monster came in March 1973, when a man driving along Route 32 saw a “huge beast on two legs with glowing eyes” (http://cryptozoo-oscity.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/mayland-goatman-urban-legend-or.html?m=1) and in April 1977 when a NASA engineer of all people, claimed to have seen a “Bigfoot-type creature” hurling the remains of a dead dog onto the highway. This was just the first of many ‘dead dog chucking’ reports which continued on into the Eighties. There has even been a Maryland Goatman sighting as recently as the new Millennium. This is a story that refuses to lay down and die, and through the years, it has evolved to take in other Maryland landmarks, including reports that the creature is the result of illegal science experiments that took place at the nearby U.S. Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, or at the suitably spooky Glenn Dale Hospital, which previously served as a tuberculosis sanitarium.
But the Goatman is not limited to Maryland. Again in the Fifties, another longstanding local legend was born, this time in Jefferson County, Kentucky. This half-man/half-goat beastie is said to live under an old railway bridge over Pope Lick Creek. As such this particular Goatman has come to be known as the Pope Lick Monster.
The first sighting came from a group of Boy Scouts who claim to have been chased from their campsite by the Monster. Since then it has become another cautionary tale for local teens, and has been blamed for a series of mysterious livestock mutilations in the area.
Most upsetting are the reports that the Pope Luck Monster has caused the death of multiple teens by luring them onto the rail bridge, where they have then fallen to their deaths or been killed by one of the regular freight trains heading to nearby Louisville. The stories claim that the Monster uses voice mimicry (sound familiar?) or even hypnosis to draw the teens to their deaths.
Sadly, it seems the story itself may be the real source of this tragic accidents with thrill-seeking teens and paranormal investigators often straying into the bridge because of its association with the Monster, then falling afoul of these hazards.
There are also monstrous Goatman local legends in as many as 13 other states (including: Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Florida; Indiana; Louisiana; Michigan; Missouri; Oregon; Texas; Washington; and Wisconsin!)
In short, Goatmen are an intrinsic part of modern-American folklore.
But it is their link to Native American legends that has seen the Goatman’s latest evolution into Creepypasta icon. Recent horror fiction creators have mined Native American mythology for monsters, with the cannibalistic Wendigo featured in multiple tales including the films Ravenous and Dark Was The Night, episodes of TV shows including Grimm and the long-running Supernatural, and even videogames including the smash-hit Until Dawn. This interest in Native American lore has seen increased interest in the shape-shifting Skinwalkers, which have also seen a surge in popularity in genre media. It is these latter beings which best match the Goatman story.
Navajo legends feature the yenaaldlooskii, an evil shaman who utilises black magic to take on the form of a number of dangerous creatures, while in Quechan native legends a goat-like skinwalker serves as the bogeyman in cautionary tales told by parents to scare children into not wandering around the reservation after dark.
The indigenous people of Maryland (there again!) the Piscataway tribe have their own stories of the terrible Oakee, a devilish spirit that stalked the woods which was capable of changing shape and whose true form was said to be monstrous.
Surely it is these last few legends that influenced Anansi’s story?
Whatever, may have inspired it, the 4chan thread has gone on to become one of the most influential pastas yet, spawning a whole sub-genre of web fiction and even legitimate cryptozoological studies of this creature and others like it.
The story spread steadily across the internet after its posting to 4chan. It was posted on the Creepypasta Wiki on 29 December 2012 , with links and rewrites soon appearing on multiple sites, including Reddit’s r/creepypasta in January 2013 (https://www.reddit.com/r/creepypasta/comments/16d8qw/goatman/). At each site it reached more readers and gathered more fans.
Soon it became the focus of all the usual Creepypasta attention, which includes readings from prominent YouTubers, including this sterling effort from Mr Creepypasta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_ZRRGW3SIg .
But more than that, and far more unusually, Anansi’s story sparked a host of copycat stories and sightings of other such shape-shifting monsters. Many of these are clearly fictional, but fascinatingly, a number are presented of true and genuine encounters with something unexplained and quite terrifying.
Sites and forums have opened up online where people talk about Goatmen (and their monstrous brethren, the Skinwalkers described above and another type beast that some web users have dubbed Fleshgaits).
I reached out to this community about these stories and sightings, and one regular contributor to reddit’s r/fleshgait sub, u/CanadianPepsi was kind enough to answer my questions.
When I asked him to explain the difference between these entities, he replied: ‘For Goatmen the stories are usually that a group of hikers/campers/boyscouts are in the woods and all of a sudden people start smelling copper and they notice that there is an extra member of the group that no one knew. These people either run away and lose the extra person or they attack it. If they attack the ‘Goatman’ they will find out that these extra people are invincible and survive extensive injuries without showing any external wounds. Goatmen are the most harmless of the three.
‘Skinwalkers are Navajo witches and aren’t really related to the others but at first when Fleshgaits were thought up on /x/ people called them Skinwalkers. Later people found out that this name was already in use and came up with the word ‘Fleshgait’ which basically is just another word for skin and another word for walk put together. You don’t usually see any stories of Skinwalkers outside of the Navajo folklore and when someone says in a story that they encountered one, they usually mean either a Fleshgait or a Goatman.
‘Fleshgait stories are the most common but sometimes they will be misnamed as a Skinwalker story or sometimes a Goatman story. Fleshgaits are inhuman creatures that will follow a group of people in the woods. The stories usually start our as a ‘camping trip gone wrong’ and then things get worse. A friend will go missing for a few hours and come back, but this time they look off. Their skin will be loose in odd places and they will only say things that they have heard before, mimicking words and phrases that the group had said once they entered the woods. Like Goatmen, Fleshgaits are supposed to smell like copper, sometimes along with rancid meat or feces.
‘In stories Fleshgaits will try to lure individual members of a group into the woods alone, then once they have been skinned and eaten, the Fleshgait will use their skin to lure more people into the woods for other Fleshgaits to eat them and take their skin. It’s usually implied that the end goal of Fleshgaits is to infiltrate human society and kill everyone.’
Fascinated by these responses, I asked CanadianPepsi about the stories and accounts of these phenomena that have resonated most strongly with him.
CanadianPepsi replied: ‘The most convincing stories I’ve read have been shorter and not embellished. One of them that comes to mind was a group of kids walking along a path in the woods before a twitchy woman with loose skin walked out and started repeating “Help me please.” in the same monotone voice until one of the kids asked if it was okay. It’s “Help me please” turned into “Are you okay?” in the exact same voice as the kid. They ran and never looked back, which I think adds to some believably. A lot of the stories that continue and get elaborate don’t seem real, I mean who spends longer than they have to in that kind of situation?
‘Just the strange encounters that people have in the woods outside of the ‘Fleshgait’ community are enough to believe in the inhuman. I’ve read police reports about people seeing ‘buzzing’ people with loose skin in national parks who mimic everything they say.
‘There’s some really interesting stuff if you go looking for it, but just the odd encounter every once in a while that people don’t connect to Fleshgaits/Goatmen until they read about them makes it hard for me to deny a possibility of these things existing. I’m somewhat biased as someone who wants to believe, but those are my thoughts on whether or not it’s believable.’
While discussing these reports with CanadianPepsi, I mentioned the somewhat eclectic nature of the storytellers, varying as they do from authors of fiction, to those who ‘play along’ with the lore, right through to those who swear that these are very real encounters with very real creatures. He gave me a fascinating response.
‘There are certainly people who write about them as fiction and those that treat it like an ARG, but it’s interesting because most of the people who genuinely believe in Fleshgaits/Goatmen also understand that it was made up on /x/.
‘One of the ‘theories’ is that Fleshgaits weren’t real before, but now that they’ve been thought of a sort of Tulpa has created them.
‘I honestly can’t say I don’t believe in something like a Goatman/Fleshgait existing but I don’t think it’s worth being worried about it.’
That these creatures may have been summoned into existence by the sheer power of belief takes what is already a very creepy idea and just makes it that little bit more spine-chilling.
With growing communities of fans and an ever increasing audience interested in the subject matter, it will come as no surprise to see that Anansi’s story and the surrounding mythology has proved a ripe source of inspiration for other creative types.
One of few most polished — and most faithful to the source material — is the fantastic short film, Weirdo.
You can watch this wonderfully entertaining piece of Creepypasta brought to life here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FuXeI7nn78
Directed by the very talented Herbert Moran and starring a number of his High School friends (some of whom were still students when the films was shot), this 2014 short packs in plenty of low-budget but extremely well-crafted frights into its runtime.
A lot of film adaptations of creepypastas veer quite far from the source material, taking the story as a source of inspiration rather than adhering to the tale. This often causes some consternation in viewers as they are invariably fans of the original story and want to see that brought to life, not an imitation.
Moran’s Weirdo is notable for exactly the opposite — it is extremely true to its inspiration and, I think, is all the stronger for it. The film has proven popular with Goatman aficionados and horror fans alike, making it a resounding success.
The director, Moran, was kind enough to agree to speak with me about his film:
STEVEN HICKEY: Hi Herbert, thanks for agreeing to talk to me.
First, can you tell us a little about Weirdo.
HERBERT MORAN:Weirdo is a short film based on Anansi’s Goatman Creepypasta. It’s about a group of teenagers that go camping in the woods and find themselves tormented by a creature that can shape-shift, the Goatman.
SH: Why The Goatman? What drew you to the story?
HM: My cinematographer, Bradley Laird, introduced me to the story. Right after reading it we began discussing the possibility of making it into a short film. What drew me to the story was the folktale structure and how incredibly uncomfortable it made me feel.
SH: Why do you think fans enjoy the story and your adaptation of it?
HM: I think the fans like the story because it’s a tale you can tell to your friends on a camping trip and one or more of your friends might have a hard time falling asleep that night. At the core of it it’s about never knowing when you’re safe or who to trust. All while being stuck in the middle of the woods.
SH: Are you a fan of Creepypasta? If so, what are your favourites?
HM: The Goatman was actually the first creepypasta I read so I knew very little at the time. After I posted the trailer to the film on Reddit, a few fans messaged me and had recommendations for other stories to check out and from those one of my other favorites is The Russian Sleep Experiment.
SH: Your adaptation is very faithful to the source material, with just a few minor plot changes. Would you care to explain your decision making process here?
HM: Some of the changes were due to cutting the story down shorter since it was a short film and also adapting to our circumstances. We had a very tight schedule and shot the film in 3 days and two nights a couple of hours from where we all lived. For the most part I stuck to the original story because to put it simply, it worked.
SH: Were you able to track down the original author? Did he/she have any input in the film?
HM: Unfortunately I never tracked down the author. I spent weeks searching but had no luck. I would have loved to collaborated with them and get their input on my adaptation.
SH: What were the major challenges of adapting the story? And what were your favourite moments during the filming/editing process?
HM: One of my biggest challenges was creating a screenplay that felt real and had a tone, like the original story. Writing the dialogue was difficult and we ended up changing a lot of it on set. It was a collaborative effort that the actors helped me out with a lot.
There were a lot of great moments on and off set. All of the cast and crew were my friends so we had a blast hanging out and making each other laugh. They really motivated me and helped me keep my head on my shoulders. Without them I couldn’t have made the film so I consider myself really lucky.
Postproduction was a great experience and one of my favorite aspects of it was creating the sound design. The actor that plays Billy, Chris Harold, was the voice of the Goatman. Recording with him was really cool because he gave me a lot of takes to work with and I think that scene, when we hear the Goatman speak, ended up being one of the more effective scenes in the film.
SH: Do you have any plans to adapt any other creepypastas into short films?
HM: I have not considered making another adaptation. Though, the idea of creating a 90 minute feature of the Goatman has been lingering in my head recently.
SH: And finally, where is the best place for my readers to find out more about your work and upcoming projects?
HM: I have two Vimeo channels: https://vimeo.com/herbertmoran
Weirdo isn’t the only attempt to bring Anansi’s story of paranoia and the supernatural to the big screen — in 2014 US filmmaker Brendan James attempted to raise funds for a Goatman film on indiegogo (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-goatman/x/9135). Sadly, it appears James was unsuccessful.
It is a testament to Anansi’s humble 4Chan tale that the story continues to grow and inspire fellow artists.
Come back next time when I will look more closely at some of the stories that Anansi has inspired, and precisely why this story has proven such an enduring tale of terror.