Mothman of West Virginia

29 Dec

By the time that Jack Wilson reached Charleston in the winter of 1967, it was already Christmas week. He had come from New York City to report on a mysterious bridge collapse, but quickly discovered that there was more involved in the incident, much more than he had anticipated.

The casualties that had resulted were astounding: forty-six motorists were drowned in the icy waters of the Ohio River. The region in northern West Virginia had never experienced such a spectacular disaster before. No wonder the entire nation had focused attention on the event. Curiosity had compelled the News to send Jack to write a story about what had happened out there.

Once situated in a downtown hotel, Jack went to the offices of the city’s Daily Mail and found the newsman who had been contacted and agreed to serve as guide and advisor to the man from New York. The tall West Virginian who looked like a scarecrow was Tom Moss, a veteran of the local and regional scene.

The pair shook hands and immediately got down to serious business about the bridge collapse. “I was planning to drive out to Point Pleasant and nose around for some unreported memories of witnesses. Can you come along with me? A lot can be picked up just walking around and listening to people there.”

“Indeed, that’s what I am here to get,” said Jack with a confident smile.

Tom led the way out to his old Impala parked on the street.

As the car rolled along northward toward the Ohio River, the driver asked a question that had he had been burning to ask.

“All our reports from the location of the collapse have been wired everywhere. Tell me, if you wish, what are you going to try to find out. Why did you come all the way to West Virginia to investigate on your own?”

He stole a brief glance at the passenger on his right, then returned to the wandering road ahead of them.

Jack, shorter and skinnier than his guide, thought several moments before making a reply.

“I tend to be a reporter who concentrates on the unusual aspects of newsworthy events. These are what often draws the greatest interest from the reading public back there in New York City. That also tends to be true all across the country, as well.

“There was mention in several of the associated wire stories of comments by some survivors and witnesses of having seen some strange shape or figure just about the time of the disaster. You are certainly aware of the rumors and the stories that arise about what seems unusual and unexplained. People tend to turn to unnatural or supernatural causes. All sorts of forces are labeled as involved in such unexplainable events as this one.”

Tom let out a grunt. “Yes, our mountain people have their superstitions and legends. Whole books have been written describing such beliefs and stories. In recent days, all of us around here have heard a lot about the appearance of a so-called Mothman who flies about doing strange things and frightening those who happen to catch sight of him.

“You will hear about this moth-like monster from many of the locals, especially in and around Point Pleasant and the fallen bridge.”

“Yes, I would like to talk with people who have such tales to tell me,” confessed the New Yorker in a playful tone. “I think that I could squeeze an interesting background article for my paper out of that kind of material.”

Tom emitted a sigh, driving on in silence.

The engineer in charge of the investigation and the clearance of the smashed and destroyed bridge spoke to the two reporters as the trio walked along the shore of the Ohio River.

“Our consensus was easy to reach. The stress caused by bumper-to-bumper traffic during the busiest rush-hour was too great for this old, out-dated structure. Ductile overload occurred, causing total collapse in less than a minute of time.

“We have centered the trouble to a single weakened eyebar in a central suspension chain. This defect was only a tiny fraction of an inch deep, but the load was too great to withstand. The bridge had not been constructed for the traffic of today, in 1967. Modern cars are too much larger and heavier than what the bridge designers ever anticipated.

“It was also true that this span was very poorly maintained, creating the unforeseen hazard that finally led to this.” He pointed to the vast wreckage in which forty-six persons had drowned in the icy waters between Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio.

Once the engineer had left them, Tom turned to the reporter from New York.

“What do you think now? This expert believes it was all due to one small eyebar. I want you to hear what a local neighbor who happened to see it all says about the crash of the bridge.”

Bill Johnson and his wife Mary lived in a small wooden house a short distance from where the span had stood for many decades.

They recognized Tom from an earlier interview that they had given him. Both journalists were invited into their small, modest living room and asked to be seated.

The stress and pain they had both suffered was visible in the haggard looks they gave to their visitors.

Tom asked the short, skinny husband to relate what he himself had experienced.

“I happened to be outside, fetching my mail from our post-box, at the moment it all began. The noise was scary and it terrified me. When I looked out, I could see the bridge crashing and folding like it was made out of paper. It was awful to watch. I was like paralyzed, so I just stood out there and watched like I was a statue or something. Too scared to even move, that’s what I was for a long while.

“And then I saw some kind of large object fly away from the wreck out there in the Ohio.” He began to quiver and shake without being aware of it. “I swear that I caught sight of what a lot of people call the Mothman. It was high over the West Virginia shore, soaring up higher and higher. I couldn’t believe what my own eyes told me was up there. It scared all the way into my bones. I hope that I never see that thing ever again in my life. It was like something that came out of hell.” He looked at Tom, then Jack, and finally his own wife.

She interpreted this as a request that she also speak.

“When I saw Bill come back in the house, it was plain to me that he was shaken up by all he had seen out there. He told me about the big bird that looked like both a man and a moth. I saw for myself how scared he’d become out there. He’s not one to imagine things that ain’t true, I know that from living with him all these years. He saw what he says was in the air.”

Tom thanked the disturbed pair and signaled to Jack that it was time to leave.

Once they were back in the car, the driver made a proposal to the reporter who had come to West Virginia from New York.

“We still have an hour or two of daylight left,” said Tom. “Since the focus of your attention has been the story of the Mothman that people claim they’ve seen, why don’t I show you the scene of some of the earliest claims of sighting it? That is at a abandoned explosives factory a little outside Point Pleasant. We can have a look around the place before starting back to Charleston.”

Jack grabbed at this opportunity. “Yes, I think that is a very good idea, Tom.”

“The first report that I’ve come across was one from northwest of Charleston. Five men were digging a grave in a cemetery at the small town of Glendenin about the 12th of November last year. They reported seeing a brown object that looked like a human being flying over some nearby trees. It was too big to be a bird, they said. A man flying with wings seemed to be their best definition. But the next sighting, on November 15th, happened over the TNT plant that we will soon be seeing.”

The hundreds of acres around the ruins of the explosions plant consisted of forest and wild brush, covered with a couple of inches of snow.

“Much of the area is now a state-run wild animal preserve,” explained Tom as he brought the auto to a stop a hundred feet or so from the large dilapidated structure. “There is a network of hidden tunnels that was once in use here.”

The two men climbed out to have a brief look around as the winter sun started to set in the west into a thick forest.

Tom continued talking in the cool air of dusk.

“It was a man called Ralph Thomas who from his nearby house saw a red light flying over the TNT plant. And a Mrs. Marcella Bennett reported that she sighted a large gray object with glowing eyes. The poor woman was carrying her small baby and was so frightened that she dropped it to the ground.

“But there were multiple reports that same night. There is a kind of secret lovers’ lane out here at night, and two married couples who were necking in their cars caught sight of what came to be tagged the Mothman. They gave similar descriptions of it as six to seven feet tall, shaped like a man, with gigantic wings attached to its back. And the eyes were gleaming red in color.

“It spread out its wings and flew right over the two cars they were in.”

The pair came to a halt as the first stars began to shine in the clear, cloudless dark blue sky. Jack stared at the roofless walls of what had once been a munitions factory supplying the American military. The newsman from New York had an eerie inner feeling that he was on the verge of a strange discovery of some sort. But he had not the slightest clue what it might consist of. He decided to stay quiet and listen to the words of his knowledgeable companion.

“Four different couples also claimed to have seen the large flying object zooming above them high in the night air. It spread its wings wide and flew over their cars. One young pair of lovers said that the thing followed them down Highway 62, all the way to Point Pleasant.

“The more these stories spread about, the more people seemed to come out with reports of strange sightings. To many official and unofficial investigators, the whole business was attributed to popular panic and a general state of mass hysteria. There were outsiders who claimed that it was all due to optical illusions, that what was witnessed were big barn owls or horned owls with shining reddish eyes. That the people from Point Pleasant were unfamiliar with these nighttime flying creatures out in the countryside, especially the wild forests.”

“It is hard to determine what the truth was, Tom,” muttered Jack under his breath, looking directly into the face of the reporter from Charleston.

All of a sudden, the New Yorker heard a loud sound coming out of the ruins of where the TNT plant had once operated. His eyes caught something gray hurling forward and upward toward the spot where he stood beside Tom Moss.

The latter spoke to him in a slow, distant voice he had not used at any time that entire day.

“You must see exactly what I am also experiencing, Jack. This is not the first occasion for me to catch sight of that object. It has become my own, personal secret. I keep it completely private to myself. Do I dare report it in my newspaper? Do I ever venture to expose what I know for the entire world to share the truth with me? The answer has to be no, my friend. I have no proof beyond my own word. Would a photograph establish my word as credible? I have grave doubts about taking that road.”

Jack, following the soaring course of the large gray flyer, stared into the starry black sky. Forest sounds echoed out of the nearby Wildlife Preserve. A December coldness was sensed by the big-city correspondent.

He turned back toward his companion to witness the unthinkable and incredible.

The face of Tom Moss was no longer that of a human being, but resembled that of some pre-historic avian creature, a relative of the dinosaurs.

Deadly red eyes with an unfamiliar light to them shined forth with terrifying power. Large wings extended from behind the massive shoulders of this new, undefined shape.

Words suddenly emerged from the birdlike mouth of what had seconds before been his familiar companion.

“We are a special species of beings, half human and half something else. Our ancestors came to these mountains with the first pioneers who settled the Appalachian region that became West Virginia. Our neighbors have chanced to see some of us for over three centuries. There is nothing supernatural or unnatural about us. We are the mountain changers that are generalized into the Mothman that almost everybody in America knows about by now.

“You must keep your lips totally sealed, Jack.

“Nobody would believe you if you exposed the truth about us. The truth about us changers is too incredible for anyone to really accept.

“Will you agree to keep silent?” humbly asked the West Virginian.

“Yes, of course I will, Tom,” said the shaken visitor in a hollow voice unlike his ordinary one.

In a few seconds, Tack saw the large birdlike form transform itself back to what it had been, the veteran reporter from Charleston.

Without another word, the two walked back to the car and climbed in.

Neither of them spoke all the way back to the West Virginia capital.

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