About Me; An Argument In Support of Yes on 3

Depraved. Perverted. A pig.

 

These are just some of the things that I have been called in the past week by people who have never met me, just because I am transgender and am advocating that people in MA vote Yes on Ballot Question 3.

 

Of course, they would never admit that was why. They “don’t have a problem with transgenders” in the same way that those who proudly fly their confederate flags don’t have a problem with “the blacks”. What it really comes down to at the end of the day is that it’s all about them. It’s never about us.

 

If you were to call any of these people a bigot, a transphobe, etc, they lament at being victimized. The same people who hurl those most hurtful of insults at me cannot emotionally handle being labeled a bigot.

 

And when it comes to the matter at hand, it is still all about them. THEY are not comfortable sharing a restroom with a transgender person. THEY worry about THEIR wives and daughters being “sexually assaulted” by “crossdressing men”.

 

They worry about THEIR safety.

 

My safety doesn’t matter.

 

It inconveniences THEIR lives.

 

My life does not matter.

 

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I don’t think I look like a depraved, perverted pig, but I could be wrong.

In the two years since the MA Bathroom Bill passed, there has not been a single case of it being abused, nor of anyone suffering negatively from it. (You know this is true, because otherwise the opposition would be off and running with their ‘evidence’.)

 

Not that it should make a difference in all fairness. As I’ve already lamented elsewhere, the actions of one bad person should not condemn an entire group of people. A sex offender will hurt someone regardless of bills like this. In fact, they do in many other states that do not have this bill.

 

One of the sites that supports a “No” for this vote shared this evidence 

 

This page includes incidents of voyeuristic, cisgender (people identifying as the gender that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth), sexual predator men entering women’s rooms. All that their site proves is that straight men are the largest group of sex offenders. None of the states mentioned have the bill in place that we do in MA, also proving that removing the bill will not stop predators from preying on women. All it will do is send the message that transgender people do not deserve equal rights and safety.

 

If “No” voters are so concerned about the safety of women and children, the solution would surely be to demand proper sentencing for sex crimes. Yet men like Brock Turner serve only six months in jail for raping a woman and filming it. The Catholic Church shuffles pedophile Priests off to safety.

 

It’s no accident that the same people I see demanding “No” votes online are never the ones demanding harsher sentencing for sex offenders, or supporting victims of the assaults they are so eager to ‘prevent’. It is because most of those people aren’t actually interested in protecting women (and children) at all; they are interested in controlling them. Because it’s all about them…

 

Transphobia often stems from other bigotries, particularly misogyny and homophobia. (And before you ask, yes, women too can be misogynistic.) These prejudices come from a place that defines gender and sexuality extremely narrowly and in black and white. They believe there are two kinds of people; Normal (like them) and Other (like trans people).

 

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People who fall into the “other” category are seen as being predispositioned to being sexual deviants, despite there being absolutely no evidence that LGBTQ people are more likely than cis and straight people to be such. This (false) belief probably explains why LGBTQ people are so often equated with bestiality, pedophilia, and other unsavory practices. Bigoted people believe if someone is depraved enough to sleep with the same sex, or change their sex, then obviously the next step is to engage in sex acts with a child or animal.

 

All of this, despite the fact that a majority of those such cases can be attributed to straight cis men.

 

Distrust of trans people stems first and foremost from ignorance. Cisgender people do not understand us. And all too often, they have no interest in understanding us either.

 

The biggest hurdle to understanding transness is to first accept that gender and biological sex are two separate things. This concept is very difficult for some to grasp, especially those in the older generation who grew up with a definition that made the two synonymous. Many believe in these absolute truths: If you have a penis you are a man; A vagina, a woman.

 

Some consider these statements to be an undeniable fact, as if written down in the Bible or Constitution or some other outdated, unscientific text they cling to in order to back up their arguments. My favorite of these books that get quoted to me to dehumanize me is the dictionary, a book which they are incapable of using to look up any of the words that I suggest to them such as “intersex” or “parthenogenesis”.

 

Generally speaking, the statements are true. Typically when one is born they are given a gender assignment based on their genitalia. But what if the person is born with a mixture of genitalia? A combination of sex chromosomes? The medical community has been well aware of cases like this the beginning of modern practice.

 

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In some cases, doctors and parents have made the startling decision to “help” their intersex child by removing one of the sets of genitalia and forcing the child to grow up as the gender they decide for them. Occasionally this has worked. But mostly it has gone badly.

 

So it is pretty safe to say that science has proven that biological sex is more complicated than simply male or female. Physical sex exists on a spectrum, covering a wide range of visible and invisible traits, from chromosomes to genitalia.

 

It has been mostly accepted by society that gender expression exists on a spectrum. We no longer require women to wear dresses, and some of the greatest male heartthrobs have had long flowing locks of hair. But the fact is, gender orientation also exists on a spectrum.

 

Even a person born completely biologically female may come to the conclusion that they feel mentally and emotionally masculine. And if that is the case, why are so many unwilling to allow that? What kind of dangerous boundaries does identifying a certain way break?

 

When I came out to my mother I had to take the time to explain to her a lot of things that she had either no, or incorrect, previous knowledge in. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes she didn’t understand. Sometimes she got hurt or upset or angry, an entire range of human emotion I also had difficulty dealing with. And even though it wasn’t always easy, and it took time, she opened up. She listened. She asked questions. She learned.

 

I made her a helpful chart to help explain the current understanding of gender and sexuality, and how it relates to me.

 

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Based on/ Adapted from Sam Killermann‘s “Genderbread Person

She still gets things wrong sometimes. We all do. That’s the beauty of being human. We continue to learn new things every day of our lives, up until the very end. And the most important part, the only thing I can really ask for, is that people admit and accept that.

 

I can remember an interaction vividly from only five short years ago, during a time when I was struggling greatly with my identity. A friend informed me that someone we knew had started using They/Them pronouns. Strangely, the emotion I felt was anger. How dare they just make things up to be special?? Why don’t they just choose one or the other like everyone else? Like I had to!

 

Like I had to?

 

At that time in my life (college at an art school) I had just met my ‘first’ transgender person (an ironic experience in retrospect). My world view on gender had been pretty limited until then. Trans people were more of a myth than flesh and blood. I personally had struggled through middle and highschool with self consciousness, my self expression being based more around survival than identity. I hated my (sizable) breasts, hated how vulnerable I felt in dresses, hated my hair long (but feared being called a lesbian if I cut it). I dressed based on the community I was a part of; emo, scene, punk.

 

Band T-shirts and bright colors from Hottopic were an armor for me; they made me approachable enough, hip enough, femme enough. Bullying was at a minimum.

 

In college I had began an attempt (that many do) to reinvent myself. The trouble was, I still wasn’t sure who I was. I cycled aggressively through phases during this time, jumping from tomboy to high femme, goth and steampunk to vintage dresses. Even on the days where I looked cute or pretty, I still didn’t feel like ‘me’.

 

After a long time of cosplaying (dressing as a character for a convention) almost exclusively males, and befriending a transgender and an agender person, I finally considered the fact that maybe, just maybe…I wasn’t a girl.

 

When friends would jokingly use masculine terms for me, I would get that strange, pleasant flutter in my chest. When friends online would treat me like a boy, I couldn’t help but smile.

 

In retrospect it is painfully obvious, almost comical.

But I felt trapped. I was too old to be trans.

 

In every narrative I’d ever heard, the person in question realizes almost as soon as they are capable of conscious thought that they are “in the wrong body”. They show signs, they struggle through childhood. I liked playing with barbies as a child and my favorite animal was a unicorn. I  was now 23 years old, and only just wondering why things felt off. I didn’t fit the narrative.

 

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I was a really cute little girl  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I was simultaneously finally dealing with a constantly increasing and previously ignored cocktail of mental illness; generalized anxiety disorder and depression. With treatment and relief and the support of friends, I gained new confidence. I was tired of worrying what other’s thought. I wanted to take control of my identity.

 

I cut off all my hair.

 

It would still be several months before I finally began coming out to people, before I finally began shopping in the men’s section that I had previously only looked at longingly. With each new sweater I felt as if I gained a little confidence, a little validation.

 

I learned more about gender, about the nuances and spectrum. I was not a girl; of that I was sure. But I also did not feel like a man. It left me in a strange limbo. I can remember even my mother telling me, “It would be easier if you were just a trans boy. At least that I could understand”. I heard so many variations of ‘in between’ genders: gender fluid, gender queer, nonbinary, etc.

 

It took me even more time to find the word that felt right: demiboy.

 

When I had started college, I’d hated labels. I believed they were something ‘snowflakes’ used to feel special. But over the course of the next few years, as I battled self loathing and loneliness, I began to realize that to many, labels are an important step in self discovery. They help you feel less lonely. There’s a word for that?? I’m that!

 

The point of me telling you my whole wild “Gender Journey” is to show that
I was wrong.

 

As someone who rarely admits to being such, I gladly admit that I was wrong. My wrongness was based on a lot of preconceived notions, incorrect information, insecurity, and internalized misogyny. But I fought all of those things. I did research, and I spoke to people from so many other walks of life, people who had experiences and feelings I could never have conceived of. I evolved, and then I helped my family start to make that journey too.

 

In order to learn and grow, we must admit when we are wrong, and open ourselves up to new perspectives.

 

That is one thing I see again and again from transphobic people: rigid insistence.

 

That is not a little girl, it is a BOY. (Etc.)

 

Why?

 

Because you said so? 

 

 

As detailed previously, it certainly isn’t because the scientific or medical community said so.

 

 

Why can’t we allow people to decide for themselves what they ‘are’? Transgender people are not hurting anyone in being themselves. And maybe it is time to consider that no one has all the answers. No one has all the knowledge.

 

My mother kept an open mind, she reexamined what she thought she knew about gender and sexuality. She rewrote old definitions in her mind, updated the way she views the world. It was hard for her. She told me it was almost like she was “losing a daughter”. But I reminded her that I was still very much me, in fact more so me. She wasn’t losing a daughter; she was losing her fantasy of me as a daughter.

 

Parents typically have ideas about what their child will be like, what they will grow up and do. My mother had to come to terms with the fact that my life was going to be different than the way she’d envisioned it. But she came to realize that that was ok. That parents do not own the identities and lives of the children they create.

 

My family collectively decided that they loved me regardless of what gender I identified as.

 

And that has meant everything to me.

 

My mother constantly posts things on facebook calling for support on trans issues. She came with me to the Yes On 3 campaign office to get signs.

 

My father called out one of his friends for posting a transphobic joke on facebook, and when the friend refused to listen, he ultimately unfriended him. He had said “That’s my kid they’re talking about.”

 

When I cut off all my hair, a lot of people didn’t hide their shock and disapproval of it. But my little brother was right there in my corner, telling them off and defending me.

 

Even my grandparents have attempted to use my new name and proper pronouns. Age is no excuse.

 

If only everyone could put in a modicum of the effort my family has, I guarantee the world would be happier.

 

But for now, that’s not even my request. Right now my only request is that you Vote Yes on 3 on November 6th in Massachusetts. Check off that one little box.

 

If it passes, if the Bill is upheld, you lose nothing. Things remain as they have been for two years in Massachusetts, and transgender people can continue feeling safe and supported. But if it fails, if the bill is repealed, trans people lose that security. It send’s a message that they are not deserving, not equal, not worth protecting.

 

Repealing this Bill would endanger the most vulnerable members of our society. Transgender people have an average life expectancy right now of about 30 years old. That’s compared to the 71 years of a cis person.
The murder and suicide rates are horrifically high for transgender people, because there are not enough protections for them in our society.
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This law is just one protection that can help keep trans people safe and give them the security and dignity to do something most people take for granted every day: use a public restroom.

And this is just from a human rights standpoint. The fear of using public restrooms out of possible bigotry can also have lasting effects on people, hense why they shouldn’t have to just “wait till they get home”.

 

Children’s Hospital Boston isn’t the only big name in favor of the bill either.

 

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For a complete list click here

Those who oppose the bill do so because they don’t went men in women’s restrooms. But the fact that many transphobes fail to realize is that plenty of trans people can easily pass as Cis, such as Michael Hughes, a trans man who would have to use the women’s restroom if the choice were dictated by biological sex.

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A facebook friend shared this image of his group of friends down the Cape, and called on transphobes to point out which one they believed belonged in the women’s room.

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Photo by Paul Specht

On the flipside, we have trans women like Brae Carnes, who could be at risk of their literal lives if forced to used the men’s restroom.

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Assault and murder of trans women (especially trans women of color) is horrifically high. In some places it is even still admissible to use the “gay panic” defense in court while being tried for their murders.

Finally, there is the argument of children’s safety if this law is not repealed. The trouble is, this bill protects the safety of many children while in place.

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All of the above are little (trans) girls who deserve a safe place to use the bathroom. Whether or not you believe they are girls should not matter, because at the end of the day, they are all children. None of them are sex offenders. They pose no threat to anyone. Instead, there are many possible threats to their safety. Do you believe they would be safe going into a men’s room unaccompanied? Would you force them there?

After all of this, maybe you still don’t agree with me.

But I am not going to sit back and comfort you, tell you that is ok, that everyone deserves an opinion, and that yours is just as valid.

Because it is not.

At the end of the day, whether you choose to believe it or not, transgender people are people. We are here, and always have been, despite attempts to erase us from history over and over again. We are no more mentally ill, perverted, or depraved than anyone else. We are not looking for special rights, just equal ones.

We are not looking to be ‘tolerated’.

We are looking to be recognized as valid. As humans.

~ Elias (They/Them Pronouns)

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A Bug’s Life (Inside another bug)

**Warning for Graphic Pictures**

When most people think of parasites they likely think of something like a tapeworm. They are a long, wormlike parasite that lives in a host’s digestive track, usually completely unknown to said host. While the idea of having a 55 foot long worm living inside you may not be particularly appealing, tapeworms usually don’t seriously impact their host. In fact, they were once even marketed as a “no ill effects” fad diet because worms sometimes cause hosts to lose weight.

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Though tapeworms may be well known, they are far from the only kind of parasite. And many parasites don’t go quite as unnoticed.

Parasites are an incredible category of creatures because they are so vast and varying. Some parasites are microscopic, others easily seen. Some are insects, some are fungi, some are fish. Parasites aren’t a single species or class, but more of a type of behavior. And while humans may find the idea of a parasite disgusting, some are actually beneficial to the ecosystem and many aren’t very harmful to their hosts.

But those aren’t the parasites I want to talk about.

Imagine a parasite that could not only wiggle into your body and feed on your insides, but could also hijack your brain, turning you into a literal zombie controlled by the parasite’s desires? It may sound like something out of a John Carpenter movie, but this is reality. And there isn’t just one species of parasite capable of this. There are many.

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Schistocephalus solidus is a species of tapeworm with a complex life cycle. It hatches in the water where the larva are (intentionally) eaten by tiny crustaceans called copepods. The copepods are a favorite food of the tapeworm’s next host, the Stickleback fish. Once inside a stickleback, the parasite begins to grow. It causes changes to the fishes instinctual behavior, making it seek warmer waters (preferred by the parasite) and become more solitary. Once the tapeworm is matured enough it changes the fishes behavior even more, causing it to ignore all of its previous survival instincts and approach the waters surface, attracting the eyes of predatory birds. The Stickleback is eaten by a sea bird, and the triumphant tapeworm sets up shop in its new host where it mates, with the eggs being excreted by the bird back into the water.

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Euhaplorchis californiensis is a worm with a very similar lifecycle. This parasite also starts life in the water, where it enters it’s first in a series of hosts, the horn snail. A side effect of its stay is the horn snail will become sterile, which is actually beneficial in controlling the snail populations. After a while the worm moves on to its next host, the Killifish. It enters the fish through its gills and plants itself in the fishes brain. Once there it begins to implement some important changes. Much like the previous tapeworm, this worm’s goal is to get its fish host eaten by a bird. It does this by controlling the fish and forcing it to dance and jump near the water’s surface. The poor Killifish is essentially turned into a suicidal zombie, and eaten by a bird so that the worm can continue its lifecycle.

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Leucochloridium paradoxum is a truly horrific parasite. This species of flatworm enters an unsuspecting mollusk host and travels into the animal’s eyestalk. There it grows, inflating the stalk into a bulbous, pulsing mass. The parasite displays bright colors and patterns through the snails transparent skin, mimicking the appearance of a caterpillar. As if this wasn’t all disturbing enough, the parasite also takes away the snails inhibitions; snails parasitized by the flatworm were more likely to go to open, well lit areas where birds might see them. The light is the cue for the flatworm to begin to move, and attract its next host.

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Myrmeconema neotropicum is a kind of nematode that infects south american ants. Ants pick up the parasite on food they bring to their larva. The young ants become infected before they can even leave the nest. The nematode lays eggs inside the ant’s gaster (essentially the butt). As they become adults the infected ants usually black gaster becomes translucent, revealing the red embryonic parasites. Because of the ants home (in the trees) and round red behind, it now eerily resembles a berry. Especially to passing birds. The ant becomes more sluggish the larger (and redder) its gaster gets, and somehow the parasite even convinces its host to hold its rump up while walking to be more obvious to passing birds! Once eaten the nematode finishes its lifecycle in the bird and is moved through dropped feces to a new ant colony to start again.

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Ophiocordyceps unilateralis isn’t a worm like the previous entries in this list. Instead it is a type of fungal parasite. When an ant becomes infected by the spores of this fungus, it suffers from convulsions which cause it to fall out of its treetop home. The ant is then piloted by the fungus toward a more suitable habitat (for the fungus of course). The ant will go to a very specific height, in a very particular heat and humidity level, and find the northern side of a leaf. The fungus then compels the ant to bite and lock onto the leaf. The ant will never leave the spot, and the fungus will slowly consume its insides before bursting stalks out of the ants head to release spores and infect other ants. In Brazil and Thailand where this fungus lives, certain areas of the forest can be covered in the parasitized carcasses of entire colonies of ants. Luckily many ants have developed a way to sense an infected ant, which they will forcibly remove from the colony and carry far away to prevent further spore transmission.

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Dicrocoelium dendriticum is a type of liver fluke. Like most parasites, its life begins in a pile of poop. A passing snail eats or trails over the feces, and the fluke enters its body. The snail’s body coats the flukes in slime as a defense mechanism and spits them back out, but this is all part of the plan. The fluke is now a tasty slime coated lunch for an unweary ant, who ingests the fluke. Once inside its host, the flukes next goal is to make its host someone elses lunch (noticing a trend yet?). But what this fluke makes the ant do is truly incredible. Each night the fluke takes complete control of the ant and steers it up the nearest blade of grass. There, at the top, it sits all night long, waiting. If the fluke is lucky and it’s plan works, a grazing animal such as a cow will come by and chow down on the grass (and thus the ant and fluke). If not, and the sun rises, the fluke gives control back to the now likely very confused ant. The fluke and ant will both die if they sit all day in the hot sun, cooking alive. But the next night the fluke will take control again. Once the poor mind controlled ant is ingested, the fluke swims to its new hosts liver and reproduces. The eggs are excreted, and the cycle starts anew.

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Toxoplasma gondii has become well known by scientists and doctors alike, because it is one of the few parasites on this list confirmed to be transmittable to humans. In fact, this parasite can infect most warm blooded animals. Gondii may be a single celled organism, but it’s mind control abilities are eerily advanced. The ‘intended’ life cycle of Gondii is to be picked up by a rodent. From there the parasite rewires the rodents brain to be attracted to (instead of weary of) the smell of cat urine. The rodent will linger around areas trafficked by felines and likely be eaten, where Gondii will go onto its next stage. Occasionally however, a different host may pick up Gondii. It is estimated that nearly 50% of humans are infected by this parasite, and most will go about their lives totally unaware of it. But does it have an effect on humans? After all, a rodent/rat brain is far more advanced than most of the other mind controlled hosts in this list. Is it possible that humans could be controlled? So far no one is really sure. But scientists have found some interesting correlations between infected humans. They are more likely to have schizophrenia or bipolar, and more likely to get into car accidents. Whether coincidence or not, we may never know.

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Sacculina carcini is a species of barnacle. While a barnacle might not seem particularly horrifying, this parasite is a crab’s worst nightmare. The female barnacle enters a crab host and sets up shop on its abdomen. The crab becomes infertile, unable to molt, and unable to regrow lost limbs. The barnacle prefers a female crab, but if it mistakenly enters a male, it’s no problem. The barnacle will essentially change the male crab into a female. The parasite will disrupt a male crabs hormones, causing physical changes to the the crabs body (widening of the abdomen) as well as behavioral changes (female mating dances). The reasoning is that the crab will now take care of the barnacles eggs as its own. The parasitic barnacles will remain with its host for the entirety of its life.

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Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a species of wasp that attacks a Costa Rican spider. The adult insect finds a host and grabs it, temporarily paralyzing it with a sting, and lays an egg on its abdomen. Once the spider is released, it goes about its normal life for some time, likely thinking it has escaped safely. But the egg will hatch out a larva in the meantime, which latches like a leech to the spider and slowly drinks its blood. Once the larva has had enough, it injects a mind altering chemical into the spider. The spider is then compelled to build a very strange web, unlike any before. It makes one with thicker, stronger anchor threads. It likely doesnt realize that the reason for this is to hold the weight of its hitchhikers cocoon. Once built, the spider will settle in the center of the web, where it will sit calmly as it is killed and completely sucked dry by the larva. The larva builds its cocoon in the stronger, durable web.

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Dinocampus coccinellae is a parasitic wasp that hunts down its host, a ladybug, and lays an egg on its abdomen. The larva that hatches will proceed to begin eating the small bits of the ladybug (including gonads when available), until it is ready to pupate. It paralyzes its host and creates a cocoon beneath its body, using the ladybug as a shield. The ladybug color wards off hungry predators like birds, and if an insect approaches the larva makes the host twitch to scare it off. After about a week the wasp emerges and moves on, leaving its protector behind. Unbelievably, in about 25% of cases it is possible for a ladybug to survive the hostage ordeal and awake from its paralysis.

Glyptapanteles

Glyptapanteles is yet another kind of parasitic wasp. This kind seeks out a caterpillar whom it lays its eggs inside of. After a while the larva hatch inside the caterpillar. They feed on the host, avoiding its organs, and eventually chew out of its body, leaving exoskeletons behind to plug up the holes they emerge from. The reason for this is to keep the poor caterpillar alive; they aren’t done with it yet. The larva make cocoons nearby while the caterpillar, piloted by a remaining sacrificial larva, guards over the cocoons, spins silk (which should have been used to make its own cocoon) over them, and thrashes wildly at approaching predators to scare them off. Unlike the “lucky” ladybug of our last entry, the unfortunate caterpillar (along with its heroic larva pilot) will eventually starve to death. Broods with a caterpillar guard were far more likely to survive to hatching.

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Ampulex compressa is a deceptively beautiful species also known as the jewel wasp. This wasp finds a very unlucky cockroach which it stings to paralyze. This is to make it easier for the wasp to administer the next, much more precise sting. The wasp aims for the roaches ganglia, a region that controls the escape reflex. Once administered the roach becomes a docile slave to the wasp, who leads it by the antenna like a leashed dog to its lair. Once inside, the wasp lays an egg on the roach, then entombs it in the burrow. The roach then sits and waits until the larva hatches and burrows into its body. The larva slowly devours the roach, eating it methodically in a way that will keep it alive the longest until it can form a cocoon. Finally the fully formed wasp emerges from the husk of its roach host.

 

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Horsehair Worms are the umbrella term for several different species of similar parasitic worms that use an insect host. Some prefer crickets and grasshoppers, some mantids, and some spiders. But they all have one eerie trait in common; when they are ready to move onto their next (aquatic) stage, they compel their host to jump into the water. Some seem to make use of the hosts ability to detect humidity, some reflected light (such as on the waters surface). Scientists still know little about these parasites, but they theorize that the worms use chemical neurotransmitters to control their hosts. In the case of parasitized crickets they will effect the insects behavior, preventing it from chirping which can attract predators and expends energy. Some worms can be a foot long, filling nearly the entire body cavity of their hosts. Miraculously, if a host can make it to land, they can often survive the worm exiting them.

These were only thirteen examples of an untold number of different kinds of parasites capable of affecting the behaviors of animals and even controlling their minds. So far none have been shown to affect humans in a significant way, but parasites are still something that scientists know extremely little about. The idea that our behaviors may be being dictated by a parasite without us even realizing is chilling to say the least, and I have a feeling that in the coming years we will learn about even more nightmarish invaders.

 

 

Shadows Over Waltham

I’ve always got my eyes open looking for interesting places to go urban exploring. I love abandoned, decaying places, as well as their history. So when I stumbled upon info about the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, so close to where I live, I knew I had to go.

I took the journey with my usual spooky companions (my mother and my nana) and we headed to Waltham armed with comfy sneakers and cameras. As we drove past the gated entrance on Trapelo Rd. we realized we needed to find parking, and we happened to turn onto a road with several old buildings.

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“Is…this place abandoned too?” I raised an intrigued brow and looked to my mom, then hopped out of the car. We both walked around the building, casually trying doors and peering into windows. Then we saw the black SUV driving up…a State Police plate on the front.

We had only been exploring two minutes and already the cops had found us.

The officer stepped out, and we walked up, trying to seem nonchalant. “Oh hi! We were just driving by and saw this building…” My mother smiled sweetly. Luckily the officer seemed to be in a good mood.

“I don’t blame you.” He put his hands in his belt loops. “Do you know what this place is?”

“No.” We admitted. “Was it a school?”

“Sort of. It was called the Fernald School for the Feeble Minded. Lot of history here. You should look it up.” He shook his head gravely. “A disappearance of history…” He trailed off looking over at the brick building.

The name certainly sounded familiar. We nodded and replied “Thank you. We will”

“Alright, unfortunately this is state property and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

We bashfully conceded and headed out, driving out of the lot as I furiously began to google.

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The Fernald School was built in 1888, and at its peak housed over 2000 young boys. Like most mental asylums of the early 20th century, it was overcrowded and underfunded, and reports of bad conditions and abuse of the children were frequent. Though the Fernald was supposed to be a care center, a large portion of its occupants were not disabled at all, but were instead orphans or the poor/homeless. The boys there had almost no rights, and were treated as “sub human” according to reports from former ‘patients’.

In the 20’s the school became best known for leading in Eugenics research and advocation. For those not in the know, eugenics is the attempt to genetically create more “perfect” people, and was a foundation of Adolph Hitler’s beliefs.

In the 40’s the school partnered with Harvard and MIT and was funded by none other than Quaker Oats to do more experiments on children, this time by feeding them doses of radiated cereal. The children who had parents got permission slips to join a “science club” and were bribed with trips and toys.

Despite all of the this, Fernald existed and continued to house patients all the way up until 2014, with most living there for their entire lives. According to most the conditions greatly improved after the 70’s. Part of the reason for this was because Judge Joseph Tauro heard reports of the conditions, and made an unannounced trip to the institution. He described the school as being the realization of ones “worst horrors”. He found a ‘hospital’ that reeked of urine and patients covered in bugbites.

After learning all of this we were rather amazed, and I’ll admit, REALLY wanted to go back and explore more. Unfortunately the grounds were heavily patrolled by police, and each subsequent time we passed the road we could see a patrol car stationed up the road, watching. Further exploration there was simply not possible. Instead we headed onward to Metropolitan state. We parked in an old ball field and walked to the gate, past several abandoned houses we assume were part of the staff housing of the facilities, and had been abandoned around the same time as the hospital.

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I was shocked to notice a familiar sight…the same small white figure I had seen painted on the Clinton Tunnel in Western Mass. The coincidence was eerie, but I had to assume now that it was some kind of tag, perhaps from a fellow lover of urban exploration but with a slightly more destructive tone. Nonetheless, something about the figure gave me a positive feeling, like it was some sort of guide.

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We weren’t sure where exactly the asylums buildings were located, or if any even still stood. As we walked up the cracked paved road we saw our little friends once again.

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Though tempted to veer down the path we wanted to check the paved road first, and it snaked up the hill and let off at several other dirt paths headed toward an old water tank.

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Though interesting, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Our break came in the form of two dogs speeding past us after a rabbit, their owners coming up behind.

We made small talk, (easy to do as dog lovers) and then I probed. “Do you come here a lot?”

“Almost every day.”

“Do you know if any of the buildings are still here?”

The woman launched into explanation, a wealth of knowledge on the area and a goldmine for us. She told us that only one building still stood, and we would have to head down Metropolitan Parkway toward the Avalon condos. She also talked to us about the old incinerator, the secret tunnels, and more. I could tell immediately we would never find the mythical tunnels, but within reach was the cemetery. She told us it was down the path through the woods we had passed earlier.

We thanked her and said farewell to her dogs, then headed for the cemetery. It was down a steep hill in the woods, but the graves were in a small clearing surrounded by a stone wall.

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The graves were mostly stone blocks with numbers carved into them. The patients were from both Metropolitan and Fernald.

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According to our local guide, the cemetery had closer to 350 souls buried in it, and only a few with more dignified memorials.

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The graveyard was a humbling place, dotted with annual flowers that had been planted there in years past by loved ones of the deceased, or just those who pitied them.

On out way out we nearly stepped on one of the cemetery’s few living inhabitants; an extremely feisty snake who lunged at us.

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We headed back to our car and drove down the road to Metropolitan Parkway.  It wasn’t long before we found what we were looking for.

Metropolitan State Hospital was built around 1927, but the only building that we could still experience, the Administration Building, had it’s cornerstone laid in 1928. We were thrilled to see it, beautiful in its decay.

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Metropolitan State had once been a busy hospital for the mentally ill, housing thousands of patients. It was laid out like many asylums of the time using the Kirkbride  model, but it was comprised of many different buildings that gave it a colony effect.

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For some beautiful photos of the buildings pre-demolition click here

The conditions at the hospital slowly decreased as time progressed. In 1978, a patient named Anne Marie Davee went missing. Her disappearance wasn’t formally investigated until 19 negligence complaints against the hospital had been filed and two entire years had passed. It was then that they learned that another patient, Melvin Wilson, had murdered and dismembered Anne with a hatchet and buried her body on the grounds. He had kept some of her teeth as souvenirs.

The horrific crime was likely not the only dark event in Metropolitan’s past.

Other accusations included the attempt to ‘cure’ mentally ill children by adding chemicals to their milk, resulting in multiple deaths.

For 25 years Metropolitan State’s Admin building has stood, slowly crumbling. When I found it, boards firmly covered all the windows but one, where a hole had been dug out just big enough for a person to slip through. I strongly considered it, but my mother had some objections. As we drove away I felt both complete and yet hollow, not unlike the skeletal building I had left behind.

The Universe Next Door

When I woke up this morning, Gettysburg was in Virginia.

It sounds silly, of course, to people who have always known Gettysburg to be in Pennsylvania. But for me it was a shock to discover, like Ashton Kutcher stepping out of my closet to tell me I was on the longest running episode of Punk’d. Or maybe a better example, Morpheus giving me the red pill and pushing me down the rabbit hole. I was…am…confused…shaken to my core…and questioning everything I know to be true about my reality.

You see, I learned in High School (where I took multiple advanced US History courses) that the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Virginia. MAYBE it was West Virginia (I always confuse those two). But it sure as hell wasn’t in Pennsylvania. Throughout the years since then nothing has ever come to my attention to signify anything different, and I have watched plenty of shows about Gettysburg’s history (and its ghosts).

But as I sat with my family planning our next trip, I suggested Philly and my Nana suggested Gettysburg, adding “They’re both in Pennsylvania.”

I looked at her in confusion. “…Gettysburg is in Virginia.”

I had said it with such conviction that it gave her pause, and she questioned her own knowledge. We were all quiet and contemplative a moment, then we turned to google. Gettysburg, it turns out, is in Pennsylvania. At least, it is in this dimension.

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It seems to me like I have suffered from a very personal example of the “Mandela Effect”, a phenomenon coined several years back after a large number of people were shocked to discover that Nelson Mandela died in 2013, and not the 80’s or 90’s like they had apparently believed. Some even vividly remembered watching his televised funeral back in the day.

Personally I couldn’t remember him dying either time, so the effect went over my head…until another example went mainstream.

Starting in the 1960’s a series of children’s books about a family of bears learning lessons came onto the market, and made an impression that lasted long into my childhood and spawned several animated shows as well. While never a fan myself, everyone knew about “The Berenstein Bears”.

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The trouble was, that’s not what they are called. The eponymous family is called the BerenSTAIN’s. And supposedly they always have been.

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When the discussion first arose on Reddit, people lost their minds. Some Redditors literally clawed their way up into their attics in desperation to retrieve original copies of the books that would PROVE the spelling had been changed sometime between the late 90’s to early 2000’s, only to be horrified to discover that their entire lives were apparently a lie. When I first told my mom the “truth” about the bears, she looked like she had learned what they keep in the secret tunnels under the Vatican. Like most others, she refused to believe me at all until she had literally googled it herself. As far as I know, no one has ever uncovered an “original” copy of the books with the “correct” spelling, something that makes perfect sense to the Berenstain family, who wrote the books in question.

But why do so many people share the same false memory?

Some truly believe the name was changed in some sort of vast conspiracy to make the characters sound “less Jewish”. Others are content to believe most kids are just dumb and can’t read so good. I however, know for a fact that if there was a book about characters with the word “Stain” in their name, I would have found some way to turn it into a poop joke as a child.

An obvious explanation is a sort of “memory hysteria” in which word of mouth and assumptions cause the general population to believe in a falsehood that isn’t corrected in an obvious way until a long while later. People thought it was spelled that way and communicated it to others and then to others and so on like a massive game of telephone.

And the fact is, no one can prove that’s not what’s happening. You see, the only proof that it was ever spelled a different way lies in peoples memories, which have been proven time and again to be incredibly flawed and unsettlingly adept at completely fabricating “truths”.

But a more disturbing and interesting explanation ties the idea of the Mandela Effect to something that is being studied by some of the brightest minds on planet earth: Quantum Mechanics.

You see, there are real scientific geniuses out there right now who are studying, believe in, and are trying to prove the existence of other dimensions. And if they think it’s possible, why shouldn’t we?

The idea is called “Many World’s Theory” and it posits that there are an infinite number of parallel dimensions beside the one we reside in. In other words, for every different outcome to an event there is another dimension. So perhaps you reside currently in the dimension where you put on a blue shirt today, but there is another universe identical to this one in every way except that you chose to wear a red shirt instead. That example illustrates a small, nearly unnoticeable change. But what about events with higher stakes, ones with far more consequence?

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This is where the idea of Many Worlds intersects with another theory known as “Quantum Immortality“. Now I’m not a quantum physicist so theres plenty about all this I can’t explain, but the gist of it is this: If you die in one dimension, your consciousness will combine with an adjacent dimension. Basically, you won’t realize anything is different, but the dimension you just left will now be dealing with your death. The dimensions can have differences so minuscule you’d never notice, and because your life will be (nearly) exactly the same, you never will.

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But what if you DO notice?

Many Worlds and Quantum Immortality have been used to explain occurrences such as deja vu and the Mandela Effect. Perhaps instead of our memories being faulty, our worlds have actually changed subtly around us. Or…WE are the ones who changed. Because these theories would mean that in our current dimension, the Berenstain Bears have always been spelled as such. We just remember differently because we are remembering the dimension we used to reside in.

But how could such a vast number of people all have come from the same alternate universe into this one? The most obvious explanation would be a large scale disaster that killed most or all of the population of earth sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. The residents of that dimension’s consciousness-es (or “Souls” if you prefer) would have then merged seamlessly with a parallel timeline where everything was exactly the same except the apocalypse did not happen…and one family of author’s names was spelled slightly different. 

It may seem fantastical or far fetched, but again I say, Quantum Mechanics is real and there are scientists working right now to prove that alternate dimensions are real, so it’s less crazy than it sounds.

So assuming all this is true, could there be a possible explanation to the Berenstain mystery? What catastrophic event could have happened that killed so many and fits the time frame?

On December 31st 1999, I was eight years old and at the annual New Years party at a family friends house. I was with my parents and my best friend (it was her family’s house) but even as an ignorant child, I was terrified. The rumor was, when the clock struck midnight, the world might end. The adults were laughing and drinking and pretending everything was fine, but the truth was, the world was caught in a sense of unease as the clock neared midnight and the new millennium approached.

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In retrospect it might seem silly, the fear that gripped the world. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Some ancient computers stop working because they aren’t programmed to handle the date? Well not exactly.

The fear was that some very important computers, namely the ones controlling the worlds nuclear weapons and those warning us of nuclear attacks, might fail and thus literally end the world. Politicians and scientist had been scrambling in panic trying to avert any chance of a crisis, but everyone held their breath the night that ball dropped.

But nothing happened. Or at least, nothing we remember. The next morning everyone had a good laugh at how foolish we had all been, to think that a simple change of a minute hand would be our great undoing. But I will never forget where I was when the year changed over. I was hiding under a blanket, trembling, praying that we wouldn’t die.

But what if we did?

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And what if I died again earlier today, and woke up in a dimension where my life was the exact same except here, Gettysburg was a town founded just a little further north? The strange thing is, on my way home from Boston, my mother and I were nearly in a car accident caused by a large chunk of ice falling off a truck in front of us on the highway and slamming into our windshield like a brick. Miraculously there wasn’t even a crack left behind. At least…not in this dimension.

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The Haunted Frequency

On February 25th 2016 I was awoken abruptly from my sleep at about 3am. I couldn’t identify at first what woke me, all I knew was that I had an overwhelmingly bad feeling. It didn’t take me long to realize that a thunderstorm was raging outside. It was quite loud, and the lightning lit up my entire room in a way I have never encountered before. Despite this, I felt very sure that it wasn’t the noise or light that had woken me. Instead I felt it was the sickening sense of dread that inexplicably hung over me. I have never been disturbed by thunderstorms before; on the contrary I have always found them exciting, sitting on my porch growing up and watching them roll in. But on this early morning something seemed very wrong. I got out of bed and stood in my room uncertainly, trying to decide what to do. Now on top of the unexplained fear other symptoms were emerging: nausea, heart palpitations. Soon the feeling of panic was smothering, and it seemed to be filling my room to the point that some part of my brain begged me to run away, to flee outside into the storm. Luckily I had an epiphany after remembering something I had recently learned, and I fought the urge. Then suddenly, the feeling was gone as abruptly as it had come. The storm quieted, the thunder became more distant. I slipped back into bed and fell asleep wondering what the hell had just happened to me.

The February 25th storm was pretty severe for the Boston area. It brought hurricane force winds recorded at up to 76mph, knocked power out for thousands, and downed many trees. But I think it also caused another phenomenon that few may be aware of.

Sound is measured in frequency of waves. This chart gives an idea of who can hear what.

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Humans have a mid range of audible hearing. But just because we can’t hear other frequencies doesn’t mean they aren’t there. And that means they can still effect us. Infrasound is a very low range of frequency, anything below 30 HZ. That means the waves are farther apart. Giant animals like elephants and blue whales use infrasound to communicate, possibly as more of a ‘feeling’ in their bodies than an actual sound. It’s hard of course for humans to try to imagine something they are literally incapable of experiencing. But some humans can experience infrasound in a different way.

Because of infrasound’s frequency it can effect our bodies. In the 1980s an engineer named Vic Tandy was working late at the Coventry University Laboratories, long rumored to be haunted. Suddenly he noticed a ghostly gray blob in his peripherals. He looked to it quickly, but it had vanished. Not one to be easily spooked, Vic set out to find a scientific explanation for the hauntings. He noticed that materials he was working with were vibrating, and he got the idea to look into the possibility of low frequency sound waves. Sure enough he found the culprit in the shape of an old fan in the lab, near his desk in the direction he had seen the blob. Though ‘silent’ to him, it was giving off 18.98 HZ sound waves. That frequency happens to be very close to the resonating frequency of the human eyeball, and explains the bizarre distortions in vision. The waves, which were almost exactly the length of the lab, also explained people who got uneasy feelings there in general. After turning off the fan, a weight seemed to be lifted from the space, and work could be continued as usual.

In 2003 Richard Lord, an acoustic scientist at the National Physical Laboratory in England, set out to further explore the effects of Infrasound. He and his colleagues used a concert hall of test subjects, and added occasional infrasound into the performances without informing the guests of when.  22% of concert goers identified an increase in negative emotions during the parts of the show where infrasound was present. Complaints included unease, nausea, sorrow and panic. It seemed to illustrate that not everyone is effected the same by infrasound, and some may feel it’s effects more strongly.

Many things both natural and man made can cause infrasound. Whales, elephants, volcanos, nuclear bombs, and yes, even intense thunderstorms, can cause infrasound. One of the big complaints against wind turbine construction argues that the massive structures can cause infrasound that will effect surrounding communities. Infrasound is even used by the government to monitor nuclear activity in other countries. It is possible that infrasound is what warns many animals of oncoming natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Author Donnie Eichar believes that infrasound caused by a Karman Vortex Street could have been the cause of the untimely deaths of the Dyatlov hikers of Russia. A Karman Vortex Street is a bizarre phenomenon in fluid dynamics in which air/water/etc moves around a rounded or even object in a way that causes swirling vortices.

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These vortices can gain incredible speed and power, and today engineers and architects design structures with this in mind, making sure to add spirals, fins, or uneven sides to structures to prevent a KVS.

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As for the Dyatlov hikers, the mountain they were camping at the base of had an evenly rounded top, and some believe that if wind hit the mountain just right, it could have created these tornado like vortices. Hearing a roaring tornado bearing down on you would surely terrify anyone, but would it be enough to terrify the hikers out of their tent into certain death toward the roaring itself? Possibly, if the vortices were creating infrasound. The panic caused by the infrasound could have made the hikers irrational enough to flee their tent, improperly clothed, into the subzero night. I can attest to encountering that same inexplicable urge, fought back only by my realization that I was likely experiencing an explainable natural phenomenon. The hikers would have had no knowledge of infrasound or Karman Vortex Streets. They had always survived based on their instincts, which were now screaming at them to evacuate their tent.

The theory makes a lot of sense, more than any other put forth. Though it would have had to have been a bizarre set of coincidences to lead to the final deadly outcome, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

But if all of this is true, then hasn’t it essentially been proven that ghosts aren’t real, just products of low frequency sound waves resonating the human body? Well not quite. Infrasound has been located in several ‘haunted’ sites, but certainly not all. I will always maintain that the paranormal aspects of our world are simply things that haven’t been identified yet by science. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in ghosts of course. But it does mean that I am also very excited by the idea of discovering a frequency that resonates eyeballs into seeing ghosts!

Have any of you possibly experienced Infrasound? Let me know in the comments!

 

The Sankebetsu Bear Attack

Growing up I loved the movie “Jaws”. For anyone out there who somehow hasn’t seen it, it is a fictionalized story of a shark that terrorizes a New England town. Few people are aware however that “Jaws” was actually inspired by a real life man-eating shark that terrorized the Jersey Shore long before Snooki ever got there.  In July of 1916 people started being attacked in the waters along New Jersey. The first had the flesh ripped from his leg and bled to death on the floor of his hotel. Five days later and 45 miles north, a second man was mutilated in a shark attack, his abdomen torn from his body. Six days after that an 11 year old boy was pulled beneath the water 30 miles north. When a man entered to water to search for him, he too was bitten severely and bled to death. The 11 year old boy’s body was recovered later. A half hour later and only a half mile away, a 14 year old boy was attacked, but he was saved and survived. The terror only ended after a Great White Shark was caught and killed in New York. The nearly 8 foot long shark capsized the man’s boat, and he fought it off and ultimately killed it with a broken oar in what must have been a scene eerily similar to Quint’s “Jaws” showdown. When opened up approximately 15 pounds of human remains were found in the animal’s stomach, and no further attacks were reported.

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What caused the rogue shark to begin targeting humans is a mystery. Much like it’s “Jaws” counterpart, the shark seemed to be unnaturally preoccupied with killing humans, arguably even supernaturally.

It’s a rare occurrence for a wild animal to become such a killer. Most often when a human is killed by an animal it is in self defense, or it is a standalone incident. Only a few times in history have there been animals that seem to specifically hunt humans. A current example in Gustave, the 18 foot African Crocodile that has terrorized villagers in Burundi for years. Another case is the story of the Tsavo Man-Eating Lions, popularized by the film “The Ghost and the Darkness”.

But few people have heard the unsettling tale of the Sankebetsu Bear Attack of Japan.

Less than one year before a shark terrorized America, a bear brought down a reign of terror on northern Japan. It was December of 1915, and bear sightings among the rural villages were common at the time. The Ussuri Brown Bear, cousin of the Grizzly, typically left humans alone, only occasionally breaking into village food stores.

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But something was different about this particular bear.

On the ninth, a bear attacked the Ōta farm. Abe Mayu, the farmer’s wife, was caring for a friend’s child at the time. The bear broke into the farmhouse and attacked the baby, as Mayu tried to fight it off with logs of firewood. The bear turned it’s attention on the woman, grabbing her in its jaws and dragging her away into the forest. When neighbors arrived they found the farmhouse in shambles, with puddles of blood on the floor.

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A search party mobilized to find and kill the bear, and recover any of Mayu’s remains. They soon found the massive animal, and though they shot it the bear managed to escape. Mayu’s remains with found cached in the snow nearby; all that remained was her head and legs.

Nearby, news of the attack reached the Miyouke family. There, the women and children of the Miyouke and Saito families had gathered, while the men hunted for the bear. Though the bear returned to the Ōta home in search of more prey, it was chased off by several of the hunting party. The bear turned it’s sights on the now unprotected Miyouke farm.

Yayo Miyouke was cooking dinner with her baby on her back when the large black bear broke through the farmhouse window. In the panic, the cooking pot overturned onto the fire, plunging the house into darkness. Yayo was tripped by one of her children clinging to her legs, and as she lay there the bear attacked the baby on her back. The bear then attacked three more of the children as they tried to hide, before turning on pregnant Take Saito. She begged the bear to spare her unborn child before it mauled her. Though her fetus was recovered alive from her body, it perished a short time later.

Yayo meanwhile had escaped into the night and ran to find help. The men made it back to the village and hurried to the home, where the bear was still on a rampage inside. Though they tried to corner and shoot it, once again the bear managed to escape.

Several men from the village found expert bear hunter Yamamoto Heikichi, who told them the bear’s name was “Kesagake” and that it had killed at least three other women in it’s life. Yamamoto refused to help them however, having sold his gun for alcohol.

News of the bear attacks reached the government, who sent reinforcements in to hunt down the rogue animal. Though the bear raided several more farms stealing winter stockpiles, it could not be tracked or hunted.  On the night of December 13th a sniper on guard at the village saw a shadow moving cautiously at the edge of the forest. He thought it was a person and called to it, but received no response. Realizing it was Kesagake he fired, and the bear bolted into the woods.

Having once again successfully shot the bear without killing it, the party followed the animals bloody tracks into the woods the following morning. This time they were accompanied by no-longer-retired-Yamamoto, who found the bear and finally shot it to death, once in the heart, once in the head. The bear was nearly 9 feet tall and 750 pounds, and the remains of its victims were found in its stomach.

It will never be clear why Kesagake decided to hunt humans, or why he did so with such brutality, rarely eating his victims only mauling them. Some believe the bear may have had a brain injury or defect; some wonder if it was rabid, others speculate that human encroachment woke the bear from hibernation and sent it on its rampage.

So was this just a case of a sick or starving bear trying to survive? Or was it a real life animal serial killer, hunting the most dangerous game?

Whatever the reason, Kesagake killed seven people that winter, mostly children. At the site of the attacks now sits a shrine, as well as a reconstruction of the Ōta house, and a statue overlooking it all.

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talk about awkward family photos

Much like the story of the Jersey Shark, Kesagake also has his own movie; Rimeinzu Utsukushiki Yūshatachi (“Yellow Fangs” in english) tells a fictionalized account of the bear attacks. And also similarly to the legacy of “Jaws” the attack left a lasting impression on Japan, and their opinions of bears.

When Humans Become Candles

**Warning for graphic images**

As a child I read about a “true” case of Spontaneous Human Combustion in one of those World Weekly News type prints that I had snagged from my parents. The article explained the bizarre condition in a manner which my young brain deemed reasonably scientific. It also posited some possible causes of SHC, including that it may be triggered by intense emotional outbursts or unrest, as many of the victims had been crotchety old people and drunks. Due to the fear the article triggered in me, that idea struck me with a terror that I had never known before. I became convinced that I would soon burst into flames. The more I feared my fate, the more likely it seemed to become, until soon I was sitting on my laundry room floor sobbing into a tabloid and my mother had to console and assure me that I was not in fact going to spontaneously combust.

But was that a promise she could really make? Am I REALLY safe from spontaneous human combustion? Are any of us?

Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is the unexplained phenomenon of a human body bursting into flames without an apparent ignition source. According to proponents, there have been over 200 cases of SHC, dating back to (completely fabricated) reports of a 1400’s knight.

SHC has been widely considered an explainable phenomenon in the scientific community, and cases have been theorized to have been caused by such mundane occurrences as clandestine cigarette drops and clumsy fireplace keeping. It helps that a multitude of cases happened to women tending fires long ago and more modernly, elderly smokers.

Many ‘cases’ are of people literally found half inside a fireplace.

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(Note, I couldn’t even find a reliable source for this image so Im not even sure if its real.)

While proponents will quickly quip that another peculiarity of victims is that few things in the room around them are affected by the combustion, it becomes clear when reading up on cases and looking at more photos that this also isn’t true. The fire often scorches the walls and nearby furniture, and though it is unusual it doesn’t spread further, it is not scientifically impossible.

Skeptics claim SHC is caused by the something called the Wick Effect.

“The wick effect hypothesis suggests that a small external flame source, such as a burning cigarette, chars the clothing of the victim at a location, splitting the skin and releasing subcutaneous fat, which is in turn absorbed into the burned clothing, acting as a wick. This combustion can continue for as long as the fuel is available. This hypothesis has been successfully tested with animal tissue (pig) and is consistent with evidence recovered from cases of human combustion. The human body typically has enough stored energy in fat and other chemical stores to fully combust the body; even lean people have several pounds of fat in their tissues. This fat, once heated by the burning clothing, wicks into the clothing much as candle wax (which typically was originally made of animal fat) wicks into a lit candle wick to provide the fuel needed to keep the wick burning.

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In short, it is possible, under rare circumstances, for a person to become a very macabre human candle.

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Mary Reeser is known as the “Cinder Woman”. She was the first new age case of SHC which “reignited” public interest in the phenomenon. She went up in flames in Florida, 1951. All that remained of her was her left foot, still slippered, her backbone, and her skull which had inexplicably shrunk to nearly half its original size leaving scientists and doctors baffled. She was not the only one to be found this way either (see George Mott later in the post!). Reeser was an elderly woman and a known smoker, and her death could have feasibly been due to a heart attack or something akin, killing her and resulting in a dropped cigarette. The ignited cigarette would then cause the wick effect. The strange state of her remains however, particularly her skull, still defy explanation.

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51 year old Helen Conway, of Upper Darby Pennsylvania, died sitting in a chair in her bedroom in 1964. Her grandchildren sat downstairs unaware. Like most SHC cases, the fire was already out when firemen arrived, but had been hot enough to melt a TV across the room. Helen is the focus of a documentary purported to “dis-prove” the existence of SHC. The documentary (understandably) blames careless smoking and dropped matches. However, it fails to explain the fact that Ms. Conway burst into flames and collapsed into ash in less than 20 minutes, given the last time she was seen alive. The wick effect takes a slow burn over a long time, and though it can account for many instances of SHC, this one is still a mystery.

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Dr. John Bentley seemed to have combusted quite suddenly while in his Coudersport, Pennsylvania bathroom in 1966. He was 92, and though a known smoker, his pipe was still on his bed nightstand. His body burned through his linoleum floor, leaving a pile of his ashes in the basement below. The only suggestion put forth to his cause of death was that the man had dropped cinders on his robe and had gone to the bathroom to douse them, where he slipped and fell. Once incapacitated, the wick effect did the rest. It is a lot of speculation, but like with many SHC cases it is all we have.

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1979 was the year that 51 year old Beatrice Oczki of Bolingbrook, Illinois, was found reduced to a pile of ash in her home. Like many cases, Beatrice was overweight, a drinker and smoker, and infirm (she wore a leg brace and had diabetes). Beatrice and the chair she had sat in were a nearly unrecognizable pile of charred remains when discovered, with only her legs remaining intact. It should be noted that to cremate bone to ash takes many hours in temperatures exceeding 2500 degrees F, while a typical house fire tends to linger around the 1000 degree mark.

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In 1982 61 year old Jean Saffin sat with her elderly father in their kitchen in Edmonton England. Her father had looked away for a moment, and looked back to find Jean engulfed in flames, but sitting unmoving in her chair. Jean, who was mentally handicapped and had the capacity of a 6 year old, later died from her severe injuries. According to her father and brother, flames shot out of her mouth accompanied by a “roaring” sound. Theories abound as to what caused the woman to be consumed by flames so abruptly, and to this day the only real “explanation” posited is a stray ember caught her flammable nylon dress. However, her father was adamant that besides the distant pilot light of the stove, the kitchen was free of flames. His own pipe had not yet been lit.

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58 year old George Mott, ironically a retired firefighter, was found disintegrated into his bed in 1986. Mott’s skull was also recovered, mysteriously shrunken. A multitude of plastic items around Mott’s house had melted, the water had evaporated from the toilet, and hotdogs in the fridge had been boiled in their wrappers. The fire was intense enough to cause this damage, but somehow did not catch the house. George had been a smoker, but had supposedly quit and was on oxygen and various medications. The true cause of his death was never actually determined. George was from Crown Point New York.

In my opinion many, but not all, cases can be attributed to the Wick Effect. The wick effect explanation is satisfying to me not only because of its plausibility, but because it is still really freaking creepy. Though not “spontaneous” it is more or less “Human Combustion” regardless, just the explainable kind.

However, the fact is that not all cases can be attributed solely to this, and even the harshest skeptics such as Joe Nickell admit this. The truth is still unknown, but its possible there are multiple rare contributing factors that can cause these mysterious deaths.

I highly recommend browsing this sites pages on SHC, as they seem to be well documented and sourced.

Anomalies: Spontaneous Human Combustion

This is a good, free on youtube documentary that covers the phenomenon as well.

>>>Special thanks to Val for inspiring this post :3