Supposedly True (but Probably Not, and That’s OK) Weird Tales5 min read

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I’m a skeptic. If you tell me a story about a ghost or that time you saw Bigfoot, my instinctive reaction is to look at the evidence and figure out what non–supernatural reason there might be for something so seemingly weird. But I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the truth gets in the way of a good story. With that in mind, I dug up some of my favorite weird encounters based purely on how utterly bonkers the story is. Nevermind that this is probably a collection of drunken hoaxes and sheer lunacy. It’s the untruth that matters, for once.

The Kentucky Invasion

The Sutton family was preparing for a quiet evening in their farmhouse located between the Kentucky towns of Kelly and Hopkinsville. It was August, 1955. A family friend, Billy Ray Taylor, was visiting. All was well. None of the shotguns in the house had been fired. Like any good Kentucky story, that was about to change.

Billy Ray was the first to spot a strange object in the sky. Not long after, he and Elmer Sutton spotted a goblin dressed in silver coming out of the woods. They opened fire, and the creature retreated, but they couldn’t track it. Then someone spotted another creature on the house. They shot that one too. These bizarre, mute goblins kept popping up, only to catch both barrels from Billy Ray or a Sutton (there were eleven people in all present for the encounter, including the Sutton children, who probably had their own shotguns). Whenever one of the goblins was shot, it made a sound like bolts rattling in a metal bucket, then turned and drifted away—their legs seemed useless, so they appeared to float through the air when they moved.

Everyone retreated into the house, but the creatures would appear in a window, scaring the kids. The windows paid a heavy price, since most of them were blasted out by shotgun blasts meant for the creatures. Eventually the whole clan (plus Billy Ray) fled to find the police, who returned to investigate. Sure enough, they found a farmhouse that had been blasted to shit with shotguns. Once authorities left, the “attacks” resumed.

The Suttons initially reported the incident but came to resent publicity and attention. There are two ways to read this story: a terrifying night of relentless attacks by some of the weirdest alien creatures ever reported, or as a gut–busting comedy with the trigger–happy Suttons demolishing their own house while being goaded by invulnerable space gremlins.

The Maracaibo Incident

The December 18, 1886 issue of Scientific American carried news of a bizarre incident that, presumably, cost the lives of an entire family of nine. The family was asleep in a “hut” not far from Maracaibo, Venezuela when they were awakened by a dazzling light and a weird humming sound. Shortly, they were afflicted with “violent vomitings, and extensive swellings commenced to appear in the upper part of their bodies, this being particularly noticeable about the face and lips.”

The account goes on: “The brilliant light was not accompanied by a sensation of heat, although there was a smoky appearance and a peculiar smell. The next morning the swellings had subsided, leaving upon the face and body large black blotches. No special pain was felt until the ninth day, when the skin peeled off, and these blotches were transformed into virulent raw sores.”

If their injuries sound suspiciously like radiation burns, consider that the report even describes the wounds and hair loss being more severe on the side that faced the light. The author says the family was taken to a hospital, but no other word of their fate is given. If they really were subjected to radiation intense enough to cause such injuries, they almost certainly died and in a bad way.

What could cause such a massive radioactive burst in 1886? I can think of a few potential scientific explanations, but I can imagine lots of non–scientific ones too.

The Mormon and the Biblical Bigfoot

I’m not any kind of expert on Mormonism, but it’s apparent to even the most casual observer that they love creating epic myths about themselves. So it’s not terribly surprising that a story about a Mormon who might have had a run–of–the–mill Bigfoot sighting became a legendary meeting with a character straight out of a famous Bible story.

First, a quick Bible studies refresher: Adam and Eve’s first children were sons, Cain and Abel. They both made offerings to God, and God liked Abel’s offering while spurning Cain’s. Jealous, Cain murdered his brother then pretended he didn’t know where Abel was when God called him on it. Being God, God knew what was up, so he cursed Cain. In some interpretations of the story, Cain walks the Earth forever, unable to die, and he is some kind of avatar of evil—the First Murderer.

Enter David W. Patten. Patten converted to Mormonism in the early 1800s. In the 1830s, he became an Apostle and was sent to travel the Eastern U.S. converting others. It was on this trip that he supposedly met Cain… in Paris, Tennessee of all places. As Patten told it, while walking a lonely road, a tall, hairy, dark–skinned man stepped out of the woods. The two debated spiritual issues for hours, as one does when one meets a hairy beast–man on a lonely road. In some tellings, Patten concluded later that he had met the actual Biblical Cain, while in other versions, the man tells him he is Cain, and that he wanders the Earth looking for people to try and relieve him of the burden of eternal life.

20th century Mormons hit on the idea that Patten had met a Sasquatch. I’m not sure if that means it wasn’t Cain or that all Sasquatches are descended from Cain. I’m far from being a religious person, but Judeo–Christian mythology is a piece of work.

The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

This one doesn’t need any supernatural causes to be super weird. It all happened in the mid–1940s in Mattoon, Illinois. Imagine you’re in your home when you smell something weird: foul, sour, or maybe sickly sweet. You go to investigate, but soon find your limbs growing numb. Or maybe it’s too late, and you find yourself paralyzed, unable to move at all even though you remain fully aware of what’s happening. What is happening? A poison gas attack!

An entire wave of these attacks swept the town. On a few occasions, witnesses saw a prowler near where the attacks occurred. People reported trouble breathing or a burning sensation in the mouth or nose. As more and more reports rolled in, they became progressively weirder (I know I promised no skeptic stuff, but if ever there was a perfect example of mass hysteria, it’s this case). People saw gas machines emitting strange sounds. The prowler appeared to be a woman in men’s clothing. Colored vapors filled the air. And then it all stopped.

It turns out there had been a similar wave of attacks in Virginia in the 1930s. These attacks were similar, but one had the chilling addition of a makeshift barricade set up outside a home’s door to trap the occupants inside with the gas.

It’s kind of interesting to contemplate the whole genre of phantom attacker waves (the most well–known is probably Spring–Heeled Jack) and how they’re a weird and creepy manifestation of whatever particular anxieties are vexing a given society at a given time. It’s also pretty interesting to imagine a lunatic in a gas mask gassing people’s homes as some kind of terrifying serial killing spree (no one died in any of the attacks), or even a twisted robbery scheme. Plus, “Mad Gasser of Mattoon” has a hell of a ring to it.

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