Urban Myths are propelled out of mundane events. The Clearwater Monster, for instance. It lumbered out of the surf in the late 1940’s, leaving tracks on multiple occasions. Its footprint, a narrow heel with three elongated toes. The imprint was described by a witness as ‘more bird like than reptilian.’ Coincidentally, they were left over the course of several years, exactly six months apart.
Decades later, the monster was discovered to be a father and son duo. A relative discovered giant cement feet in their attic. On questioning the family, the truth was laid out in a series of involved steps. Getting into a small boat. Paddling through the gulf onto shore. Stepping on the blocks of cement and hoisting each up, with every step, by aid of a rope pulley. It was a giant pair of cement flip-flops.
A path of consecutive prints were made. Ominous. Circumnavigating the beach. And finally, ending back in the ocean. Here the creature took off its myth making shoes, and sailed, with his son, back to the suburbs.
There is the infamous ‘Skunkape.’ Our peninsula’s version of the abominable snowman, but one found in the humid, tucked away swamplands of Florida. There’s a species named for each remaining natural habitat: those areas not gobbled up by the gluttonous and ever expanding development apparatus. The Myakka, The Ocala, and the Glades. Its ‘skunk’ smell, a residue left when being pursued.
Although Florida has some unique, endemic creatures (The Manatee, The Florida Panther and American Crocodile), the Skunkape(s) is more than likely a group of primates. A posse of escapees, fleeing exotic pet zoos during countless Hurricanes. Let loose, they hide, forage, and elude us humans to become legend within the expanse of the Sunshine State.
Those unexplained noises in the shadows, those shapes creeping into the folds of night, are petrol to fuel the mind’s eye. To make it reel, to spin yarn out of each observer’s subjectivity. Each minute detail more dramatically developed, spiraling through conversation and painted on thick through the telling and re-telling of each story.
So exists Mini-Lightning and the Ten Green Men.
I’d first heard the story in the mid-ninetees. Some friends had rented a two-story house, that bent, off kilter, over the Roser Park Creek in South St. Pete. Giant Banyan and Live Oaks lined the water, spanish moss hung from their branches, low and grey. The scene: icing on the ominous cake of a cut-throat tropical paradise. This is where the Ten Green men lurk.
Mini Lightning was a voodoo priestess. And her Ten Green Men, a cache of little people who kidnapped those unsuspecting wanderers. They would snatch you up, and shuffle you, hopeless, back to the priestess.
In her den, unspeakable rituals were performed.
Through the years, any blasphemous deed (a home burglary, a mugging, a headless body found stuffed in a shaded nook) was blamed on Mini-Lightning and her minions.
Through the years, I’d hear multiple variations of the myth. I was told never to cross the Roser Park bridge. Underneath, the Green Men hide. And human chatter (the creaking of an old rusted bike chain, the footsteps of unsuspecting interlopers) would conjure them from the depths.
The Mini-Lights hated cement.
‘Stay clear of any grass in Roser Park and you’ll be fine.’
‘They weren’t actually green, they painted themselves.
But their eyes were red. Blood red.’
The yarn spins and piles up thick. Especially amongst those on the periphery. Those who were told by their sister, who was told by a friend, who heard from an aunt, who got the story passed down to them by their mother.
‘Yea man, we wanted to find the mutha-fuckas and break em off’
I sat down with Ben. Born and raised in South St. Pete, his southern drawl sometimes hard to understand.
‘They used to hang in ‘˜The Jungle.’ Ya know, down there under Roser Park bridge.’
Ben took a long sip from his cup of sweet tea. In the background, the microwave hummed electromagnetic waves into his bowl of dumplings.
‘We knew where they was. A big ol’ white house. You know, the ones with all the winda’s.
Bout ten of us went down there one afternoon. We had bricks and bottles.
We was gonna flush em’ out.’
Ben’s cell phone rang. He picked up and started talking, or rather yelled into the phone. Over the years he became progressively hard of hearing. Every one of his conversations became more and more like listening to a sermon.
He quickly cut the call.
‘Yea, yea. So we all went down there and yelled out, ‘˜send the Mini-Lights out the door.’
And after awhile we got tired a waitin’. So with all that stuff we had, we knocked every…single… winda’ outta that house.’
They come out? I asked.
‘Nah. Some old lady came hobblin’ out. She was crying. She said ‘˜Mini-Lightning don’t live here.’
Then we heard the cops’
You take off?
‘Hell yea we took off. Would you?’
He took another long sip from his drink. Sweat cascaded down his temples.
‘But we came back a couple weeks later. We had all gotten jobs around the neighborhood. Some of us sold newspapers. Oranges. We used to sell avocado pears.
By the end of summer we went back an’ gave the ol’ lady all we had made.’
Was she thankful?
‘Yea, she was. Then she told us to never come back.’
Ben gathered up his bowl. He crooked his neck sideways to wipe the sweat onto his shirt.
This was a typical Florida lunch break at work.
‘That shit is a myth, ya’ know?’
I did know. But I wanted so badly not to.
Those stories, those myths: they give us something to seek out. Something to believe in. A purpose. Something concrete in the realm of the infinite.
Ben turned around. The front of his shirt soaking wet from the heat.
‘But I’ll tell you this…If I ever find em,’ I’m gonna whoop all they asses.’