Every year, people all over North America report encounters with strange creatures that have no place in current taxonomic literature. From sea serpents to Sasquatches, most of these mysterious animals have long featured in regional folklore. A small minority, like the Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and the Manwolf of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, have no precedent at all.
In recent years, a new sort of monster sighting has emerged. These sightings are connected with a very special kind of mythology- one which far postdates the shadowy advent of native tradition and frontier lore. These monster myths derive from a unique variety of urban legend which has its origins in our burgeoning Age of the Internet- a fictional, viral horror story called the “creepypasta”.
What are CreepyPastas?
Creepypastas are scary stories and images that proliferate across the internet to such an extent that they graduate into digital folklore. Instead of transmitting by way of playgrounds, after-school hangouts, and backyard campfires- the breeding grounds of traditional urban legends- these tales spread via chain emails, online forums like Reddit and 4Chan, and websites designed specifically for their dissemination.
Perhaps the most well-known creepypasta is the tale of Slenderman- a tall, thin, faceless, suit-clad gentleman who preys on children. The Slenderman character was invented on June 10, 2009, by a Japan-based American expat for an internet Photoshop contest. Images depicting this imaginary character and his associated backstory began to circulate throughout various online forums, and in no time the Slenderman meme went viral. Creative internet users began to expand on the Slenderman legend and formulate entire stories around him, transforming him into a full-blown 21st Century boogeyman.
In a 2012 interview for BBC Radio 4, Slenderman’s creator, Eric Knudson, observed that “even though people [realize] that Slenderman was created [on an internet forum in] June 2009,” some still believe that he might be real. Two years later, this strange reality made international headlines when two teenage girls from Wisconsin stabbed their friend half to death in the hope that their crime would earn them a home in Slenderman’s supposed mansion in the woods.
Slenderman is not the only creepypasta monster to escape from the internet and reify itself in the material world, or at least in the minds of imaginative internet users. Another virtual invention that makes its appearance from time to time is creature known as “the Rake”.
The Rake myth had its genesis in late 2005, when an anonymous poster on the imageboard website 4Chan decided to invent a new monster. The poster described his brainchild thus:
“Humanoid, about six feet tall when standing, but usually crouches and walks on all fours. It has very pale skin. The face is blank. As in, no nose, no mouth. However, it has three solid green eyes, one in the middle of its forehead, and the other two on either side of its head, towards the back… When it attacks, a mouth opens up, as if a hinged skull that opens at the chin. Reveals many tiny, but dull teeth”.
This monster, which appears to have been inspired by the so-called “Crawlers” from the 2005 horror film The Descent, evolved throughout the 4Chan thread, gradually transforming into a gaunt, naked, pale-skinned, human-like creature that crawls on four long spindly limbs. This entity was dubbed ‘the Rake’.
It would be several years before the concept of the Rake gained traction in the creepypasta community. In December 2008, posts featuring this made-up monster appeared on the Russian social networking site LiveJournal. In April 2009, the creature returned to 4Chan, its birthplace. Two months later, the Rake made its way onto SomethingAwful.com, where it served as an inspiration for Eric Knudson’s Slenderman.
By 2010, the legend of the Rake was spreading like wildfire throughout the internet, infiltrating all manner of creepypasta websites and engendering fan art and creative fiction which added depth and colour to its mythos.
Then, in 2012, something incredible happened: internet users, ostensibly in earnest, began reporting frightening encounters with emaciated, pale, hairless, man-like creatures that crawled on all fours. Apparently oblivious to the fact that the objects of these encounters bore striking resemblance to the fictional Rake, internet users attempted to equate these entities with characters of Native American mythology. Some suggested that they were skinwalkers- medicine men of Navajo lore who possess the ability to transform into animals. Others proposed that these bony humanoids were manifestations of the Wendigo- an evil cannibalistic spirit of Cree and Algonquin legend. Others still began to invent new names for these creatures, such as “fleshgaits”, “goatmen”, and “crawlers”, the latter evoking the 2005 movie villains who likely helped to inspire the Rake in the first place.
It would be tempting to dismiss these sightings as attention-seeking hoaxes or innocent misidentifications owing to the power of suggestion were it not for their chilling profusion. The staggering quantity of reliable witnesses who claim to have seen these creatures, coupled with the fact that many witnesses appear to be ignorant of the urban legend which their sightings evoke, suggests two almost inconceivable possibilities: that the creator of the Rake meme, through some mysterious process, unconsciously contrived an entity that already existed, or that the human imagination somehow willed these beings into existence. These bizarre notions beget the uncomfortable question: “What came first: the monster or the myth?”
Crawlers in Canada
Don Herbert’s Sighting
A few weeks ago, a northern Canadian named Don Herbert shared his own crawler sighting with this author. Herbert is a miner who hails from the remote town of Hay River, Northwest Territories, located on the southern shores of Great Slave Lake. He works in biweekly rotations, spending two weeks at the mine followed by two weeks off at home.
One night in mid-August 2018, during his annual summer vacation about a week prior to his scheduled return to work, Herbert found himself alone in his truck, driving through the woods on the Northwest Territories Highway 2, more commonly known as the Hay River Highway. This stretch of road is one of the most remote thoroughfares in all of Canada, beginning on the shores of Great Slake Lake and skirting the western bank of the Hay River before joining the Mackenzie Highway 38 kilometres to the south.
Drowsy, road-weary, and anxious to get home, Don was a few miles from town when a pale figure appeared in his truck’s headlights, crouching on all fours in the ditch on the left-hand side of the road. From wolves to wolverines, Don had encountered plenty of animals during nighttime drives through the boreal wilderness, but this creature was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Its skin was grayish white and completely hairless. Its head, which he estimated to be only slightly smaller than his own, was bald and didn’t appear to have any ears. Aside from a pair of dark eyes, its only facial feature was a cruel-looking, beak-like mouth. Its legs were long and spindly, and appeared to taper sharply towards the feet, which were obscured by long grass.
The creature, which impressed Don as being highly intelligent, appeared to notice him in the driver’s seat. Bearing its beaklike teeth, it crouched slightly, dug in with its front legs, and launched itself at Don’s truck, leaving a small cloud of dust in its wake. Instead of slamming into the side of the vehicle as its course indicated it was likely to, the creature turned deftly on the side of the road and loped alongside the truck.
Alarmed, Don stepped on the gas and raced for home, leaving the frightening creature behind in the gloom of the forest.
In the months that followed his horrifying encounter, Don spent his free time attempting to identify and track down the strange animal that he saw, secretly fearing that it was a demon. The following is Don Herbert’s own account of his search for the mysterious crawler (lightly edited by this author for the purposes of concision and continuity), which he has generously allowed us to publish for the first time in this article.
Don Herbert’s Account
“During that remaining week, I did not return to the location of the encounter with the creature. More specifically, I could not return to the location. I was now absolutely terrified to do so. Even in daylight, not a chance.
“Around this time, things were starting to sink in and I started to notice some fundamental changes starting to happen with my behavior.
“I reside in town, and my house faces the Hay River. The house itself is set back a ways from the street, resulting in a fairly long driveway of maybe 30 feet or so. I can walk across the street in front of my home and access a nature trail that follows the river. On the other side of the river is wilderness, save for a gravel road that provides access to a First Nations reserve. Directly behind my home there is a green area as well.
“A couple of days after the incident, I was taking my garbage to the curb after dark. There is a streetlamp across the street so it wasn’t entirely pitch black. However, as I was carrying my garbage can to the curb, I felt a sense of nervousness starting to develop. It became worse the closer I got to the woods on the opposite side of the street at the end of the driveway.
“As I progressed to the street, I couldn’t help but to continue to scan the tree line on the opposite side of the road in both directions, watching for any signs of movement. After I placed my garbage can at the street, I could not bring myself to turn my back to the darkened woods out of a deep sense of fear.
“To return to the house, I back stepped the length of the driveway, keeping a close eye on the tree line until I reached the front end of my truck, which was parked in the driveway. Only then did I turn around to make the final distance onto my front deck, then into my house with my back to the woods. I knew then and there that the encounter with the creature had affected me more than I cared to admit.
“Up until that point, I was trying my hardest to put the incident out of my mind and continue on as normal. I did not want to even start thinking about it. Every time my thoughts wandered back to it, I would try thinking of something else entirely. I didn’t even want to begin to try and form an opinion. I was hoping I could just forget about the encounter altogether and just simply move on. Well, let’s just say that’s easier said than done.
“When I got back into my house after putting the trash out, I sat down on the couch. I realized at that moment in time that there was no way that I was going to be able to avoid confronting the subject. The simple fact of the matter was, those 4 – 5 seconds on the highway that night had changed my life forever, whether I tried to continue to deny it to myself or not.
“And so it began. I asked myself the one question I was trying my absolute best to avoid from the very moment I passed by the creature and the encounter ended: ‘What in the hell was that?’
“I returned to work for my two-week rotation shortly after that.
“I started to tell the story to as many people as I could in the hopes that someone may have had a similar story or shared a similar experience. I wondered if I’d had a hallucination. I surfed the web for images similar to creature I had seen. I read reports of sightings of strange creatures in the hope that someone out there may have experienced a similar encounter. I was sincerely hoping to find a natural explanation for what I had seen.
“When I started looking for information on the creature, there were only two options at this point that I really cared to entertain:
“The first, and most probable, in my mind, was that I had experienced a hallucination of some sort. What confused me most about this theory was that I had not only seen the creature, but I had heard it as well. The experience just seemed too real.
“The second option was that I had perhaps witnessed a species of animal never before seen or reported. This is where I was ‘officially’ introduced to the world of cryptozoology. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not totally ignorant of the cryptid world prior to this encounter. In fact I probably possess more knowledge about the subject than most average people.
“I currently prospect the Nahanni region, and earlier in life spent two seasons placer mining on the Liard River just a ways upriver from its confluence with the South Nahanni. You can’t research the area from a geological perspective in a search for minerals or frequent the region without becoming aware of the mysteries surrounding the area. I have always tried to keep an open mind about things, but the moment of my encounter was the first time I actually thought that some of the stories I’ve read and some of tales I’ve heard over the years could potentially have some measure of truth to them.”
Frustrated by his inability to identify the creature, the incredulity of his co-workers, and his newfound fear of the wilderness which infringed upon his lifelong love of outdoor recreation, Don resolved to find the creature and kill it.
“I returned from work on the evening of September 04, 2018, arriving home at just after 8:00 PM. As we were landing at the airport, the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon.
“Tim, a friend I work with, who was also on the flight, kindly offered me a lift home from the airport. Tim was the first person to whom I had relayed the story of my encounter. I had been very anxious to speak with him two weeks earlier, as I waited for the flight to the mine. In the past, Tim has both hunted and trapped to make a living. He has extensive knowledge of the subject. I thought that if anyone would have seen or heard of anything like this creature, it would be him.
“When Tim dropped me off at home, he was then heading to his own home and family. They reside on an acreage about 10 minutes south of town in the direction of where I saw the creature. Tim’s family also owns a secluded cottage along the Hay River near the Alberta / NWT border, and as such they spend a lot of time on the highway travelling back and forth, passing the location where I had seen the creature.
“Tim knew I was intending on trying to find the track that evening and wished me luck. When he dropped me off at home, I quite literally tossed my bags inside the door of my home, got in my truck, and proceeded to head out on the highway to where the encounter with the creature had taken place.
“At this point in time, the encounter was all I could think about. It was very quickly becoming an obsession, if indeed it hadn’t already. Before I could even begin to move forward I had to find the answer to one fundamental question: ‘Did it leave any tracks?’ Visions and spirits and hallucinations do not leave physical tracks.
“Three weeks had now elapsed since the encounter. I didn’t feel I had much chance of success in finding any tracks in the ditch where I first noticed the creature or on the shoulder of the highway where it approached me, as it had rained a few times in the two weeks I was at work. I was hoping beyond hope that I was not already too late.
“Even with the sun now below the horizon and darkness fast approaching, I had to go. I could not take the chance of one more minute of time elapsing before I had the opportunity to find that sign. I felt my very sanity now hinged on finding that one, single, particular track on the shoulder of the highway. This was not only a search for a strange creature but also an attempt to confirm that I wasn’t on the path of early dementia or beginning to lose grip on reality.
“On the drive out, I was trying to reconcile the fact that this could go two ways. The first was that, if I found the tracks, it would mean the creature is real. The second was that, if I didn’t find the tracks, it would mean that I’m losing my mind. Neither option was very appealing. It was not the most pleasant drive, to say the least.
“I slowed as I approached the area the encounter took place and there it was- the skid mark the creature had left, just where I thought it would be. I parked on the side of the road about 20 feet from the track. I got out with my iPhone on record to get some video I could look at later. I was not stepping one foot off the pavement, however. I scanned the area with my phone as long as I dared and got the hell back in the truck and started heading back to town.
“I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!! I had to get Tim!!!
“That was all I could think as I drove back to Tim’s place 10 minutes away, hoping that I could get him to take a look at the track before dark. I could not stop myself from imposing on Tim, who had just returned to his family after two weeks. I just had to get Tim!
“Tim was gracious enough to come out with me and examine the track. He offered his opinion that it looked similar to a goat track, but since the track was at least three weeks old, you would never be able to tell for sure. This would be unusual, as goats aren’t known in the region.
“As Tim was now with me, I managed to summon the courage to now actually step off the pavement and have a look in the ditch where I first spotted the creature. In the dim light, I could tell something had left signs of activity. But the signs were only faintly visible due to their age. I also followed the path it took up the ditch towards the gravel shoulder and found its approach tracks as well.
“We didn’t spend a great deal of time investigating the tracks due to the failing light and soon headed back home.
“It was dark as I dropped Tim back off at home. The tree line across from my driveway was dark as I returned home to the couch. I had some thoughts to process and a heart to get back in my chest.
“While having my coffee the next morning I decided to try out a new hobby and become an amateur cryptozoologist (LOL). I intended to approach the hunt for the creature in a scientific manner the best I could and let the experts come to their own conclusions based on any evidence I could gather.
“Finding the track made me confident that I was dealing with an animal. My former anger subsided into fascination. I decided to set out to prove that this thing exists.”
Don Herbert began his investigation at an abandoned gravel pit located about a mile from the site of his encounter. The area was perpetually crisscrossed with animal tracks, and Don hoped that the mysterious creature might leave some sign of its presence there. For nearly two weeks, he checked the site every morning for fresh prints. On the twelfth day, his diligence was rewarded; there, in the frost-encrusted soil, were two pairs of strange animal tracks which he interpreted as belonging to a mother and her offspring. Herbert reasoned that the presence of a young one might explain the creature’s hostile reaction on the highway; perhaps the creature had been attempting to chase him off, or direct his attention away from her progeny.
Herbert proceeded to search for the creatures’ den in the woods near the site of his encounter, on the side of the highway closest to the river, reasoning that the creature’s hairlessness was an indication that it hibernated during the winter. During his search, he came across several more of the strange prints. These tracks often appeared in the vicinity of wolf tracks, which Don took as an indication that the creature is a scavenger which subsists on the leavings of predators.
On September 17, 2018, Don Herbert discovered the outlet of an old drainage culvert which was covered with fresh vegetation, as if someone or something had attempted to conceal it. He suspected that this might be the creatures’ den, and set up game cameras to monitor the entrance. When the cameras failed to yield any interesting footage, Don crawled into the culvert and found it empty and unusually clean.
Identifying the Tracks
Don Herbert took several photos of the strange animal’s tracks during his investigation and showed four of the best of them to experienced animal trackers with whom he was personally acquainted. None of the woodsmen were able to identify the tracks. He then sent the photos to the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada. The Alliance forwarded the photos to several biologists, none of whom were able or willing to interpret them.
The Mystery Creature’s Tracks
This author of this piece later sent Don’s photos to two expert animal trackers, one of them a distinguished Canadian hunter who preferred to remain anonymous. Both experts claimed that the tracks in three of the photos were too faint to accurately identify, but agreed that the track featured in Figure 3 is clearly that of a wolf.
After doing a little research of his own, this author, who is admittedly a complete novice when it comes to interpreting animal tracks, observed that the tracks in Figures 1 and 2 appear to bear some resemblance to the prints left by wolverines.
The Creepypasta Connection
When asked to produce a sketch of mysterious animal he saw, Don sent this author an illustration made by DeviantArt artist DemonGirl99, which he claimed was very similar to the creature he witnessed.
In private correspondence with this author, DemonGirl99 claimed that her illustration was based off another image produced by fellow DeviantArt creator Crypdidical. This original piece features the “Fisherman”- a Rake-like monster which Crypdidical invented. In an accompanying description, the artist explained his creation thus:
“Much like The Slender Man and the Tall Gentleman, the Fisherman is a mysterious humanoid entity which seems bent on creating terror and fear in [its] wake… It has only been seen around water, and often shows itself to small groups or individuals of its choosing.
“[Its] figure has never been glimpsed in full light. But from what can be understood from witnesses that come across it… it is extremely lanky. It often walks on four limbs, and never on two. It’s agile and coordinated, and seems to be able to guide [its] long [appendages] with ease and grace…”
The Search Continues
Don Herbert assured this author that he fully intends to continue the search for the mysterious creature, which he believes to be an undiscovered species of terrestrial origin, and has agreed to furnish this author with any updates on his progress.
Newfoundland – 2010
Intriguingly, Don Herbert is not the only Canuck to report an encounter with a crawler in the Canadian backwoods. In 2012, a Reddit user with the handle “TossO” described his own brush with a similar creature in an unidentified national park in Newfoundland in the summer of 2010.
While cruising through a barren valley one moonlit night, the poster saw a large, stocky, naked, humanoid creature crawling rapidly towards a stretch of road that lay before him. The creature was completely hairless, and its skin was “a deathly, nauseating white with a greasy shine”.
As he approached the creature, the poster observed that “it had a rubbery face, distorted by hate or a scream, [and] black eyes that reflected in the moonlight”. The poster was horrified by the creature’s facial expression, which gave him the impression that “it was intelligent, and . . . wanted to tear [him] apart with its teeth”.
Similar to Don Herbert’s creature, this monster appeared to be on a collision course with the poster’s vehicle. “I braced for it to run into my car door,” the Redditor wrote. “And then it was gone. The [rear-view] mirror showed me nothing.”
TossO ended his post by voicing his suspicion, evocative of one of Don Herbert’s theories, that the creature he witnessed was a demon.
Northern Ontario – 1990s
In 2017, Reddit user Bailbondshman claimed to have encountered an emaciated, human-like figure while on a camping trip with his father somewhere in Northern Ontario’s cabin country when he was nine or ten years old. While canoeing on a lake with his father during a mussel-hunting excursion, the Redittor caught a glimpse of something strange amidst the trees on the shore.
“I couldn’t make it [out] very well,” the Redditor write, “but it was white, almost like the texture of birch, and very lankly. I remember thinking that… it definitely wasn’t a person, but it wasn’t too far from the general shape of one. It was staggering around lethargically and slowly; if it was an animal, then something was definitely wrong with it. I waded over to my dad and told him to look up there, and by that point it was gone…”
Later on in the post, the Redditor related other interesting (if unrelated) anecdotes regarding this particular camping spot, including a strange humming noise that he and his father would sometimes hear in the nearby marshes, which was often preceded by sudden and utter silence, as well as a small peninsula on the lake that was covered with mushrooms and dead trees and pervaded by a terrible stench.
The Redditor ended his post with what he considered the most disturbing story regarding the lake on which he and his father would often vacation:
“I remember one morning, I had woken up just before sunrise and was still in bed. In the window adjacent to my bed, I saw something that usually wasn’t there. It was half a . . . face poking around the edge of the window and staring into our cabin. Sickly pale orange with giant black holes where the eyes were supposed to be. This thing was definitely not human. I… hid under the covers, and eventually fell back to sleep. When I woke up again, everyone was also awake, and there was no sign of anything there”
The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia – 2015
Crawlers are not the only creepypasta-esque creatures purported to wander the Canadian wilderness. In recent years, several Reddit users claimed to have witnessed tall, thin, naked, bipedal humanoids, bearing characteristics of both Slenderman and the Rake, in various Canadian locales. One of these is Redditor LilyBirdGk, who created a post in 2016 in which she described her boyfriend’s strange encounter with a mysterious entity the previous summer.
In August 2015, the poster and her boyfriend rented a cabin in The Ovens Natural Park, Nova Scotia- an area famous for its spectacular seaside cliffs and their many sea caves, or “ovens”. They spent their first day in the park hiking a cliffside trail and exploring the area’s eponymous formations.
That night, the couple and a few of their friends settled down in their rented cabin for a game of cards. The poster’s boyfriend lost gracelessly, his temper exacerbated by jokes directed at him by one of his friends, which were intended to poke fun at his stature. To cool off, he decided to go for a walk outside alone.
When her boyfriend failed to return after half an hour, the anxious poster called him on his cellphone. He did not answer her call, but quickly phoned her back and asked where she was. The poster, somewhat confused, replied that she was still in the cabin. After a pause, the boyfriend declared that he was coming back immediately, his voice betraying a hint of alarm. When he finally arrived at the cabin, he told his girlfriend a disturbing tale:
“He had walked out to the trails to get some fresh air and sat down on one of the benches to look out at the ocean. The moon was pretty bright that night so everything was illuminated pretty well. Then he heard someone walking by and he saw this really tall and pale figure stop and look at him, and then continue on. For some reason he assumed this was me coming to look for him, and [that’s] when I called him and told him I was in the cabin. He said that in retrospect it was inhumanly tall and pale (thanks babe) and [couldn’t] possibly be a person. He was not himself for the rest of the night and [didn’t] seem normal until lunch the next day.”
Quesnel, British Columbia – 2018
Throughout the latter half of 2018, Reddit user MZULFT10989 posted about his own encounters with a strange entity which visited his property in the city of Quesnel, in central British Columbia.
The Redditor’s first alleged encounters took place in the early summer, when he noticed an eerie humanoid creature “running inhumanly fast” through the field behind his house before vaulting over a 5.5-foot-tall fence and disappearing into the woods. This creature was emaciated, white-skinned, and “at least 7 feet tall”, with a gaping mouth and no eyes. Unlike the crawler that Don Herbert encountered, this creature was bipedal, and ran with a manlike gait.
In August 2018, the same Redditor published another post in which he claimed to have seen the mysterious creature again, this time at night, darting through a field on his property and jumping the fence into his neighbour’s yard. Two weeks later, the Redditor caught the same creature peering at him from around the side of his house. Frightened, he retreated indoors. Later, he examined the area at which the creature had stood and found scratch marks on the exterior of his house.
In October 2018, the Redditor reported a third encounter. While he was sitting outside on the back porch facing his field, the creature appeared and raced across his property as it had done several times before. This time, however, it stopped in the middle of the field and turned to stare at the Redditor. Before the petrified Canadian had time to react, the creature ran down the field and leapt into his neighbour’s yard.
On another occasion, the poster saw the creature peering at him through his living room window. He ran upstairs to retrieve his hunting bow, with which he intended to protect himself, but by the time he returned downstairs, the creature was gone.
The subject of the Redditor’s fourth and final post took place in November 2018, about two weeks after his previous encounter. This time, the man found the creature staring into his barn through an open window. The entity apparently learned that it was being watched, turned to face the Redditor, and emitted a piercing shriek before running into his neighbour’s yard and into the woods.
What do you think, Canucks? Are these creatures simply misidentifications or figments of active imaginations? Or is there something strange lurking in the Canadian wilderness? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.