We all have one, that crazy uncle that is always teetering on the edge of remaining a part of the family. What if he left, or worse, what if he were to shapeshift into a monstrous creature that couldn’t fit around the Sunday dinner table? In this chapter of ORIGINS, meet everyone’s crazy uncle, Uncle Monday.
One of my favorite films is Big Fish. Of course, I love the storytelling aspect, and how the Dad exaggerates details from his experiences in life to make things more interesting, because that’s what fiction is all about in my opinion. I also adore the idea about a man becoming the very story he’s telling when Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) becomes a big fish at the end. It’s a beautiful, magical tale and the style of story I aspire to write each time I work on a new project. Now, in the case of Big Fish, a shapeshifter is appealing. Even in Forest Gump, when Jenny prays that God turns her into a bird so she can fly far, far away, we get it. We like fish and birds, especially deep friend and served with cream sauce. What about a man becoming an alligator? I’d like to introduce Uncle Monday.
Uncle Monday was a medicine man, captured in Africa and enslaved in America. He was one of the lucky few to escape their South Carolina plantation and find solace in the Indian Territory of Florida. There, he brewed strong medicine that was well received by the Seminole Indians and other tribesman from the West Indies. Uncle Monday became a legend in his own time, building a strong kinship to these tribes of whom he considered to be family. But when the White Man continued to press the Seminoles deeper and deeper into the peninsula, further from the coast, he encouraged them to stand up for themselves and fight back. He even led the retaliation. On the shores of Lake Maitland, Uncle Monday and the Seminoles were defeated. Some escaped, including Uncle Monday, and pressed into the dense woods surrounding Blue Sink Lake. Here the group recovered, counted their loss, and made do with what nature provided.
But not Uncle Monday.
He prayed and conjured the gods of his people from Africa, finding answers that he didn’t like. The gods told him that resisting the enemy was fruitless and the end was near for all of them. Uncle Monday refused to believe there was no way out. Instead of falling prey to the inevitable, Uncle Monday told his new family that he would never again become a slave to the White Man. Unlike the Indians, he was the property of someone else and would be sent back to his plantation upon capture. The answer was clear: he would become an alligator and seek shelter in the covering of the Blue Sink Lake until the war ended. I bet no one knew he could shapeshift before that moment, and honestly, the question that comes to my mind is why didn’t he just become a bird and fly far, far away?
On a clear, summer night when the air was hot and heavy with humidity, the Seminole gathered around the cool waters of Blue Sink Lake. Uncle Monday stood at the center stark naked and wearing only tribal paint made from surrounding berries and tree sap. He closed his eyes and chanted along with the beating drums and tribal patterns of the African and American rhythms, feeling the vibrations enter through his fingertips and resonate throughout his body. The music pushed him into a dance where he swayed and swirled in fluid motions, his body a vessel to channel the magic he would use to become a reptile. As Uncle Monday danced, his legs grew short and stout and his face drew into a long pointy snout. His arms drew back into his chest. His skin molted into a thick, scaly layer replacing the dark skin he’d known his entire life. As he chanted, Uncle Monday’s voice lowered and stretched until it became a hiss that crescendoed into a roar of thunder.
His brethren continued to play their instruments, their eyes wide in disbelief, as from the lake a mimic of thunder, grunting, and hisses rose like a vapor as hundreds of gators drifted onto the shore and toward the gathering men and women. This answer of gators grew into a double column that flanked Uncle Monday on his right and left, though now he was no longer a man, but rather the largest gator of them all. Uncle Monday took rank and marched between his entourage, his tail a muscular plume sweeping each gator he passed like a high-five through a crowd of fans, until he reached the lake and plunged into the cool waters.
The Seminole stopped playing as the horde of gators surrounded them. Time stilled, and the air thickened in their lungs as they awaited the gators’ next move. Luckily, the mass followed their new leader, Uncle Monday, back into Blue Sink Lake, where Uncle Monday is said to remain, even unto this day. On nights when the air is clear and the moon is high in the sky, some people say that Uncle Monday uses his magic to turn back into a man and walk the earth, casting spells and incantations on those who drove out his brethren and forced him to become an alligator.
One legend states that a woman named Judy Bronson claimed that she was as good a medicine man as Uncle Monday ever was. She even stated that she could change herself into an alligator if she wanted…his voodoo was no stronger than her own. Until one day when she decided she would go fishing in the Blue Sink Lake. She had asked her grandson to dig worms and get her a pole together, while her neighbors told her it was a bad idea. She shooed them away, gathered her supplies, and hiked down to the lake. No one went near the shores where Uncle Monday disappeared, but old Judy wasn’t afraid of nothing. As the sun set and Judy baited her line, she noticed the air grew hot and heavy with humidity. The darkness that replaced the summer sky must have been holding onto that humid air because when it reached her shoulders, it pressed down and she could feel the darkness paralyzing her on the shore. The wind howled then morphed into a throaty growl that rattled her bones and pushed Judy into the bottomless lake. She fought the pressing darkness, worried it was some otherworldly force fixed on drowning her, until it released and she swam to the surface, gasping in huge breaths. Her feet were able to feel the silty bottom as she hadn’t yet been swept over the shelf and Judy was petrified if she moved the darkness would force her over the edge and leave her for the gators to devour.
The gators. Was this the doing of Uncle Monday?
Somehow, Judy found her voice and she screamed for help. Her help came as a flaming spotlight that landed upon her in a bright beam. She shielded her face, but the light penetrated like a sword. Squinting, she could make out a man at the end of the beam, which illuminated the whole bank. It was a man, dressed in flowing white robes with dark hair that fell in braids down his back. He was barefoot, and she knew this because she watched his dark feet step one in front of the other across the surface of Blue Sink Lake followed by an army of swarming gators, and she knew immediately who her aggressor was.
Uncle Monday told Judy he had brought her to the lake to force her to admit that she was unable to do the magic that Uncle Monday could, like she had bragged to her neighbors and friends. Even though he had the upper hand, Judy’s heart was filled with pride and she refused to give in to his wishes. With a monstrous roar, Uncle Monday disappeared, and the gators drew beneath the surface, leaving Judy alone with the echo of the roar to haunt her. Then, through the water, the snout and eyes of what had to be the largest gator on earth swam toward her. She watched the enormous tail displace the water in huge waves that crashed onto the banks and nearly forced its way over her head. The body of the beast surfaced, as big as a bus, and Judy’s heart filled with fear. She knew this was Uncle Monday shapeshifted into an alligator and she would be given one more chance to comply. In her mind, Judy admitted that she was incapable of performing the magic that Uncle Monday had performed and that his Voodoo was much stronger than hers. But as his toothy grin neared to where she could reach out and touch his scaly mouth if she dared, she had all the prompting she needed to tell him that he was the most marvelous medicine man on earth. And like a dream, the gator slinked quietly away, and Judy heard her grandson calling her name before she was lifted out of the water and brought back to the safety of her home.
Whether a bird, an alligator, or a big fish, tall tales must have their roots in some basis of truth, don’t they?
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, written and produced by me, award-winning author Jaimie Engle of The Write Engle where you can find stories with a supernatural slant. Subscribing, liking, and sharing this podcast is your greatest compliment. Thank you. Consider a Magic Membership as my Patreon supporter, where you’ll receive incredible rewards as my way of saying thanks. And stick around for a short story from my book The Toilet Papers titled “Why There Are More Hot Dogs Then Buns” a fable that answers the time old question.
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