Very rarely do I get goosebumps when I'm writing Creepy Corner.
Sure, I'm a scaredy cat about a lot of things that go bump in the night, but usually when I'm researching a topic, I get in the "zone" and not much phases me. Considering that a good portion of the Creepy Corners are about things that genuinely freak me out (possession, dolls, bathroom mirrors), and that about half are written in the middle of the night, I'd say that's pretty impressive.
But I think Gef the talking mongoose wins the cookie prize. From the moment I started thinking about writing about him, through the research I've done, I've had goose bumps from start to well . . . right now.
I know you're thinking, Really Louise? A talking mongoose is what does you in? Makes you question the prudence in choosing this topic? And I will say with all honesty, YES. I will be jumping at every little scratching noise my cat makes tonight, and be trying to un-remember some of Gef's squeaky-voiced quotes.
Why? Because the case of Gef the talking mongoose is just so freaking WEIRD.
Let's suspend some disbelief, just for a second and say that the family Gef lived with, the Irving family, wasn't making it up. Were they the victims of a cruel and elaborate hoax? Were they all participants in a group hallucination? Did they share some sort of familial mental illness? Were there paranormal or supernatural forces at work?
For me at least, it's hard to come to a satisfying answer. And while some of you may laugh at ol' Louise getting all spooked in her Creepy Corner, there have been quite a few researchers over the years, some with rather significant brains, turning over the case of Gef. It doesn't seem that anyone else has a good answer either.
He was a TALKING MONGOOSE for crap's sake. Why haven't people just written him off as the well-played prank of a precocious young girl? Is the story just too good? The storytellers just too earnest?
Or are the details and circumstances of Gef''s "infestation" so bizarre, so singular, that to write it off is too easy?
I'll let you decide for yourself.
Gef first made his presence known to the Irving family of Dalby on the Isle of Man in 1931.
James, a retired salesman, lived with his wife Margaret and 12-year-old daughter Voirrey on a farmstead. They had no electricity, phone, or radio, and their "nearest neighbors lived over a mile away."
It all started when the Irvings started hearing scratching, growling, and vocalizations coming from behind the walls of their farmhouse. Thinking it was a rat in the walls, James attempted to scare it out, but nothing seemed to work. As the days passed, the sounds escalated, sounding at times like a dog or a baby.
Traps didn't work, banging on the walls didn't work. At one point James tried growling at the "rat" and "it growled right back at him"! Soon the creature in the walls started mimicking other animals, even taking requests from the family. Say "cat," and it would meow like a cat. Say "bird" and it would tweet like a bird. At one point it repeated the nursery rhymes Voirrey sang to herself.
It wasn't long before it started talking in a high pitched, "squeaky" voice, much higher than that of a human. He called himself "Gef" (Jeff) and claimed that he was a mongoose born in 1852 in New Delhi, India. He'd come over to the Isle of Man when a neighbor had brought over some mongeese to catch mice. Gef claimed, "I am not a spirit. I am a little extra, extra clever mongoose."
After officially introducing himself and striking up an agreement of sorts with the Irvings, "If you are kind to me, I will bring you good luck. If you are not kind, I shall kill all your poultry. I can get them wherever you put them!" Gef got more chatty, having full conversations (often with foul language) with the Irvings, and even making demands.
Gef preferred bacon and sausage, but not eggs. He favored James and Voirrey over Margaret, but was not above barking orders at any of the family. "Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!" Gef yelled at James when he took too long opening the newspaper.
When the family was in Gef's good graces he brought them gifts, if not mildly disturbing ones. In his time with the Irvings, Gef brought them approximately 50 dead rabbits that he claimed to have strangled with his own forepaws. When accused of unearthly powers he'd respond, "If I were a spirit, I could not kill rabbits."
As another gift, Gef would report back gossip he'd heard around the island. James noted that you could hide nothing from Gef as his hearing seemed to be exceptional. Even from "15–20 feet away" he'd repeat back what the family was whispering.
Indeed Gef's hold on the Irvings seemed to progress from novelty to nuisance to even tormenter. While Margaret and James only saw fleeting glances of Gef scurrying around the house, "only Voirrey was allowed to look at him directly." He slept in a partitioned area of Voirrey's room that the family called "Gef's Sanctum." And while he seemed to favor Voirrey, the girl was often afraid of Gef and his inhuman rambling.
One night Voirrey, fearful of Gef, slept in her parents' room. When Gef caught on to this, he said, "I'll follow her wherever you put her," and attempted to break into the bedroom.
Not with the scratching and scampering you might expect from a tiny mongoose (though it's been argued that his appearance was more in keeping with a weasel-squirrel-mongoose hybrid . . . whatever that means), but with enough force to make the door bulge "as though some terrific force were thrusting against it."
Gef's residence was also accompanied by seemingly "demonic" or "poltergeist"-like incidences and behavior. James and Margaret reported that small objects and furniture would move around the house on their own. One report, documented for the paranormal investigator Harry Price, details how "shrill screams, accompanied by terrific knocking, loud bangs, emanated from all parts of the house in quick succession (as if the perpetrator moved with lightning speed)." It should be noted that Price believed that the Irvings shared a "collective delusion."
Whereas Dr. Nandor Fodor, psychologist and parapsychologist, believed that Gef was both an actual talking mongoose and a manifestation of James Irving's "split-off" personality.
As time went on, Gef became more and more adversarial toward Margaret, often hissing at her, tossing insults at her, even biting her.
One such incident occurred when Margaret scolded Gef for singing a "lewd" version of "Home on the Range."
"You know, Gef, you are no animal!" scolded Margaret. "Of course I am not," retorted Gef. "I am the Holy Ghost!"
Did I mention Gef loved to sing? His favorite song was apparently "Carolina Moon." I'll never quite hear that song the same way.
Another time, Margaret found herself pelted with pebbles as she walked home. When she called out to Gef, he taunted, "Yes, Maggie, the witch woman, the Zulu Woman, the Honolulu woman!"
As Gef's time with the Irvings wore on, his identity became more and more confusing. While initially Gef claimed to be an "animal," a "mongoose," just a creature that learned to talk through the kindness of the Irvings, his later comments took on a more grandiose, even darkly religious tone. Here are some of Gef's more curious quotes:
"I’ll split the atom! I am the fifth dimension! I am the eighth wonder of the world!"
"I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you'd faint, you'd be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt."
"I am an earthbound spirit."
"I am not evil. I could be if I wanted. You don't know what damage or harm I could do if I were roused. I could kill you all, but I won't."
(Upon noticing that Jim was reading the Bible) “Look at the pious old atheist reading the Bible; he will swear in a minute!”
"I have three spirits, and their names are Foe, Faith, and Truth."
(After being asked where he would go when he died) “To Hell, to the Land of Mist.”
Gef's presence in the Irving house eventually drew lots of attention from the island as well as throughout the U.K. As I mentioned before, Gef drew the interest of famous (or infamous) paranormal investigator Harry Price.
While a lot of strange things happened during Price's and his associate's investigations, not enough hard evidence was ever gathered to either confirm or deny Gef's existence once and for all. (Gef on Price: "He's the man who puts the kybosh on the spirits!")
Eventually James died, and Margaret and Voirrey moved away in 1945. A Mr. Graham bought the house and in 1947 killed a strange weasel-squirrel-mongoose looking thing that answered to "all descriptions." Thus was the end of Gef.
Up until her death in 2005, Voirrey maintained that Gef was not a hoax.
"Yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things," she admitted. "He said he was a mongoose and we should call him Gef . . . . But I do wish he had let us alone."
What do you think?