Written by Jonathan Wojcik
The Spooky Bug-a-bog
In terms of real, actual Halloween presence, 2018 has felt like the lightest I can ever remember, with a shorter run of relatively fewer new Halloween items than almost any past year. Worse yet, it took until nearly the end of October for our beautiful, refreshing rainy season (critical to me ever feeling totally good) to finally return when it should have started back in August, I couldn't muster the energy to keep a lot of my other projects updating, Fright Town had to CANCEL (!!!!!!) for apparently the first time in thirteen years and isn't sure it can ever return, and also the world is dying.
It just hasn't been a very okay year (for anyone, anywhere, except a couple rich guys I guess), but today is our third anniversary being married as well as my third birthday living in a place I want to live and chose to live for the first time in my whole life, so there are still happy things about today.
With little else I could come up with that felt "big" enough in terms of Halloween today, I thought I'd just share a really dumb, really personal little thing that sometimes helps me feel better.
I don't remember precisely when or why this idea started, but I've always liked coming up with ideas within a strict set of rules, and I think a lot of other people do too. It's fun to come up with your own three starter pokemon or eight megaman bosses without breaking their pattern! So, at some point, I got it in mind to try and design a fictional world with only ten creature species, just to see how many creatures and concepts I love that I can cram into only so many slots.
These creatures can have larval stages, gender forms and other variations to further expand their diversity, but within reason. Nothing much more outrageous than any real animal. You should also assume this is a world you could actually end up living in, but nothing in it is capable of harming you specifically, so you'll want it to be the kind of place you would find pleasant or entertaining to retire to.
I designed my ten-creature setting at least eleven or twelve years ago, but since then, I've revisited it dozens of times to modify or completely swap out species and environments as my interests evolved. It began entirely insect-themed, then more Halloween themed, then finally an obtuse hybrid of the two, and I guess it really is the world building equivalent of a bonsai tree; it's modified and trimmed over time, but it stays small, and this ongoing maintenance just feels comfortable and relaxing.
In honor of my own silly website and what everybody thinks is my name now, I eventually named this microworld the Bug-a-Bog, because my ideal environment would also be a perpetually raining swampland. A perpetually raining swampland swathed in bioluminescent, greenish fog and currently inhabited by these ten species, drawn (albeit crudely) for the very first time ever:
I said the bog's Halloween theme was kind of obtuse, because I think of this species as a "werewolf spider," with traits of both canine and arthropod that includes both an exoskeleton and internal bones. They're cannibalistic enough to stay somewhat rare, but eventually, a Werewhat roots itself in place and begins to grow into this world's equivalent to a tree, contributing to a vast forest made entirely of branching, gnarled spider legs.
Once a year, under an especially big and bright moon (because there's a moon, even though I should mention that the whole setting fits on a moon-sized plane itself) most other living things go deep into hiding as the trees enter a carnivorous reproductive phase, using any protein they can catch to nourish their bright orange, gourd-like egg pods.
You know fleas are some of my favorite-ever animals, so nothing else could really fill the "vampire" role here. The larger, more humanoid "queen" seldom leaves her gooey nest, but sends the more impish little males out to gather blood from the surrounding Werewhats. The trees are left white, limp and on the brink of death, but the fleas will viciously protect them until they can recover completely, and most creatures know to avoid a Vermpire's ghostly pale territory.
Vermpires have maggot-like larvae similar to those of real fleas, but these feed primarily on Werewhat hair, and fashion bagworm-like sacs for themselves until they're ready to pupate.
You can't have fleas without ticks! And I also can't have anything of any kind without barnacles! Juvenile and male Ickticks are actually amphibious, commonly floating on the surface of the swamp in clumps that look a lot like rafts of duckweed, algae and lily pads, feeding on the blood of almost any other species in the bog.
It's the mature females that anchor in place and develop into stalked "barnacles," which prey on flies (we'll get to those later) and anything else within reach, like a carnivorous plant.
You can't have fleas and ticks without mosquitoes! Come on! The whole forest has blood, there's plenty to go around! You may know that "Strix" is an old Greek term for a blood-sucking creature kind of interchangeable with an owl, and was also the inspiration for the Stirges from Dungeons and Dragons, one of my all-time favorite monsters.
So we basically have Stirges in the Bug-a-bog, but they have the Potoo eyes I obsessively give everything, Zubat colors and a suction cup tail. They also borrow from the Ickticks by having predatory, sessile adult females, though in this case, their wings fuse together into makeshift "jaws" and they look little different than they once did when roosting, until they drop down on passing prey. If this were a video game stage, these would be the token piranha-plant type of enemy, while the female Ickticks would be a more passive hazard, growing in clusters you just don't want to step in.
Everyone would yell at me if I didn't include leeches in this, I'm sure, but Bloodworms also incorporate aspects of earthworms, flatworms and ribbon worms. Like the other blood drinkers, they get more than enough sucking on Werewhat roots, but there's kind of no limit to how huge they can get, and over many, many years, a bloodworm can grow into what you could consider the bog's equivalent to a "dragon." No longer just feeding on blood, it uses an adhesive, poisonous proboscis (a ribbon worm trait) to drag almost anything into the toothless mouth on its underside, but fortunately sleeps through all but the "fall" season (when the dominant creeper vines change, not the trees, because all of those are spiders), and since its favorite food is any other bloodworm larger than a few feet, there's typically only ever one of these giants at a time.
Blatantly based on The Magnificent Maggot, a Stinkworm begins its life as a football-sized maggot that eats almost anything organic, but especially the mosses, lichens, fungi, slime molds and algae that carpet almost every unsubmerged surface. If it's male, a Stinkworm eventually molts into an entire swarm of several dozen hummingbird-sized bluebottle flies, the most common creatures in the entire swamp.
If it's a female, since this is a running trend in the bog as well as in real invertebrates, the Stinkworm just keeps growing and growing, reaching an almost whale-like size and slowly eating her way through the bog's foliage, creeping along at just a few feet an hour. An exception to her non-predacious diet are the male flies caught and "eaten" by the flower-like growths along her back, which imitate the color and odor of raw Werewhat meat. This is where she gets the necessary genetic information and protein for the larvae she produces at a rate of about one every fifteen minutes.
Obviously I don't really think they're ugly, but the Ugly Stickers were such a defining inspiration to me that if just one creature here was going to shamelessly rip something else off, it was going to rip off Ugly Sticker #3.
Young Uglies behave a lot like spiders as we normally know them, spinning webs out of luminous green slime (camouflage against the fog) to trap mostly Strix and paralyzing them with venom from their stinging tentacles. When they grow too large and heavy for a web to sustain them, they switch to a lifestyle more like a trapdoor spider, and eventually begin to generate "eggs" that sprout up in a ring around their territory. These look almost exactly like large basket stinkhorn fungi, and their rotten smell attracts flies which are caught and preyed upon by the tiny Ugly developing within each one.
Can you tell the Wherewhat was actually the first drawing I made here, and the Ugly was the last? Every time I set out to just do faster, quicker, sloppier drawings I accidentally spend just a little more time on each one.
Banana slugs have been one of my favorite animals for most of my life, well before I ever came to live in their natural territory. There's just something so fanciful to me about both a large and brightly-colored land slug, like the kind of animal you would normally only expect to see in a fantasy setting full of garden gnomes and singing mushrooms.
Banana slugs in the bugabog are almost as big as Stinkworm queens, but much more ferocious. They rise up from deep below the swampwater every single morning, when the air is impenetrably thick with a luminous green fog, and retrace their slime trails from the morning before. They eat everything they find stuck in that trail, and if they see anything else moving around in the early dawn, they squirt it with slime from their modified, tubular pneumostone, like the glue cannons of a velvet worm.
I want to say they have really different larvae, maybe fully aquatic creatures that can swim, but I'm probably over-pushing the larval stage cheat.
One time, when I was a wee kid, I completely missed an episode of "Power Rangers" featuring a monster called the Goo Fish, and when I asked other kids what the "Goo Fish" had looked like, they just told me he was "a fish with legs." This of course does not adequately describe the actual Goo Fish whatsoever, and what popped into my head that day was more like Snish, the Soggy Boglin. I don't know what it is about fish with arms or legs that I loved so much even before then, but I feel like I could never have a personal "world" without them.
As odd as they look, Goo Fish simply serve the role of a frog, from their more tadpole-like young to their diet of bugs to their croaking mating calls.
As much fun as I'd have just relaxing in a soggy bayou made out of spiders and overrun with parasites, this tiny world would be pretty dull and lonesome without any "people," so at the center of it all is a huge, moss-encrusted, city-like "castle" inhabited by the Ooze Ghosts, or even just "ghosts!" They're nice, harmless wisps of jelly that can mesh their molecules with solid matter and control almost any object they want as a physical body.
This completely cheats my own ten-creature limit, sort of, with a single species that can take limitless forms, though I don't completely think of it that way when those forms aren't technically "real," but more like "costumes" or "puppets" they like to wear. Each individual ghost has a preference and many customize their own unique bodies from trash, furniture, clothing or even dead swamp creatures, but the single most popular choice of body is a life-sized plastic skeleton, because I think an army of fake prop skeletons controlled by slimes is at least twice as Halloweeny as actual real skeletons could ever be. It's also the kind that glows in the dark, duh.
I don't know how fun or interesting this was for a Halloween day feature, or if it even felt thematic enough. I will say that this isn't actually the complete setting, because your Bonsai World is also supposed to have ten unique, special characters that live in it forever, like a game world's NPC's or even "bosses," but those are even harder to have ever "finalized" for any length of time, and would be a lot more intensive to illustrate than just all these worms and jellies. Maybe I'll do it another day, if people really want me to.
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