June 24, 2022

The Night Stalker

Image copyright Harrow House Editions Limited 1981
Man After Man by Dougal Dixon

By now, everyone has heard of dire wolves, basilisks, and the Demogorgon. But these famous foes aren’t the only creatures that could be just around the corner in your next campaign. Join us every week as we dig into folklore, pop culture, and outdated textbooks to hunt for monsters that are just waiting to find their way into your next encounter. 

You find yourself in the thick of broad-leaved palms and vines that fringe a sandy beach. During the day the air is heavy, thick with humidity, and you stick to the shade. You dare not venture too deep into the island’s interior. The foliage is dense and though you do not see them, you hear the cries of unfamiliar creatures at a distance that is impossible to determine. 

As night falls, the air cools and you venture out onto the beach, into the open. Waves lap gently at the shore, and the jungle at your back is quiet. Too quiet. The gentle hum of insects and small animals has suddenly ceased, and you realize too late that you are being hunted. 

A creature about four feet tall bursts from the treeline, loping toward you with an uneven gait. Is it running on its arms? Before you have time to wonder, it bares a mouthful of dagger-like teeth. In the dimming daylight you see no eyes, only massive ears as this otherworldly thing bares down on you. And then another leaps from the jungle, and another, and yet another. They’re surprisingly fast, and you know your chances of outrunning them in the sand are slim to none. 

You, dear adventurer, have just met the Night Stalker. 

This bipedal nightmare was dreamed up by Dougal Dixon in his book After Man. Dixon has made a career of speculative evolution, and After Man describes what familiar animals will become after ten million years. He describes a volcanic island chain that he dubs “Batavia” in which bats, not birds, are the first residents and have an evolutionary head start.  

This is the domain of the Night Stalker, or the manambulus perhorridus. The “scientific” name translates to “very horrible hand walker,” which is pretty on the nose. According to Dixon, the Night Stalker will trade flight for weirder modes of transit. The limbs that were once wings will become legs, and its feet will fill in for hands. Says Dixon, “These creatures walk on their front legs–on what would, in the case of a flying bat, be its wings…Their hind legs and feet are still used for grasping, but now fall forward to hang down below their chin.” 

In addition to this mess of a leg situation, the Night Stalker has given up on sight and doubled down on echolocation, so they eyes have just evolved away in favor of gigantic ears. 

So, how would one survive a run-in with manambulus perhorridus

Night Stalkers, like their bat ancestors, hunt at night, so your absolute best bet is to keep your adventuring to the daylight hours and avoid these horrible hand walkers entirely. But if it’s too late for that, remember that they hunt only by echolocation. Anything that can confuse their radar could save you–loud sounds in the opposite direction, for example. They aren’t particularly intelligent, so tricking or confusing them should be doable. 

If it comes down to a fight, these things are all claws and teeth. They hunt in packs, so you’ll likely have to contend with more than one of these monstrosities at a time. The good news is that Dixon doesn’t describe them as particularly thick skinned or resilient, so weapons should do some serious damage if you can get in some blows without being overwhelmed by freakish hand walking bats. 

If worst comes to worst, you could always try to take to the water as Dixon doesn’t describe Night Stalkers as swimmers. However, he also doesn’t say that they aren’t swimmers, and he definitely dreamt up some aquatic horrors for the Batavian seas, so turn to the ocean at your own peril. 

Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.