By Paula R. Stiles
Innsmouth, MA – Fossil worm-trail casts one foot wide and nearly fifteen feet long in some places have been discovered in the sandstone cliffs overlooking the banks of the Manuxet River in historic Innsmouth. Local scholar in African-American history Rosa Washington and visiting oceanographer Steven Huang of Beijing, China at Miskatonic University have teamed up to investigate.
“We believe that these worms were over two meters long,” says Dr. Huang, “and lived as recently as the last Ice Age. They appear to have been originally pelagic, but these worms would have been estuarine in nature – that is, they lived in the variable salinity at the mouth of the river but appear to have been able to go quite far upstream, if the distance of the holes is any indication.”
“We are investigating local legends of the Manuxet about the worms,” added Dr. Washington. “These might even bring evidence of their existence into the Early Modern era.” The last two members of the Manuxet tribe, after which the Manuxet River was named, were killed when a mob burned down their hut in 1823.
“According to Native American legends, these worms were carnivorous and would pop right out of the ground or river to devour an unwary human,” laughs Dr. Washington. “But of course, that is likely a gross exaggeration.”
The two scholars met entirely by accident when Dr. Washington decided to seek out and interview Dr. Huang about his Chinese homeland. “I needed some information on the Chinese trade that occurred with Innsmouth during the 19th century,” Dr. Washington said, “but from a Chinese perspective. Dr. Huang was most helpful in my research.” After subsequent discussion, Dr. Huang discovered Dr. Washington’s knowledge of local Manuxet legends.
“I have heard similar legends about such worms on the boundary between the shallow East China Sea and the much-deeper South China Sea,” Dr. Huang said. “Pirate sea-monster legends. So, I became very curious when Dr. Washington told me her stories and we went looking for evidence of such ocean life. To our surprise, we found it in the riverbed while driving across the bridge one day!”
Dr. Huang believes that the worms may have originated in the deep beyond Devil’s Reef. “Why they came to shore, how they adapted, both to river conditions and to living underground, is a fascinating puzzle,” he said. “We know relatively little about what prompted worms and other invertebrates to leave the sea for dry land. This might help us explore the evolutionary links in more depth. Assuming, of course, we could find a detailed cast. The soft worm bodies would not have been preserved.”
When asked if he believed the Manuxet stories about the worms eating people, Dr. Huang laughed. “Of course not! These worms would have been harmless to human beings. It’s probably their relatively great size and exceedingly pale appearance that frightened people and generated such stories. If you saw what looked like a two-meter-long sea maggot, you might make up some stories about it, too!”
Dr. Washington was more sanguine. “I can’t really confirm or deny anything from this distance, but I have to say – the legends are mighty dramatic.”
The two have taken casts of the holes and intend to display them at the local museum. “That will be a nice change from the usual Necronomicon nonsense they have there,” Dr. Washington said.
“And it will help residents and visitors fill in an intriguing but previously dark corner of Innsmouth prehistory,” added Dr. Huang enthusiastically. Sounds as though this has been a scientific match made in heaven.