The Skultch, Tom Coombe
1st Place Winner Of The "Create-A-Cryptid" Contest
The first time I saw the Skultch was in 1986, the same year the plastics plant closed and we moved in with my grandfather.
Adam and I were playing army in the woods, scrubby Pennsylvania forestland standing in for a tropical warzone, when something rumbled through the brush, bigger than the squirrels and stray cats we usually spotted.
A flash of traffic sign yellow sang through the grey November forest. My hands gripped my tree branch rifle as it passed. A sinkhole opened in my stomach, my 10-year-old brain recognizing I was seeing something I shouldn’t see.
“That’s the Skultch,” Adam whispered. We were crouched in our makeshift “clubhouse,” boards stacked in the crook of some trees to form a wall. We could see things that passed by but they couldn’t see us.
“You don’t know what the Skultch is? OK, you know how dogs are descended from wolves? The Skultch is like, between a wolf and a dog.”
“That was way too big to be a dog, or a wolf.”
Adam shrugged. “Wolves used to be bigger, in prehistoric times.”
My friend had a habit of spinning tall tales (his father had apparently been a Navy SEAL and a Green Beret), but there was no denying we’d seen something. I asked my grandfather about it when I got home.
“That’s nonsense,” he said, opening a can of Dinty Moore.
I felt vindicated until he added “Nobody knows what the Skultch is.”
“You’ve seen it?”
“My brother Chuck did, when he got out of the service. He’d been home a few days when he decided to get a job at one of the mines. On his way, he sees a fellow coming from the other direction on the road leading out of town.
“This fellow tells Chuck ‘Don’t bother, they’re closing down, sending us all home.’ Chuck sits on a rock at the edge of the woods, trying to decide where to go to look for work. He doesn’t get much time to think, because the woods behind him come alive.
“About a dozen squirrels run out of the trees and across the road, maybe three times as many birds flap out of their nests. Whatever they’re running from is snapping branches as it comes, so fast Chuck thinks someone has driven their car through the woods.
“The thing that breaks through the trees moves faster than any car. It’s a yellow blur, the size of a horse. When he gets back to town, he tells everyone what he saw. Some older folks tell him it was the Skultch.
“It got its name from a fellow over from Germany, back in the 1800s. He was still learning English, and told his neighbors he’d seen something ‘skultching’ through the woods. It was a lot bigger then. You’d see its back over the treetops.”
“When I saw it today it was as big as a deer.”
My grandfather gave a sad nod. This meant something, but not something meant for a 10-year-old.
The next time I saw the Skultch was in 1999. I was just out of college and needed a suit for a friend’s wedding, and went to Brady’s, the town’s only men’s clothing store. I found half the racks bare and Mr. Brady manning the shop alone.
“Walmart,” he explained. They’d opened outside of town the year before.
As I walked to the little lot behind the store, a flash of yellow passed through the corner of my eye. The Skultch, as tall and as thin as a greyhound, rooted through a garbage bag with birdy forepaws.
It studied me with its simian face, its blue eyes woeful, then fished half a rotisserie chicken from the torn plastic. It fixed me with a look that was half joy, half shame before limping away.
That was 21 years ago. I teach math now at a big school district outside Philadelphia. There’s history here of the “George Washington slept…” variety, but nothing like the Skultch. The woods and surrounding towns seem too well-kept.
I passed through my hometown last year en route to a teacher’s conference. The population had dropped below 2,500, the lowest since the town’s founding. I drove seven blocks without seeing an active storefront. Even the dollar stores had folded. I had a dim memory of one of the national papers visiting last year for a series. “Life in Opioid Country: Tragedy and Triumph.”
There wasn’t much triumph on display in my old neighborhood, but the person who’d bought my grandfather’s house had put up new siding. It matched their “Fuck Your Feelings” flag.
I parked in the alley behind the neighborhood and entered the woods where I’d first seen the Skultch.
Kids didn’t play here anymore. The path was choked with weeds and melon-sized stones. Only one of the boards Adam and I had placed in the trees remained, rotten and mossy.
A sorrowful moan drew me deeper into the woods. Dodging thorn bushes, I came to a clearing, where the Skultch lay wheezing on its side.
It was the size of a squirrel, its eyes weepy and clouded. I crouched to offer a comforting hand, but froze when hissing cut through the brush.
The Skultch’s children were the same color as their mother, but walked upright, six creatures the size of toddlers. Their grins showed box nail teeth.
One of them studied me and made a noise that seemed...interested.
The others crept closer. The Skultch chittered and stopped them. We stood facing each other for what felt like 20 minutes until I found the courage to back away, keeping my steps slow and calm until I reached my car. I didn’t stop shaking until I arrived at the conference.
I haven’t been back to my old town, but think often about the Skultch and her children. I wonder how big they’ll grow. I wonder what they’re going to eat.
Tom Coombe is a writer and journalist in Pennsylvania and a lifelong horror fan. His works have appeared on the Haunting Season podcast, Cemetery Gates Society, Dreadstone Press' "Dose of Dread", and Hellhound Magazine.