Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: Know Your Monsters - The Blemmyes




In this hyper-political age we’ve seen what seems to be an almost unending debate among the political class of this land over the highly charged topic of immigration reform. Countless hours are spent arguing whether this person or that person should be allowed citizenship for this country, whether still others should even be allowed into the country at all, and of course whether or not we’re giving some “a free pass” to citizenship. But what we have not seen, my friends, is the much more important question addressed. Should these people be able to bring their monsters with them?

Because, let’s face it, until this is addressed they will continue to come and eventually you will be faced with a kill or be killed situation with a creature that doesn’t follow the rules as you know them. Since we can’t count on legislation, we’ll have to turn to education. To that end, this series will give you the basics on the monsters that you only think you know but in fact play by other cultural rules. Today we look at the Blemmyes.

If you, like me, grew up anywhere near a historic battlefield, a stretch of train tracks, a large, abandoned factory, or a TV set that played Disney specials in the weeks before Halloween, you have seen or heard the legends of headless men and women. The typical story goes along the lines of some poor guy losing his head to a cannonball, falling asleep drunk on the tracks, having a broken piece of factory machinery separating his head from his shoulders, etc. From this point forward the headless corpse would wander the woods, walk the tracks, or shamble around the now closed factory looking for his lost head. In a pinch though, not being able to find his own, he’d be more than happy to take yours and try it on for a fitting.

The way you stopped these headless head hunters of the night was by getting their lower bits back together with their upper bit. This was always made rather easy since it didn’t require anything as troublesome as having five or six of your best mates restraining them while you busy yourself Googling the best cross-stitch method to secure a head back onto a neck. No, as Darren McGavin showed us to the great horror of classic motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere, you could pretty much just get away with brushing up on your dodgeball skills and landing a good pitch square into your headless opponent’s chest.

As such, you’ve told yourself that you know what you need to do should you ever come across one of these things. In fact, you’ve probably already readied yourself with a simple four-step plan- Avoid death, find head, reconnect body to head with a Harlem Globetrotters styled Wrap Around Pass for extra style points, and tell the story over beers at the favorite local watering hole.

Well… Not so fast.

You see, as our melting pot society has brought people in from all over the world, the chance of running into those other types of headless hunters has increased. These would be the Blemmyes, and they are neither the undead nor ghosts. They are also, despite the absence of a head, not exactly faceless. Their mouth, eyes, and (sometimes) nose can be found on the torso. This means, as you’ve already worked out, there is no head to find to reunite with the body.

Historical documentation of the Blemmyes is actually rather interesting, giving us possible indications of a nomadic creature as well a little interesting variety. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about them, calling them Akephaloi, in his histories (450s BC) and described them as tribe of creatures in the part of the world that would today be modern Libya. Roughly four hundred years later, Pliny the Elder wrote about them in Natural History as existing in what would today be Ethiopia. They were later described by others as an entire tribe inhabiting the lower parts of Nubia, along the Nile region towards the Red Sea. Jumping ahead more than a few centuries, John Mandeville placed them in Asia in his The Travels of Sir John Mandeville from the mid-1300s.  Sir Walter Raleigh wrote about them in 1595, calling them Ewaipanoma and while placing them in Guiana. Just a few years later, Shakespeare wrote about them in Othello, naming them Anthropophagi.

Depending on which history you read, you’ll find the creatures to range from amazingly stupid to actually somewhat clever. At the extreme end of stupid, one of their most common modern names, Blemmyes, was actually constructed from two Hebrew terms that together would mean “no brains.” This particular name for them has long been credited as being coined by Samuel Bochart from sometime in the early 1600s.

They have also been given slightly differing physical descriptions as well as the above small rolodex full of differing names. The most common description of the various Blemmyes describes them as no more hairy than your next door neighbor. The females were mostly smooth skinned while males could have varying but “normal” levels of body hair. Still others were described as having thick- also sometimes very coarse and curly -body hair in all places other than their face. This hair was said to give them a very animalistic appearance.

Then there were their faces…

Some are described as having noses, some aren’t. With some Blemmyes the eyes are placed on the chest, the mouths just under the pectoral muscles. Some others have a mouth lower down the abdomen while still others have their eyes on the front of their shoulders. Some were even said to be a form of Cyclops, possessing only one eye in the center of their chest. Most of the more human looking of the Blemmyes had eyes and teeth in line with those of a normal human; only slightly enlarged. Some others, primarily those with the more animalistic amounts of body hair, were described as having animal-like eyes and teeth; sometimes with long, pointed upper and lower fangs protruding several inches past their enlarged lips.

Most all of them were described at one time or another as cannibals.

Now, I can see you working this out in your head. This isn’t too great of a problem. People without heads would tend to stick it in a modern society and regularly scheduled visits to the beach or pool would likely keep you out of harm’s way for large periods of the year. Problem largely solved. Plus, hey, some of them have no real brains, and you, being smarter than someone with no brains, can easily outsmart the dumb ones. It’s all good then.

Well, maybe not. In reverse order…

You’re probably smarter than a bear, but I wouldn’t give you really great odds if you found yourself unexpectedly matched up against one. These things are strong, with levels of strength starting at your average strong dude and then going up from there. Also keep in mind that they have teeth, sometimes very animalistic teeth, on their chests or guts. Get tackled to the ground and end up in a wrestling match with one and pretty much 90% of the BJJ you learned from watching your UFC PPV DVDs over and over again won’t do you a lot of good when it comes to fending off life threatening bite wounds.

With the smart ones, you’re looking at creatures that will have developed fighting arts parallel to our development of the finer forms of beating the snot out of each other. If you know some good hand to hand, it’s just as likely they to know it or some other similar technique. Plus, these things have been known to use weapons beyond just big sticks. Ancient legends had these creatures using bows and arrows, so modern day Blemmyes would likely have little issue with walking around while packing a Springfield Armory XD 3” sub-compact 9mm. 

You’d also be surprised at just how easily a headless creature such as this could walk undetected among us in a modern American city. Some variants of the creature were known to wear a form of headdress that mimicked the general appearance of a normal man from a distance. In this day and age they could easily create something to cause you to mistake them for regular people as they walked in the shadows along the same dimly lit streets that you walk on any given night. Additionally, the hairy ones being more animalistic would stay in the heavily wooded areas just outside of population centers. Hunched over while moving through the thicket during the wee hours of the morning, there’s little doubt one could confuse them with an animal. Reports of “bear” sightings in neighborhood areas could in reality be something else entirely scouting out your living space.

The good news here is that you don’t have to do a great deal of studying in order to learn the ways of killing these monsters. If there’s something that you can get your hands on that will kill you, it will probably kill them. It might take a trifle more effort with some of your favorite instruments of bodily harm, but these are basically just flesh and blood creatures. Plus, hey, even if you can’t kill one, you can always hurt it enough for a quick escape. They’re basically human in form. A good hard knee between the uprights is always a guaranteed* show stopper that should give you a good head start when hightailing it.

Check out the differences in monsters you only think you know with the following links.

Know Your Monsters - The Chinese Vampire

Know Your Monsters - The Isitwalangcengce

Know Your Monsters – The Lake Monster

Know Your Monsters - The Romanian Vampire

*The writer gives no guarantee that a knee between the uprights will actually stop or stun any Blemmyes and takes no responsibility for injuries sustained by readers attempting to defend themselves with a well-placed nut shot.

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

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