The Catskills Devil

The Catskills Devil spends an inordinate amount of time online disproving the existence of the Jersey Devil.

She’s terribly active on social media. She tries to stay out of politics; she’s not sure if any particular party has the best interests of giant horse-headed batwinged monsters at heart. (She’s not entirely sure how helpful they are to anyone else, for that matter.) Still, sometimes it gets a bit toxic in virtual space, and she needs to grab some fresh air, maybe have a cigarette, perhaps run down a goat or two.

But mostly, she’s debunking: writing strongly-worded editorials to urban legend sites, making sarcastic comments on Twitter (hashtag: #andsantaisrealtoo; hashtag #tvisnotreallife). She’s reasonably savvy. She can tell some of the best Jersey Devil stories out there, and debunk them, too; but who wants to listen to nothing but negatives. …okay, the answer to that is “approximately 97% of social media,” but that’s not the point. She serves her cause well by sharing the most outlandish stories with gleeful relish. Monster-hunters hate her, because she takes their stories and adds implausibilities which wreck the suspension of disbelief—”Oh, is that when you cornered a 12′-tall being in an apartment with 7′ ceilings?”; “And then his eyes glowed red like the darkest pits of Hell, which is also totally a thing, right?”; “He screamed in a language not spoken by human beings”. She’s very, very good at sarcasming up the place, until everybody backs down and goes home.

(In actuality, he’s 9′ tall, his eyes glow like the fourth or fifth darkest pit of Hell, and frankly, it’s weird that he screams in Klingon, but in real life as on television, Klingon really helps simplify language to “Run, fight, or mate”. He’s really hoping nobody picks the third option.)

What does he think of all this? He doesn’t, really; he’s off the grid in the Pine Barrens, and he’s got better things to do.

Because, realistically, pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers work 2-hour days. Like prehistoric humans, he eats a lot of mice and insects for protein, but so what? He lives near the only place on Earth which consumes “scrapple”. In comparison, everything else tastes great.

The hunter-gatherer life has its ups and its downs. If you’d like to gather with a bunch of other sentients and simply gobble up the map, making things into buildings and buildings into much larger, more complicated buildings, and generally trying to make your species more abundant, more knowledgeable, and more able to annihilate things, itself included, then you’re likely going to need to extend more control over your environment. You’ll need farms, and that means regular habits and plenty of ’em—trust me, if you’re cultivating, say, roosters, they’re quite particular: if THEY’RE awake, then EVERYBODY should be awake, is how they feel. And they’re quite glad to pitch in with the bloodcurdling howls we euphemistically call “crowing”, because crows have terrible PR agents.

Got a farm? You need tools, then, and that means either very basic tools indeed, and a certain amount of handiness; or else you very quickly bump up against specialization of labor, and that, in turn, leads to economic exchange, and, by the way, wouldn’t it be nice to have more help on the farm? You can use technologies like marriage and offspring, but if somebody’s going to inherit, you need some rules, and you need yourself some government, and then, likely, some crime (but I repeat myself), and—

Yeahhhh. The Jersey Devil is having none of that. Or very little of that, at least. There’s a terribly reasonable living to be made as an animatronic device in a haunted house; the work is seasonal, but the pay is quite good. He can be very still for long periods of time. If you don’t know much about the animatronic business, just consider that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and install a nine-foot-tall electronic devil figure, which moves (albeit stiffly), yells insults (someone must have done a bang-up voice-acting job; the recordings almost sound like they’re responding directly to the crowd!), and (this is a big one)—it can wield a chainsaw. Safely, even.

I won’t go into the special place chainsaws hold in the hearts of haunters. Suffice to say that it’s nothing short of miraculous (and needs to be tested repeatedly to be believed) to have an animatronic whose motion sensors are so good that it won’t ever accidentally wing somebody (which puts ahead of more than a few actual humans in the biz. Just sayin’.)

So paying a couple grand a summer is a pretty excellent deal for a haunt large enough to be able to afford it, especially if the robot can (somehow!) show up having learned new tricks every year.

(You’re wondering about the logistics; at least, I would be if I were you. Nothing simpler: The haunted attraction [“the Haunt,” in the parlance of professionals, aka, ‘Haunters’] gets a call from someone saying he’s got an incredible animatronic that he wants to test; it’ll even self-install, but all has to happen in complete secrecy; he doesn’t want people to know too much about his invention until he’s ready to bring it to market. That’s why he’s willing to let this incredibly expensive piece of equipment be used straight through the Halloween season for a fraction of its eventual rental cost. Is there a catch? Nope, no catch; just please respect the equipment and make sure it’s returned in good condition. You can even pay for it at the end of the season.

Assorted hijinks ensue, but in general, it works out quite well. Haunters are exceptionally curious, even for humans (that most curious species!), but if you’re told something is a device, then that’s how you’re likely to see it. It’s actually pretty cool how the thing arrives at midnight, walking stiffly past you and into an appropriate spot in the building. It stands in place, more like a statue than most statues, and extending one arm with (of all the charming touches!) extensive handwritten notes on care and use.

Sure, there’s a lot of speculation, awe, even a certain covetous desire to acquire this technology in a permanent way by inquiring into the mechanisms with a socket wrench. But the Jersey Devil can freeze in place for days, breathes infrequently and (when in company) theatrically, like a built-in bellows, and goes from immobility to extreme displeasure when someone comes up and tries to, say, craftily unscrew his head.

One earth-shattering roar and a brief vigorous-shaking-of-the-inquisitive-person later, the haunters decide to leave well enough alone. Because, even if we forget the part where people are getting one Hell of a deal (and who can forget getting what is obviously a major piece of entertainment technology for about the same cost as a moderate engine repair for the haunted hayride truck?)

It was good employment. And if sometimes people did things in front of him that they’d never have done in the presence of a living being, he either tuned it out, or observed, with some curiosity, the human condition.

And the rest of the time, he lived a simple life. There is a general challenge, a certain grappling with the Tragedy of the Commons, to living a ‘simple’ life in a complex world; unless the only things you use or enjoy are things which are independent of other humans, you have some reliance on civilization. And if so, is it really an appropriate moral stance to suggest that you’re living away from others, when, if everyone else were like you, we might all end up with nothing?

One could have heated arguments about this, if one were human, and the sort to enjoy arguing; but The Catskills Devil isn’t either of those things.

The Jersey Devil doesn’t even miss out on the cast parties at the Haunt. Usually, they have to drag him out and bring him ’round near the bonfire. Frequently, they want some pictures with him. Once in a while, they feel oddly attached to the big animatronic, and start preparing for the serious effort necessary to transport such a large, complicated object. Either way, hardly anyone goes Code Yellow when he gets up and walks, mechanistically, doing an excellent impression of a clunky 1950s-style walking ‘robot’, to where the party’s being held.

People invariantly thought it was funny to put an alcoholic beverage in his open hand. They were invariantly astonished when he put it in his ‘mouth’ and ‘drank’ it. They found this such a neat trick that they can’t help but repeat it; it turns out that he can ‘drink’ quite a lot before some internal mechanism prompts ‘the machine’ to start turning beverages away.

Can a Devil have hangovers? We will leave him his secret.

And that is his primary financing, and his primary social life, for the year.

And it drives The Catskills Devil completely up a wall.

Do you know how she makes her money?

She runs the Official Jersey Devil Fansite.

It’s the single largest collection of Jersey Devil lore, pictures, accounts, recordings, everything. Its social media reach is huge, its videos alone could monetize a pretty comfortable life, and it has advertising which is tasteful, but highly lucrative.

She hates it.

It started on a whim. It was a practical joke. She might have been flirting at the time. Maybe they were just friends.

And it became very popular.

And that damn son-of-a-monster is popular as hell, and nobody’s heard of her. Her many attempts to introduce herself on the site—”Devil and Devil”, or “Have You Also Heard Of”, or “What If He’s Actually A She, And She Lives In New York?”

Nobody reads it. In fact, she gets massive pushback for not being “true” to the site. Jersey Devil Fans righteously despise this clearly-mythical, wannabe, pretender to the Deviltry throne.

That part makes her annoyed, like low-key annoyed on a daily basis. But what she hates is that the damn Jersey Devil is just there. He barely does any work! His one “real” job is 100% Halloween and beer! He doesn’t have to worry about social media algorithms, or copycat sites, or any of the stupid things that drive her nuts.

She wants him to not exist. And she keeps telling everyone that the he doesn’t exist. But it’s no good. They already know he doesn’t exist, so their ‘belief’ in him is a perverse love of the strange, the weird, the hokey, the urban legends of the world.

His existence provides her with a very nice income. And every time she sees the ad revenue appear in her bank account, she feels another drop of acid on her heart.

All she wants os for people to stop pretending-they-believe-in-the-Jersey-Devil, and for them to start just say they don’t believe.

Of course, she’ll be out of business, then. She’ll have no way to support herself. She has no idea how she’d support herself.

But she stopped connecting those things a long time ago. She stopped thinking “If he didn’t exist, I’d be broke and in trouble”, and all she thinks is “It’s another paycheck from that thing I hate“.

Go ahead. Believe in the Catskills Devil. Make up some stories. Put something on the internet.

Somebody keep the myth alive.

Why shower all this love on the Jersey Devil? Why give it to someone who doesn’t care?

Why not give all your mythical belief to someone who really, really needs it?

…all right. Perhaps she doesn’t need it. Perhaps she’d actually hate the scrutiny, the searchlights, the constant possibility of intrepid hikers or reporters ready to make her life miserably by announcing that she was real.

But she won’t know that until he’s gone and she has risen. And if, by then, it’s much too late, if such a world would leave her broke and chased-down and miserable…

…why spoil a bone-deep hatred and obsession with the inconvenience of consequences?

~Jeff Mach



My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!



Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.

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