Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2016  Vol. 15 No. 2
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The Lizard Man

I’m from Lee County, South Carolina. Bishopville: Home of the Lizard Man. On June 29, 1988, a local boy, seventeen at the time, blew a tire driving home late from work. He had just finished changing it beside Scape Ore Swamp when a tall, slathering creature lunged out of the woods. The boy dove into his car and locked the doors. He fumbled with his keys as reptilian fingers ripped at the driver’s side handle. The scaly creature leapt onto the roof and clawed at his windshield. Swerving at high speed, the boy threw the cryptid from his car.

I love this story because the kid survived.

I am both skeptic and believer. This incident screams teenager driving late (possible drinking involved), wrecks car, doesn’t want to get in trouble. Story invented, punishment averted. What’s interesting is how the event escalated. The boy’s father believed his shaken son and filed a report with the police. I would have told my son to tell the truth, but my boy never made it to seventeen.

After the Lizard Man sighting, other incidents of car vandalism were reported around Scape Ore Swamp. The Lizard Man made our small town exciting. It put us on the map. Before the Lizard Man, and mostly after, there wasn’t much to do.


Wendy was fifteen when we began to date, my dark-haired Carolina girl. I courted her through high school, walking fields at night. We held hands and pointed our flashlights into the woods, searching for the Lizard Man. We tore off each other’s flannel shirts and jeans in a clearing beside the swamp. Her back arched over pine needles.

I have a theory about the Lizard Man. I don’t think he’s a man at all. I think the Lizard Man is a woman. Female cryptids scare me far worse.

My dad took me to a turkey shoot when I was a kid. Players shoot shotguns at paper plates pinned to hay bales. The shooter with the most plate holes wins, traditionally a turkey, but usually there’s just a cooler with six-packs or frozen chickens, take your pick. A grizzled hunter sat on a tailgate, coverall suspenders unclipped, gut hanging out. He asked me if I knew how Scape Ore Swamp got its name.

“Escape over?” I said. “Like you get over it?”

“It comes from the Revolutionary War,” he said. “A whore was tailing around after a British company. The officer threatened to hang her and she escaped into the swamp. Scape whore swamp.”

I pictured the woman in a thin dress, splashing through the swamp, briar-torn, hounds chasing her. Maybe she didn’t escape. Maybe hounds ripped her apart. Maybe an alligator dragged her underwater and stuffed her corpse under a bank to eat later.

I’m not saying the whore became—evolved into—the Lizard Man, although that’s certainly possible. What’s more likely, and this phenomenon is well documented, is that a tragic event spawned a dark aura that later manifested as a creature, a cryptid. Even disbelievers will admit that after a truly horrible thing happens, there’s a bad vibe around a place.

Take Wendigos. A giant bipedal cryptid from the Northwoods with glowing eyes, matted hair, yellow fangs and a long tongue, a Wendigo is created when a person resorts to cannibalism to survive. Translated from Cree, Wendigo means “evil that devours.” Like Sasquatch, they have a notorious, foul odor. Wendigos crave human flesh and grow in proportion to what they eat. Gluttony only increases their emaciated hunger.


Wendy and I had been married for six years. We were on a hot streak chasing monsters. We snowshoed down logging trails in Wisconsin over fresh powder, packs loaded with gear. The silence when we stopped to rest made us feel uneasy. Unlike Bigfoot hunts, which you prepare for by drinking concentrated lemon juice for three weeks to rid yourself of body odor, with Wendigos, you want them to smell you.

Wendy and I ate aged steak, two meals per day, ten days straight. Meat exuded from our pores. We set up a perimeter in the snow with strategically placed speakers and played a continuous loop of our son, Chad. I had lifted the audio track from a video I recorded when he was four—a summer picnic at a state park in South Carolina. Chad swam in the shallows of a spring-fed lake. “Marco,” he said. “Marco,” his eyes closed as we giggled, not answering. The words didn’t really matter; you could hear his bleating, a child calling for his parents. I imagined Wendy and me back then, on the bank in Carolina, fading, disappearing as the sun set over cypress and Chad splashed, crying out for us. In the swamp, the Lizard Man opened its red eyes.

Wendy had agreed the recording was perfect for luring in a Wendigo. We hid in the pines and played the track on loop, four hours of listening to our son asking where we were. The temperature dropped. Our breath fogged and we turned our headlamps off. The air changed, the atmosphere, my blood. I crouched in the snow beside Wendy, my heart thrashing. Chad bleated, “Marco, Marco.” Something circled us.

I grabbed Wendy as she tried to pull away, toward what was out there. My body heat rose as I pinned her down. I smelled the Wendigo’s rotten decay. “Shhhh,” I said, “shhhh,” as the loop played. I sensed the Wendigo towering over us, ribs rising and falling as it smelled us, our skin, our sweat, our fear, licking its fangs with its long tongue, ready to consume us, and would have, too, had Wendy not screamed. “Come get us! Come get us you giant stinking bastard!” She sobbed and I whispered in her ear, as if calling her back.


My son’s fifth Christmas—you’ve never seen a boy so happy. He was a smaller version of myself, only better, perfect. The four-wheeler shined in the garage. Wendy said we couldn’t afford it, that Chad was too young. The grass sparkled, everything encased in ice. “Get your shoes and jacket,” I said and cranked the four-wheeler. I shifted into reverse and backed out of the garage. Cold sliced through my undershirt. “Get your helmet,” Wendy said from the steps. “Let Dad ride with you.”

“Aw,” Chad said. “Come on.”

I snapped on his helmet, adjusted the straps, and lifted him onto the four-wheeler. I placed his hands on the handles and showed him how to squeeze the brakes and give it gas with his right thumb. “I’ll teach you how to change gears later,” I said. “Take her out, easy.” Chad crept around the yard, my prince in the glistening Jack Frost. I was already thinking about the rifle rack I’d install in a few years. He drove in three slow circles. I turned to Wendy, standing in her new silk robe, arms crossed. “See?” I said. “He’s doing fine.”

Her voice cut the air. I spun around to see my son, emboldened, heading toward the steep slope that angled sharply to the road. “Chad!” I shouted. If I had let him continue at his own determined pace, he might have been just fine, just had a little scare, but I startled him. He gunned the gas and the four-wheeler leapt into the air. Five hundred pounds tumbled back. I lifted the four-wheeler off my son. Blood spilled from his mouth like he had thrown up cherry syrup. For a second, I thought that’s all it was. He stared at me, pale, shaking.

The ambulance pulled in, sirens, lights flashing in our driveway. We sped to the hospital where the doctor in the ER pronounced my world dead. He gave us Xanax to ease the shock. I handed my pills to Wendy. She took hers and pocketed mine. Maybe I hoped the drugs would take the edge off her bitterness, the anger that would inevitably harden against me as grief set in. Back home, wrapped in a blanket, hair tangled, and silent, she locked herself in our bedroom.


By spring, I lived with a ghost. Wendy had turned gaunt. Bags ballooned beneath her eyes. Her hair fell out. On rare occasions when we went out, people stared at her. They thought she was on meth. I could see it in their eyes—what a shame, she could be so pretty. They glared at me. I wanted to shout at them that it wasn’t my fault. I focused on Wendy instead. I opened doors for her and cooked meals she barely ate. More than anything, I became very quiet.

Unable to sleep, I walked country roads at night. I wandered with a flashlight, first just to get out of the house, but gradually my thoughts turned to the Lizard Man, lunging out of the swamp after that boy.

I read old newspapers. I collected things, not cheap memorabilia either, but real artifacts. Glass from a window the Lizard Man had smashed. A broken antenna from a mangled car. A photograph of a field—in the woods, a slouched figure, too tall to be a man. I documented findings on our dining table and stored them in plastic bins. I found news clippings and pictures in different orders than I had left them. I didn’t say anything to Wendy. But I could feel her slowly coming back to me. When I laced my boots one evening, heading out for another walk, it was everything I could do not to hug her when haggard and hollow-eyed she pulled on a baggy sweater to join me. We didn’t talk that first night. The next week, we shined our lights into the woods, into thickets, through Spanish moss and canebrakes, searching for the Lizard Man. We stumbled through our days exhausted, but at night we lived. We hunted.

One night, Wendy steered our walk back to the clearing where we first made love. She attacked me there. She tore my pants down and pulled me on top of her. She clawed me as I entered her. “Fuck me,” she said. “Fuck me harder you fucking goddamn Lizard Man.”

I understood. She was never going to forgive me.


Wendy organized the first Lizard Man hunt. She placed an ad in the newspaper: Bring Your Own Flashlight. She stood in the bed of a pickup truck, speaking before the event started. In the dusky light, she looked like the woman I married. “Would it be possible,” a bearded man in a camo beret said, “for the Lizard Man to breed with another cryptid? A skunk ape, perhaps?”

“Cats don’t breed with dogs,” Wendy said. “Every cryptid is the result of unique environmental circumstances. Let’s take our subject seriously. There are monsters, and they walk among us. Trust me, I know. The Lizard Man mated me. Or I should say, tried to. I didn’t get pregnant, so no, crossbreeding is not possible.”

After the hunt started, I wondered into a thicket, furious with Wendy, deeply stung, like she had denied us, Chad, what had happened. Moonlight filtered through magnolias, glinted off Spanish moss. Voices murmured in the fog. It felt like they were hunting me.

The next morning, Wendy sat on the couch, eyes bloodshot, holding a cup of coffee. She hadn’t slept. “If we are going to do this,” she said, “we are going all in.”


We sold our house. I bought a Dodge Ram 4x4 and a camper trailer. We purchased professional equipment: night-vision cameras, wireless speakers, sonic listening devices. We traveled, investigating cryptids.

Wendy had taken a special interest in La Lechuza, a witch-bird that inhabits the Southwest. Giant red-eyed owls that summon bad weather and mimic voices to draw prey closer, Lechuzas are women who have returned from the grave to seek revenge.

Wendy called an outfitter in New Mexico to inquire about an area where we suspected high levels of Lechuza activity.

“Have you heard of any unusual reports in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains?” Wendy said on speakerphone.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” the man said.

“We’re investigating La Lechuza. A witch-owl known to be—”

“I know what a Lechuza is, lady,” the man said. “I’ve hiked those mountains my entire life and never seen any Lechuza, Bigfoot either.”

“But there’s still a chance,” Wendy said, “that there could be something out there.”

“You’re batshit crazy,” the man said and hung up.

Wendy continued speaking over the dial tone. She got down on the camper’s floor, on her back, and explained in a trancelike state, “La Lechuza hunts the night, a malicious witch-owl on silent wings in search of prey.” She cupped her hands, placed them to her lips, and blew a haunting call. Standing over her, it looked like she was not only calling in the witch-spirit, but offering herself as prey.


We hiked into a remote canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It was hot, despite a thunderstorm that had ripped through that morning dumping rain. We climbed switchbacks into mountains, up though ponderosa pine and aspen. We bushwhacked across a ridge and descended into a separate canyon, then dropped our packs in a spruce clearing, thirty yards from a swollen creek that plunged into the gorge, smashing through boulders. We secured our perimeter with motion cameras and wireless speakers. After sunset, we made final adjustments in the dim light of our headlamps. Then, I pressed play.

Eerie calls permeated the night, rising over the steady rush of the creek, a new track that I had engineered—Chad calling, “Mom?” Simple, efficient. A child asking for his mother. I set up the camera on a tripod, then sat down beside Wendy on the foam pad. She pulled a blanket over us and rested her head on my shoulder. We held each other’s hands, her fingers curled around mine, and listened.

Not once, not even on those first nights walking by myself after we had lost our son, had I ever felt nothing. Zero, not one hair raise. I was upset, deeply disturbed that Chad’s voice hadn’t worked.

Dense fog settled in. At dawn, my legs painfully numb from sitting still all night, I slowly packed the equipment. I turned off the camera. The backup battery flashed on its final bar. Wendy stretched. She cupped her hands to her mouth. I thought to warm them, but she blew an owl call, perfect, haunting. I cut the audio recording of Chad. The speakers popped. Then, inexplicably, we heard it. “Mom.” Clear, undeniable. Our eyes shot to each other, hearts stopped at the mimicked voice. We heard it, once more, a deeper “Mom” from across the creek, what Chad might have sounded like a few years older if he had still been with us. Wendy had already started forward in a motion that somehow seemed both slow and quicker than I had anticipated. “It’s an echo,” I said, tripping over wires as I tried to stop her. She disappeared into the fog. I slung the equipment, ripping wires free, and stumbled after her. The swollen creek stopped me. It raged, cascading into the canyon. Thick white fog blanketed the far bank. A cold wind rushed up the valley and swept the mist away, only to reveal an empty landscape.  

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