Updated: Feb 10
Artwork by Kelley Hensing
The last you heard from April was her scream. At first, this was nothing alarming. After all, your girlfriend’s a Yank who, before moving to the outback, had never seen a real spider let alone a large snake or crocodile. As you sit around the fire, the silence of the night settles over the Liverpool River valley, and the stillness of the woods becomes deafening.
Skittish April might be, but if anything, that generally leads her to return to the fire sooner, oftentimes, at a run. Many times she’s accounted to you sightings of some strange creature up in the trees. To which you generally respond that she better ‘watch out for drop bears.’
But you hear no hiking boots making a rapid pace back to the fire, no heavy breath, or half laughed-out excuses. Just the crackling of wood, the rustling of leaves, and something else. You focus on the other sound, the one that is natural enough to blend with the world around you, but alien enough to cause alarm, to trigger some primeval awareness buried in your reptilian mind, to make you want to run.
Is this the way April feels every time we venture out to the bush? you wonder with a pang of guilt, stepping into the dark.
As you walk through the pitch black of the canopy-covered trail, do you call out her name? Do you listen closely to the sound which you’ve slowly come to recognize as crunching, squelching, and chewing?
Under the low-hanging bough of a tall tree, you feel a wet drop on your head, just before you hear a low, rumbling growl.
Do you look up? Or do you obey your instincts and simply run away?
As a guy who camps a lot, I have frequent nightmares of what terrible creatures or entities could be lurking in the blackness of the wild. A massive country, like Australia, with a relatively small population and ancient folklore that has been preserved through its people, is bound to have a ton of creepy stories of just such creatures. Our topic for this week is the Garkain.
You may know these creatures are vampires of mid-range toughness in The Witcher video game series, as that is their most high-profile appearance, but the legend of the Garkain goes back much further. It likely predates the European vampire, being a legend from ancient aboriginal folklore.
The Garkain is a bat-like, vampire creature said to live in the canopies of the northern Australian jungles. It is known for its massive size and inclination to swoop onto unwary travelers. If you do happen to be attacked by a Garkain, your chances of survival are essentially nil. This massive creature has an insatiable hunger for human flesh and is so elusive that, once it’s got you in its clutches, you will never be found.
I love Aussie folklore for the nature-influenced aspect of its creatures. Much like the ‘real’ predators that prowl the forests, deserts, jungles, and oceans of Oceania’s largest landmass, the cryptids of this continent are fearsome, massive, and merciless. The Garkain is a perfect example of a vampiric species that is very much outside the western idea of the seductive, charming, Dracula image which springs to so many minds at the mention of a vampire.
In this primal, corporeal image of vampiric lore, you can see the influence of Australia’s regional animals. If you live somewhere with venomous and hungry critters in abundance, it stands to reason that your folk creatures will fit that bill. The Garkain is no exception.
So I ask again, would you look up if you thought your girlfriend's blood was dripping on you and realized drop bears were far from your biggest concern? Would you panic and run? Would you be able to face the horrible reality, not just of April’s death, but also the earth-shattering awareness that there are creatures out there that you believed were false? Let me know in the comments!